Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me an (Indian) Match

 

Elizabeth VanMetre

 

NEW DELHI – Gopal Suri didn’t plan to be a matchmaker or, as he calls himself, a marriage broker. For years he worked in the hotel business. But in 1992, after he found husbands for his five sisters, the career fell into his lap. It was something that he knew he could do and something that India needed.

Seventy-five  percent of of Indian marriages are arranged by families, according to a survey conducted by IPSOS.

 There was a time when “arranged marriages”  meant fathers going door-to-door in the family’s village looking for the right match. But today, with more Indians living in cities and more young people leaving home for school and employment, it is more complicated.

 

Suri does his best to retain a traditional, old-world style. The moment you sit down in his office  he offers you tea and food. He insists there is no discussion  before a cup of chai is shared,  a practice he observes with his clients as well. He is an older man with a bald shiny head. He constantly wears a big smile his face and never seems to stop laughing. Suri boasts that he had never had a marriage he had brokered fail, although there have been some broken engagements. It’s something he is very proud of. It is a sweet sentiment but one impossible to verify. He has arranged hundreds of matches.

 

The going rate for someone looking for help from Suri varies depending on services included and how much the family has to spend. While he doesn’t share his going rate, he he works families who make between 5 million to 50 million rupees (about $8,000 to $800,000 US dollars) annually . The Hindu Times estimates that the going rate for marriage brokers is between 15 thousand to 31 thousand rupees ($300 to $500 US dollars). This amount is constitutes a big chuck of a typical middle class Indians family’s annual salary.

 

Suri’s business, A to Z Matchmaking, is down a long strip mall hallway tucked inside a shopping arcade inside the Hyatt Regency in Delhi. The office is small and is separated into two different sections by an installed wall. One side sits a few chairs and a table. It’s a bit of a waiting area. On the other side is a desk with four chairs.. A TV sits on a table behind the desk. This is where the Gopal Suri, the founder of the agency, provides services to around 10 clients a day.

 

Suri specializes in helping middle and upper income Hindus and Sikh families find mates for their sons and daughters. With over one billion people in India, this is a daunting task. Suri says there are an abundance of families that he provides services for--so many that he doesn’t have time to take holidays or weekends off. He estimates that he sees about 10 clients a day, which leads to around 200 weddings a year.

 

It’s 6 p.m. on a recent spring day and his last family of the day arrives.

The family was  originally from Delhi but moved to Dubai when the father found work there in the hotel business.  The husband and wife seem friendly. Their son is going to look at profiles today with his parents to find his wife. The mother’s wedding ring spills off her ring finger onto her pinky and middle with large blinding diamonds. Each family member is decked out in designer clothing. The 24-year-old crosses his leg showcasing his Gucci shoes. He has a fresh haircut, average height. He smiles a lot and exudes a cool confidence.

 

This isn’t their first meeting with Suri. The parents have stopped by privately before. The family has filled out their preferences in an online form that states what they hope for in a wife for their son. “Women’s family usually want the financial security and they want educated people for their daughter,” Suri says. “Most males need a very good faced girl. They are about the looks.”

 

The son also shares his caste, Kshatriyas, and his religion, Hindu. He will not be shown any matches in a different caste or religion, even if they are a perfect in every other aspect. “Everyone wants to do their relationship in their religion only,” Suri says. “They won’t go apart from their religion. Social taboo is big here. No one has come to me so far that is an Indian Hindu and wants to get married to a Muslim or Christian.”

 

The way Suri sees it, if people wanted to get married to someone of a different religion they would be doing it without their parent’s approval and would be a “love marriage,” a term coined to identify couples who get married without it being arranged by their families.

 

“Love doesn’t see caste,” he explains. But he says love for most will come after themarriage and is not a priority when it comes to finding matches. While religion plays a large role in the matches clients will see, Suri says most people aren’t looking for the most religious of mates-- he says spirituality matters the most. He says you are born with your religion and it is “given to you by your parents.” Spirituality is something “that you know yourself and yourself only,” he adds.

 

Today the family, which asked not to be identified by name in this article, will begin looking at actual profiles of eligible women for the first time. Suri has some of his own picks lined up and assured the family they will be pleased. Each girl’s profile will be shown on the small TV screen behind Suri’s desk that’s connected to his laptop. The son doesn’t seem nervous, just a bit annoyed at his mother who is asking him to focus. And it begins.

 

The first photo posted on the screen is of a short woman with long hair and a round face. She looks young and the photos appear to be taken professionally.

 

As soon as the photo pops up he says, “no.”

 

“Really look at her. Can we see more pictures?” his mother says while his father glances up then goes back to scrolling on his cellphone.

“I don’t like her. Move on,” the son counters.

 

And the process moves on. After awhile he finally agrees to see a profile of one of the women. She is tall, possibly taller than he is. She wears heavy eye make-up and her first photo appears to be a selfie that reveals  a large portion of her collarbone. She looks long and lean. More skin is exposed in this photo than the other profiles.

 

He sits up straight in his chair and leans forward, taking more of an interest than with the other women. There’s a lot of information laid out about her like details of her family, including that her mother died. It also lists her personal likes and dislikes.

 

He says “yes.”

 

His mom seems unsure.

 

“Yes?” she asks. “She doesn’t have a mother. Lets pass.”

 

He looks frustrated and slumps back in his chair, crosses his arms and stares at the ceiling. They pass.

 

While keeping the tradition alive, Suri knows that this new method is far from traditional. He says that while the families have the final say, the children are getting a lot more say into their matches. That being said, parents are still very involved during the process, which he thinks is very important.

 

“In arranged marriages parents are always there,” he says. “They have seen the ups and downs of marriage. They have some experience on that kind of relationship. They are involved they will be supporting the couple.”

 

Dating websites like https://www.bharatmatrimony.com/ boast that they help thousands of people find partners a month. Suri does warn that even though they may be fast and less expensive, they have major drawbacks.

 

“Online dating profiles are not good,” he says. “Cheats are [on] there. They fill out a profile even though they are married. There is no authenticity. You are wasting your time. You are wasting your emotions.”

 

Suri double-checks every profile before he adds it to his database. He makes sure that they are single, they are telling the truth about their religion and caste and that their financials add up. He says he has lot of methods of doing this including checking in “with his sources.”

 

By the end of the appointment the mother seemed to remove herself from the process of find her son a wife, at least temporarily.  She walked to the makeshift room so her son could look at matches without getting frustrated by her. Eventually his father joins her.

The son has gone through all the matches.

After the appointment ends, Suri will contact  the families that have been chosen. If the female’s family is interested in meeting the match, he will arrange a meeting of the parents, then of their kids. If the arrangement is successful, there will be a wedding—and he usually receives a wedding invite in the mail.


Daily Dispatch 3: Footloose in Delhi: A Mosque, a Purim Celebration and a Bird Sanctuary

NEW DELHI – After two days of being shepherded around Delhi by Professor Trivedi and friends, today we were turned loose to report on our own. Alone or in twos, we left our hotel early this morning to navigate a city most of us had never been to with the challenge of reporting in a language we don’t know, within a culture that we’ve only read about in textbooks. Delhi is an absolutely vibrant city, fast paced and full of unexpected moments on every turn. It is made up of small, unmarked backstreets where sanctuaries hide and large main roads are packed with people, music and impromptu parades. It can be daunting, but our confidence grew with the hour and we met the challenge.

Emily spent her day at the Nizamuddin Dargah. She had a sit down with Syed Bilal where they spoke about the upkeep of the shrine, in particular the “interdenominational nature of visiting devotees.”

“We also discussed the film industry’s impact on the shrine,” Emily said. “It’s a frequent location for shooting.”

Natasha and David started their day early with the intent of covering several different stories. They ventured to the Muslim part of old Delhi on a search for a restaurant serving nihari, a breakfast food made with beef, which is illegal in Dehli.

From there they did an interview with the deputy director of the Delhi Haj committee, who decides which Delhi-ites will be allowed to travel to Mecca each year.

They then met up with the imam of the Jama Masjid again to talk more about the Haj.

“That interview took an interesting turn when we learned, as it came to an end, about his boyhood dreams of playing cricket for the national team,” Natasha said.

The pair ended their day with a late night party in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim at the local Chabad House.

“A late night, but a fabulous and rewarding day of work and play,” Natasha said.

Professor Goldman even got in on the fun at the Chabad House. The house, which serves as a synagogue and hostel for visiting Israeli youth and others, is down a narrow alleyway off the main bazaar. A huge photo of the late leader of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson pointed the way.

“Inside the Chabad House, the local Chabad rabbi, who is from Israel, read the story of Purim in the scroll known as the Book of Esther,” Goldman said. “It tells the ancient drama of a plot against the Jews that is foiled by an unlikely Jewish Queen.”

Professor Goldman compared the festivities to Holi and explained there was plenty of liquor, confetti and lots of dancing. He did say that the men and women danced in separate part of the Synagogue. “It seemed like a good way to usher in Holi.”

Gudrun met with Molinder Singh at the Bhai Vir Sing Marg Institute. The Pari spoke about the politics behind the turban. She learned that “turbans are six meters long and a sign of religious affiliation and commitment (or a reminder) to dharma.”

Ellen and Andrea met up with Syed Hammadi Nizami at the Nizamuddin Sufi Shrine to talk about the effects demonetization has made on charitable giving in different faiths.

The team of Pia and Thea traveled over Dehli state lines to Noida to visit the Immanuel Mar Thoma Chruch.

“We interviewed senior citizen congregants, who were gathered there for a lunchtime conversation about gender dynamics in the Bible,” Pia said. “We chatted with them about preserving their Keralan roots in Delhi and beyond, and shared delicious Keralan food with the reverend and his family."

The Pia/Thea team is also working on a story about the pollution of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. They were able to secure a sit down with Dr. Syamel Sarkar, the Director of Water Resources and Forestry research.

As for me, I ventured to the Digambar Jain Lal Mandir Bird Sanctuary in old Dehli. I had to dash across a highway that separates the Red Fort and the bustling shops of Old Dehli. There are no signs to indicate when the safe time to walk is, so I just took a deep breath, sucked in my stomach and weaved in and out of cars, mopeds and rickshaws that appear to be trying to do the same thing. But once across, it was right there.

Walking up the stairs to the bird sanctuary I was greeted with signs, including one that read, “Birds are our friends. Do not hurt them for your food, amusement, pleasure, safety. Security of our living creatures and environment is our topmost religion.” Jains put an importance on leaving a life free of harm and violence. Jains believe that all creatures deserve to live without harm. They are famously known for not even killing bugs.

Everyone returned back to the hotel safe and full of stories about navigating the big and confusing city. It was incredible to finally be able to use our skills that we’ve been developing over our seven weeks of class and use them in a practical setting.

 

Photo by Elizabeth VanMetre