A beautiful young lady I know is getting married in December. She was a topper throughout her school life, attended one of the best colleges in Delhi and I definitely thought she would make it through CAT.
But after 2 unsuccessful attempts and a couple of timepass BPO jobs she has - much to the relief of the parents - agreed to 'settle down'. "The boy is from a very renowned family in Amritsar", her mother beamed, genuinely happy, when I met her at a family wedding last week. He is also, I am told, tall, fair and good looking -"aur hamein kya chahiye".
"Frankly, I am happy uska MBA nahin hua,"the mom confides. "It's very difficult to manage a career and family you know." I wonder whether the girl feels the same way. "Abhi to woh job kar rahi hai... but just for a few months. Baad mein woh thodi job karwayenge."
Hmm. To kya karwayenge I want to ask. Renowned families in Amritsar don't expect bahus to cook and clean. So the girl can hope to 'live like a queen'. Visit the parlour twice a week, socialise, shop and sit pretty. Waiting to brighten up the husband's evening when he gets home. Perhaps go to the club, or on long drives and weekends to Kasauli.
A year or two of this mauj masti and then she will be in the 'family way'. Husband will get busy with his factory and she with the kids. Nothing wrong in all this, of course. But is it really a choice she is making - or a life she is accepting because it's what the parents want? The path of least resistance, a comfortable existance.
Preserving the status quo...
I am not writing this from a rabid feminist point of view which says all women must be highly ambitious and aspire to be CEOS. I am simply making an observation: that no doubt women have come far... but.
But there are enough women out there who are still brought up to believe 'marriage is everything'. Go ahead, do an MBA but you know, you don't have to work. In fact some parents go so far as to forbid their bschooled daughters from working.
One such girl - a niece - is currently cooling her heels in her hometown in U.P. It took a lot of convincing but her parents let her go and do an MBA from Pune. When her father asked me what I thought of XYZ small time institute I was about to say, "She can do better than that. Let her try for CAT again next year..."
But the girl called and begged,"Aap please aisa mat kehna. Nahin to isi saal meri shaadi ho jaayegi!". So she went ahead, but on the understanding that she was going to study for knowledge sake - and would not take up a job.
I think what tipped the scales in favour of further education was this: "Aajkal sab padhi likhi ladki chahte hain.. MBA ladke MBA ladki chahte hain".
Now, over a year after graduating my niece is twiddling her thumbs, waiting for her parents to find a suitable guy. Horror of horrors, she is a 'manglik' and it seems matching horoscopes is a must on the arranged marriage circuit.
Is she unhappy? Desperately. She could walk out and lead her own life - but she isn't that type. So she waits, and hopes that destiny will be kind. That she will get an undertanding guy who will 'let' her work. Or if not work, at least give space in other ways.
Friends who got married while she was away have but one thing to say. It's luck, pure and simple.
The 'happy' ones are those whose mother in laws don't nag them about waking up early. They get to roam around at home in their 'nighty', watch serials with the saas, go out shopping and for kitty parties. Their husbands are jolly souls who like to go our for dinners and movies. And again - importantly - mother in law does not mind.
The unlucky ones have the mother in laws you see in soap operas. There's one who insists the bahu wear only saris. She monitors how many telephone calls are made and encourages her own daughter to use bhabhi's make up and jewellery. The girl is an MBA but of course, working is out of the question. The husband is caught between mom and wife and prefers to stay on mataji's side.
"It's true, I'm not making all this up!" insists my niece.
A quick scan of the matrimonial ads is revealing. I check out this morning's Hindustan Times which is a good reflection the Delhi/ UP/ Punjab mindset. Here are some samples under 'Agarwals' ...
A 25 year old under 'grooms wanted' is described as : "fair, beautiful, exceptionally talented, convent educated, interior Architect from best college in India." Whatever an 'interior architect' is! "Presently working only for her passion in Arts and Architecture".
Yaane ki worry not, hamaari ladki shaadi ke baad job nahin karegi.
All girls are of course described as slim and fair but this particular ad really takes the cake!
"Medico match for Garg girl 5'5" Oct 1981, very fair, smart, sharp featured, slim, extra beautiful (rare in Aggarwals) MBBS, DNS entrance cleared..."
However it's interesting to note that a number of the ads do mention girls with their qualifications (down to specific institutes eg MBA - Symbiosis), and a few even mention salaries. Which seems to indicate the girl intends to continue working after marriage.
But whereas 7 out of 10 boys I picked as a random sample mention salary, only 3 out of 20 girls had advertised theirs. Another 5 out of the 20 mentioned 'working girl' or 'with top company/ MNC'. 5 of the 20 ads mentioned a qualification like MBA or MCA but did not elaborate whether the girl was working at all.
One specifically mentioned 'smart fair homely MBA'.
Da Matri Code
In the world of matrimonial advertising I think these are distinct segments and codewords:
a) Girl with qualification + salary/ company working for: "Career oriented"
Will insist on working after marriage, will not play the traditional bahu role. "Bach ke rehna". Only for the strong at heart and those willing to help change the diapers. Dowry ka to naam bhi mat lena!
b) Girl who is qualified and 'working', but no salary mentioned: "Flexible"
Will work if the boy's family is ok with it, open to leaving it if required. In other words someone who will adjust and always accord the husband and his job the first priority. But she's not a pushover - dowry for her is a dirty word. So the Ford Ikon the boy's family is expecting needs to be packaged as a 'gift' that is being given to beti out of pure love.
c) Girl who is qualified/ from a reputed college but no detail about whether she is working: "Housewife material"
But will make a more presentable and interesting companion than the BA pass of yore. Will make a good mother, as you see educated mothers are very important today. Of course, may not be as 'homely' as mummyji might want, and this may create conflict in time to come.
d) The rest: "Born to be Mrs"
Girls who never aspired to do anything more than marry and settle down. The fairness and beauty of the girl are her prime assets. Family background and how much the parents are willing to spend, a close second.
Of course nothing 'works out' as we plan in life. There's a good chance that 5 years from now "Career oriented" will have a baby, mellow down and altogether give up her job.
It might be "flexible" who actually becomes a career woman - because her husband is supportive. Or, the family needs two incomes to afford a swanky 3 bedroom house in Guragaon.
And "housewife" or "born to be Mrs" may well put their interior decoration/ fashion designing/ dietician course to good use. And become entrepreneurs in their own right!
But the matrimonial ad reflects the present - aagey ki guarantee kaun le sakta hai...
A reflection of social trends
Actually, someone could easily do a PhD based on matrimonial advertising - how it's changed over the years and what that says about Indian society.
Even how the advertising in Hindustan Times published from Delhi and The Times of India (Mumbai edition) shows two distinctly different cultures.
The HT ads clearly reflect the 'north Indian mindset'. First of all, there are 8 whole broadsheet pages devoted to matrimonials. Poor TOI has just 4 (that too interrupted by inane 'articles' like "Who wants to marry Himesh Reshammiya'?)
Well I think there are 2-3 possible reasons for that quantitative difference
a) More people in the north have arranged marriages
b) It could also be that more young people up north rely on their families to find a match - and the families still prefer to advertise in newspapers. Whereas in say, Mumbai, more young people might be registering on portals like shaadi.com and looking for a girl/ guy themselves.
In fact Times themselves have a portal www.timesmatri.com which might be cannibalising some of their print advertising!
But the difference between HT and TOI goes far beyond mere 'quantity'.
The HT ads - in true Punjabi style - are loud, garish and designed to attract attention. The richer the family, the bigger and more violently coloured the display ad. Choose from hot pink, green, lemon yellow, ochre and even violet!
The HT ads use different wordings. "High status" and "reputed family" appear in every 3rd or 4th ad. There are several references to "decent marriage", some specify "very decent marriage".
I'm guessing 'decent' means shaadi in 3 star + Santro car, while 'very decent' means 5 star + Skoda. Indecent, as it might seem to the likes of me!
Several ads mention the term 'NM'. At first I was surprised that so many Narsee Monjee graduates would be advertising but then I realised it actually stands for 'Non Manglik'. Words like 'convented' and gori/ v gori also appear far more often in HT.
TOI by contrast has many more ads referring to 'cultured' family. You're also more likely to see words like affluent and cosmopolitan. In fact TOI ads starts its listings with a section called 'Cosmopolitan' whereas HT starts with the caste based A for Agarwal.
Interestingly, many more ads in TOI than HT mention 'caste no bar'. However in reality what that means is say we are Agarwals, we will also consider Brahmins and Punjabis if the boy/ girl is really well qualified/ attractive...
None of the ads in TOI mention terms like 'decent marriage', I think that is due to a Times of India policy many years ago - if I remember correctly - to take a stand against dowry. Of course just because it is not said, does not mean it is... not in the picture. And TOI does have its share of ads for 'convented, fair, slim' (think: Aishwarya Rai) types.
Still, I find the TOI matrimonial ads more progressive and varied in nature -of course reflecting the composition of Mumbai city itself.
Admittedly my 'research' is unscientific but so is this whole marriage business. Where minds may never get a chance to meet - unless horoscopes and degrees first match.