An ugly truth
‘Indian Matchmaking’ has ruffled feathers by holding a mirror to the society where casteism, sexism, and colourism is deeply ingrained
I have always felt that my parents were unique specimens, who stood apart from most other Indian parents. When in my 20s, while most parents were taken up with finding suitable matches for their marriage-eligible daughters or goading them to get hitched, mine were (for want of a better word) disinterested in the whole process. There were no 'right' boys that I had to meet, or family friends' eligible sons to serve tea and samosas to. My parents were busy encouraging me to follow the pursuits of a demanding career; they were most excited to see me reporting on primetime television or read news stories along with my byline. I always believed them to be part of a sacred cult, who seemed more invested in my future professional prospects than my personal ones. Their justification was that I would find my way there too as I had done in all other aspects of life. My parents put no pressure and their expectations that started with scoring top grades in school eventually settled to a desire to see me 'happy' — the definition of that happiness was again left to my judgement... I was not complaining, happy to be left to make my mistakes and my decisions.
The reason for my rumination is the latest Netflix show, 'Indian Matchmaking', that has taken the tv screens by storm. The concept is similar to another Netflix show called 'Dating Around' but appropriately contextualised to suit the Indian palate. You see, we Indians, can't be seen 'dating around' but meeting random potential partners for the purpose of marriage is quite acceptable. That marks the beginning of a series of problematic issues such as casteism, colourism, sexism, etc. that has left viewers astounded. It hasn't stopped anyone from watching the show though because accept it — it is all too entertaining!
It's surprising that so many have found the show cringeworthy. The practice of arranged marriage is an old one that is followed by many Indians, in the 'desh' and the 'pardes' (overseas). The problem arises when you hold the mirror up for us to actually see what we have been doing. You see, while we indulge in it, we'd rather not 'see' how we exactly go about it. We want to be part of this everchanging, modern India where the youth is in control of its choices. While it may be true for a few, the majority still have parents calling the shots — and decisions are made according to many external factors, those that are truly cringeworthy.
To clarify, I don't think there is anything wrong with matchmaking. Whether it comes from a dating app, a matrimonial website, or through professional matchmakers such as the show's Sima Taparia, the idea is to bring two people together with a chance for long-lasting companionship. There are some who are perfectly content in life being single and attached, but most human beings oscillate towards companionship; the 'two against the world' concept. The criticism of arranged marriage, as was highlighted by 'Indian Matchmaking' is that women seldom have much control in the matter. More often than not, it's the men and their families, who seem to be leading, the women are expected to 'compromise', be 'flexible', and generally, just follow like sheep.
The pressure on the Indian woman is real. I remember a childhood friend having to settle for a boy, even though her heart was not in it because her previous relationship had broken and her parents just wanted to marry her off at the earliest. Or an office colleague's frustration while she explored every possible way to find a match; eventually she gave up trying to force things, and I believe she is happier now.
If matchmaking sheds its preconceived notions about appearance, net worth, skin colour, religion, and caste factors, it would be welcome in the new India. Where men and women can meet each other without prejudice, it could lead to more equitable relationships. And how much ever, we may scoff at words such as 'flexible' and 'compromise', every relationship and especially marriage, is all that and more. It's just that both the man and the woman should be expected to be accommodating. What would I like to see in the second season of 'Indian Matchmaking'? Modern, independent men and women who are able to make decisions without their parents' interference. And to take it up a notch, let's see some matchmaking for LGBTQ; then we would be watching something that's truly transformative.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal