Indians are divided by caste, language, community, region, but one thing unites them all: the functioning of the market, uniform across the country; one look at the matrimonial section in a newspaper is enough to certify this!
When arranging weddings, people look for brides and grooms from the same caste and community. “If we search within our own community, we can be assured about the family which we marry into,” – this minimises the market risks involved, as community networks give assurances and guarantees!
The first step is endorsement. Traditionally, it will be the closest family and friends (of the parents) who will endorse you in the market. The kind uncles and aunties who try to set us up want us to have nice progeny and maintain good genes in the family (nurture kinship, a natural anthropological process).
If a bride or groom has high market value (young achiever, exceptionally good looking or parents are from a strong economic/social background), then the market becomes a bit competitive. Within the community, the parents, uncles and aunties all try win the zero-sum game where only one contender will win the marriage proposal, and it is a total loss for the others! Dowry and wedding extravaganzas play an important role in this game in some communities. Luckily for me, my community, from the Kumaon region in Uttarakhand. takes pride in no-dowry weddings.
Because family newsletters may not be enough, other endorsement portals are also in use now: newspaper matrimonial ads and websites, also necessary to reach out to the community diaspora.
When there were only newspapers, the PR was limited to weekly, fortnightly, monthly ads, etc. The age of information brought in new kinds of PR, with matrimony sites. They consult for you and even have stylists for your profile pages.
One lady from a matrimony site’s customer care suggested that I was not spending enough time on the website, and I may lose out on good matches. They try to gauge your desperation, and even try to build it up, pretty much like the agents who sell houses and try to maximise profits from both the parties.
One good thing is that they do some background checks of the people advertising. They take records of your government ID cards too. They even offered to visit my place and verify my degrees, which I avoided. But it turned out that although the profiles said they were managed by the guys, they were actually managed by the parents. This was a bit embarrassing and that is when I asked my parents to handle it entirely.
Obviously, people put their best behaviour and qualities forward when endorsing their sons and daughters in the market. It is only when one enters matrimony, that realities are disclosed (a classic shell game where one deceives by hiding information).
When it comes to the bride and the groom I can give only my (bridal) perspective here; I’m not sure how the market treats guys. Economic reforms and increased job opportunities have made a slight change in the standards for brides from my mother’s times to mine. Now, people want brides who have all ‘qualities’ of the brides from the 1970s, plus they should also have jobs equivalent to the grooms.
Related reading: The STARK truth of a marriage arranged
The bride and groom’s meeting defies the laws of interpersonal attraction from behavioural texts. There is limited scope for proximity or to understand compatibility until you are married. The meetings are held discreetly but everyone in the community will know about it.
How these things work out is a big mystery for me.