The pressure on me to find a husband started very early. A few days after my first birthday, within months of my family’s emigration to the United States, I fell out from the window of a three-storeyed building in Baltimore. My mother’s greatest concern at the time, after learning that I hadn’t been gravely injured, was my marriageability. “What boy will marry her when he finds out?” she cried, begging my father never to mention my broken arm to prospective suitors out of fear my dowry would be prohibitively higher.
By my early 20s, my father was placing matrimonial ads for me in immigrant newspapers. They read something like, ‘Match for Jain girl, Harvard-educated journalist, 25, fair, slim.’
I always expected I would marry but never like this. The pressure increased as I entered my 30s — unmarried and childless. My own resistance to my parents’ arranging my marriage or assisting my search, however, began to soften after a move to New York City. It ushered me into a few years of deflating dating experiences. I felt battle-worn after hearing one too many times that a man I was dating wasn’t ‘looking for something serious.’ While I certainly didn’t think I could marry someone I’d met once or twice, I’ve long believed you need no more than a few months to assess a person’s character. “At first, when I allowed my father to take charge, he wrote in my profile, ‘I never drink.’ Later, this confused suitors when I ordered wine on the date…”
It was around this time that my parents discovered a dizzying array of Indian matrimonial websites, of which shaadi.com is the most popular. At first, I allowed my father to take full charge of the experiment. He wrote my profile, saying “I never drink,” which would later confuse suitors when I ordered a glass of wine during the date.
Scrolling through the site was usually a profoundly disheartening experience. You’re more likely than not to come across profiles riddled with garbled syntax and text-message spelling (wud luv 2 meet u). I resigned myself to sifting through some that read, “Hi, I am Ravi itself. I’m a simple-living and high-thinking person with jolly nature. So please marry with me or otherwise your life is on your hand.”
I also decided to take the ‘experiment’ a few steps further. I moved to Delhi, hoping the rapid modernisation sweeping through the city along with the rest of the country might lead me to a thoroughly 21st century man. In Delhi, my search for a husband on shaadi.com was often the subject of much derision among my circle of young friends, who considered the site cheesy and the refuge of the lonely and traditional-minded. Though I managed to defend my use of the website, saying I wasn’t meeting eligible “thirty plus” men in any of the city’s hip new bars and lounges, I knew there was more than a kernel of truth in what they were saying. It certainly didn’t seem that the well-travelled and the well-read, the worldly sophisticates I was hoping to find, were using shaadi.com.
I’ve now lived in the city for the last three years and found myself intrigued by the new fast-paced westernised lifestyle I saw emerge around me. But even as tradition was rapidly falling by the wayside, old India kept rearing its head in fascinating and undeniable ways. I found it an attractive balance and decided to remain in India. Though I haven’t yet found a love so abiding that it has led to marriage, I’m not too worried about the future.
Perhaps there is something to the age-old wisdom that love is the one thing we can’t go looking for in life. That said, I’m not likely to ever stop looking altogether; romantics are the worst kind of incorrigible, having less self-discipline than on-the-wagon alcoholics or yo-yo dieters.