Every single day of 2016, over 14 million Indians swiped through prospective mates on Tinder, looking for a quick hook-up. That same year, a survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Lokniti studied the responses of 6,000 people in the age group of 15 to 34 across 19 states, and found that more than half of those surveyed wanted their parents to decide whom they should marry.
As they reach prime spending and marrying age and brands rush to woo them, how are Indian millennials wooing each other? Reams of digital newsprint have been devoted to understanding millennials – shorthand for those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the millennium. Decoding their bizarre career paths, sleeping habits, living choices and food preferences was hard enough – what about when it came to love, dating and marriage?
Scroll.in visited a community matrimonial event in North Delhi to look for clues about the Indian millennial’s attitudes towards finding love – and learnt that in the end, for some upper-caste and upper class young people, it was all about loving one’s parents.
Rahul Wahi walked off the stage at a pre-matrimonial introductory event, called the Parichay Sammellan in North Delhi. For most candidates, it was a nerve-wracking experience – they hopped nervously from one foot to the other as a master of ceremonies read out their name, age, time of birth, caste and personal salary or family income to a large hall full of parents and prospective spouses.
Thirty-one-year-old Wahi was not nervous. His family income was several lakhs, he ran a restaurant in West Delhi that served popular and familiar international fare like pizzas and pasta, along with Indian favourites like dal makhani.
“I have never dated, I prefer serious relationships,” said Wahi.
Despite the favours of fortune, finding love had not been easy. Wahi had a girlfriend of many years, with whom things went awry after a formal pre-engagement ritual, known as the roka among Punjabi families. Wahi was heartbroken, and attempted suicide twice in 48 hours. In a couple of years, he fell in love again – this time, his partner did not tell him she was a divorcee and a mother – that was when Wahi decided to find a spouse chosen by his parents, community and convention.
“I am a serious guy, and an emotional guy,” he said, ordering a watermelon cooler at his restaurant. Tinder, which required men to be sharp and witty on chat, was bewildering to him. In the past, he had to reject a prospective partner he met through the Parichay Sammellan because the candidate had written that she knew how to cook and then denied it in a face-to-face meeting.
“Girls know how to cook, but don’t want to cook these days,” he said.
Manglik girls just want to have fun
“I never dated,” said Mehak Malik, a 25-year-old online retailer who used to work with Amazon, echoing Wahi’s words. “I go out with friends, meet people...but you cannot judge a person just by talking to them. It [finding a spouse] is not just about caste, creed, culture, it is about money, family background. You spend so many years in a family, in some customs, you cannot change that.”
At the sammellan, the emcee laid emphasis on whether each candidate he introduced was manglik or not, indicating a planetary alignment at birth which according to Hindu astrology, is believed to pose danger to a spouse’s survival.
Malik, who volunteered at the pre-matrimonial service, admitted with a giggle that she was manglik. It was no problem, she said, there were several ways the bad luck a manglik spouse brought could be cancelled out – if she was born on a Tuesday for instance (Malik wasn’t), if she was above 28 years of age, or if she married another manglik.
Failing all of these, Malik could undergo a Kumbh Vivah – which involved symbolically marrying a statue of Vishnu, a peepal or banana tree or a clay pot.
“It will be fun,” she said.
Seated just outside the hall, Malik managed candidates’ forms and queries – in addition to being a prospective candidate at the sammellan, she was also an organising volunteer at the event.
“Dude, no matter how many years you have lived, parents have a little wish that they get to select their daughter or son’s bride and groom,” she said. “And then you take this right away from them. It [marriage] is not about time pass. You are not marrying a person, you are marrying a family.”
Patri, package and patriarchy
Malik’s mother Asha Malik, an organiser of Parichay Sammellan, described the matrimonial hunt as a combination of “patri and package” – package referred to the salary package that candidates for marriage (both men and women) raked in. Unlike men, women with high salaries faced problems in finding grooms. Patri referred to the Indian astrological chart.
Asha Malik blamed television-and-movie doyenne Ekta Kapoor for astrological charts making a strong comeback into the marriage market. “Patri, patri...by god, mujhe to Ekta Kapoor mil jaye, main puchoongi kyun patri?” she said – if I ever get a chance to meet that Ekta Kapoor, I will ask her why she adds a patri to every televised love story.
“My patri was not matched with my husband,” Asha Malik said. “Nothing bad happened to us.”
The only time the family did suffer, Asha Malik said, was because of her husband’s cousin’s wife, who was Muslim: “When my husband’s chachaji died, she did not touch the body, she did not come to the temple. She said she goes to only the masjid. In our rituals, the body is washed. If she did not want to adjust with us, why did she marry here? So it is better to marry within one’s community. Are there not enough people within the community?”
To make this adjustment into each other’s families smoother, conditions were stringent, and becoming more so. The father of a prospective bride at Parichay Sammellan said that sometimes even 20 meetings were not enough to seal the deal.
“Even if one side watches movies and the other doesn’t, the match can be called off,” he said. Religion and caste then, were crucial things to have in common. In fact, recently, newspapers have reported even stranger reasons for marriages being called off: an argument over supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a groom’s embarrassing dance moves, the lack of meat on the menu and a different groom turning up at the altar than the one the bride was supposed to marry.
According to Malik, women are obeying convention, but simultaneously trying to fight the inherent patriarchy in these traditions. An eligible bride at Parichay Sammellan made it clear to all assembled that she would either work and draw a salary or look after the household. “You are expected to manage both fronts,” she said. “I can’t do that.” Malik knows how to cook, but several of her friends don’t and have no plans to learn – to avoid being tethered to a kitchen in their marital homes.
Finally, Malik said there was one major reason to marry someone your parents chose instead of someone you found for yourself: “At least I have someone to blame if things don’t work!” Her mother laughed.