Disclaimer: This is a long, detailed, analytical piece about dating, relationships and marriages in India. I am solely responsible for the thoughts within.
Right at the lunchtime, the office bell rings. When the door is opened, you see a handsome dashing guy entering in, with a tiffin in his hands. He hands it over to one of the girls in the office. What follows next is a series of Whispers and giggles. As kids, we used to play this game called ‘Chinese Whispers’ where a phrase was to be told to one person, and a chain of conversation was to be formed with the same phrase. In this case, the phrase that reached me was ‘She found him on TrulyMadly’, giggled the person next to me. The phrase sounded like it was about a product on Flipkart but it was indeed about the guy. TrulyMadly is one of those dating apps. The app offers a number of games like ‘Foodie Funda’, ‘Hocus Pocus’, and vivacious stickers to express things you might or might not be able to ‘describe in words’. TrulyMadly is not alone in the race.
When the international dating app giant called Tinder entered India, it was unsure about whether the seemingly shy Indians will cross the lines and hop over but it worked out really well. Tinder is a dating app where you can see other people around you, right swipe to say yes and left swipe to say no. You can see the person’s picture, bio and interests- to be able to see whether you want to meet them or not. Making a good Tinder profile can be tricky: Don’t undersell. Or oversell. Or even sell. By the way, the other person doesn’t get the notification yet. Instead, they get to see your picture. It is purely a game of chance. Only if the one you swiped right, swipes you right (or vice versa), you get to talk to them.
In this part of the world where sex is such a taboo, and there is a lot of repressed aggression, Tinder may act like a room full of horny people, especially men. It is known to have a huge crowd of guys/men looking for no strings attached kind of casual sex. Speaking of Tinder reminds me of this popular Indian standup comedian I used to admire; until one of my friends, who lives in Mumbai, shared her experience of going out with him on a date through Tinder. She painfully mentioned how he was boring, unfunny and making direct advances to sex, just too soon.
She: “Did you see this movie with Robert di Niro and Anne Hathaway?”
He: “Ya let’s watch it together tonight- your place or mine?”
It’s crazy how people can be very different online and offline. Tinder is linked with your Facebook for authentication purposes so there are chances you start getting 10-15 friend requests a day. Although, no doubt, Tinder can be a little weird place for the males also, giving them crazy experiences. Look at this one message conversation that happened with a guy on Tinder:
She: Hi. Do you want to work as male escort in Hyderabad? There is one lady coming from Mumbai tomorrow. If you are ready you can earn Rs. 30,000 for 1 night.
He: What the hell?!
(Blocked and deleted the app)
There’s a similar dating site for homosexuals and all queer- it’s called Grindr. Grindr even in its most basic form seems far more explicit and dangerous than Tinder. Homosexuality is such a secret in our country that this app becomes one of those easiest ways to meet people. From what you hear- people on Grindr have a lot of fake names/nicknames instead of real ones, for the fear of disclosing their real identity to someone known.
For homosexuals, it is not as easy as approaching someone. You have to first ‘come out’ to the other person. Everyone has a coming out story, this means when you tell someone about being gay, lesbian or bisexual. Eventually, Grindr has only a limited number of people, because it means that they are coming out to a community of people, and hence there can be embarrassing times when coincidently two friends would meet on Grindr because the identity is initially unknown. One of my friends (then 25) met a 45-year-old man through Grindr and it turned out to be really ugly. The elder man took him to some random highway, tried to threaten him with rape, robbed him and then left him stranded on the road. In spite of the evident dangers of blind dates, Grindr works out as one of the most sought after ways to meet people because it’s the only place where so many people ‘come out’ in open.
The circle of dating gets into the official relationship stage (aka hanging out, going out, commitment) when two people say ‘I love you’, and mark the date in their calendar for monthly and yearly anniversaries of the same. It is an unsaid norm that the guy proposes. There is a honeymoon period in every relationship which makes even the sanest people utterly gullible. The two can absolutely not live a day or a moment without one other, and if the other person by any chance has to go out of the station in that phase; all the closest friends, colleagues and juniors would know- because the person will be super anxious, irritable and at times paranoid.
Why is this phase gullible? Because they forget that the other person has survived all these years without them.
After the honeymoon period comes life. It is perhaps because of the vast array of communication channels /distractions available, constantly showing if the other person is ‘Online’ or not, when were they ‘Last Seen’, whether they have ‘Seen’ and not replied; that most couples fail to see that basic requirement of space and trust in their togetherness.
The world becomes like a private app for the two- where they have to constantly update on ‘what doing’, ‘where going’, with ‘whom’ and ‘why’. If she has too many guy friends, it’s a problem. If he talks to a prettier girl, it’s a problem.
Some couples enjoy making one other jealous and feel pride when the other person is protective and possessive about them. While we’d blame the society for creating weird imbalances in marriages, for the neo-couples, the relationship already means you own the other person.
Speaking of dates, blind dates and relationships must remind us of arranged marriages. Twenty years ago, looking at the future, you would have thought that arranged marriages will get extinct, and be a thing of the past. But look at it today, they’ve in fact evolved to come back with a sense of modernity. It is a genuine option for the people who are unable to find someone/ ‘fall in love’ by the time they are of the ‘marriageable age’. The Marriageable age is a number that changes from caste to region to the family background. For some, 28 is a fair enough age, and some get their children ‘placed’ even before graduation.
Over the years, the role of parents has moved to that of being facilitators with one hand up for the blessing, the other hand immersed purposefully in the wallet. Blind dates/drives/movies are set up by parents where the girl and the boy get chances to ‘know each other’. Here the idea of love is being not-so-gently manufactured but is served on the table knowing marriage is on cards.
Online matrimonial sites are full of young professionals seeking matches on their own, of course, the ‘religion, sub-caste, caste’ aspects are confirmed and fed by the parents, but they are also looking for their own ‘wants’. There are specific sites like IITIIMShaadi.com where you an IIM Person can find an IIT Person, which runs on the principle that ‘Alumni of Premier Education Institutions’ deservedly desire the companionship of the ‘matching intellect’, with similar experiences and expectations. Sadly, the founder himself (unmarried) shall not qualify to find a mate on this website because he could only make it to SP Jain.
If you are rich and want to filter only the rich for yourself, there’s a website called ‘SirfCoffee.com’ which charges Rs. 20,000 but guarantees a perfect match. Although it is logic defying because if you’re rich, it shouldn’t be so difficult for you to find you a partner!
Ranjani was a 25-year-old Tamil Brahmin from Bangalore, pursuing her Masters in Dentistry, looking for a TDH (Tall Dark Handsome) Tamil guy earning minimum 12 lakhs per annum. On her mother’s insistence, she posted a requirement on Bharat Matrimony.com and then to be on the safer side, also on Kerala Matrimony.com. She got about 25 requests, out of which she chatted with a few online, then decided to meet 2 of them with their families at her home. Something clicked with one of the guys. Both parents saw it as a perfect match as the caste was same, both looked like a good ‘jodi’ together.
Six months later Ranjani attempted suicide. Her parents were baffled to see her all pale and thin lying on the hospital bed with a bottle supplying blood to her body. They discovered that the guy and the family used to beat her; had taken away the 100 tola gold given to her, and were constantly torturing her to raise demand for more to her parents. Unable to take the pressure at home nor being able to share the details with her parents, Ranjani had taken such an extreme step. The parents took their daughter back home, filed a case against the in-laws and got all their gold back. The girl is now pursuing her study further, lives an independent life, but the parents being still affected by the ‘unfortunate accident’ and constantly looking out for a good guy for their daughter.
The perspective of arranged marriages works best in the context where the idea of the individual is still very under-developed. The fact that a person can drive, drink (in most states), can vote for electing the government⎯ is not enough to believe that the person will be able to make their own decision of whom to fall in love with, or worse – whom to spend their life with. The institute of marriage lies in the union of families first, and individuals later. The idea of getting a young boy of a particular caste (and sub-caste) with a particular degree from a particular salary with a ‘nice family’ (plus or minus ‘doesn’t smoke or drink’) seems sufficient as a description, and one such person was broadly substitutable to another. And hence, a huge majority of parents find it difficult to accept that their boy or girl has ‘fallen in love’ with someone outside their caste or sub-caste, forget religion (especially if one of them is a Muslim). It may start with a basic human feeling of ‘fear of the unknown’- in this context- unknown culture, unknown kitchen/food, different routines etc.; but eventually, it is a lot of the ego and the sense of entitlement that those Indian parents feel on their children.
Looking at the extreme level of complications in the procedures, there are a lot of girls and boys out there, trying their best to delay the prospect of marriage as much as possible.
Some do it in lieu of post-graduation, some want to first ‘stand on their own feet’ before ‘settling down’ and some run away to another city- away from the pressure from the parents and the claws of the pesky relatives. They say they want to live their life before getting married.
You find a lot of couples in live-ins (two people living together without getting married), especially in cities like Mumbai where it is easy to blend in the crowd (if you are an outsider) and where no one cares too much about what you do in your personal life. For a lot of them, it is about making an honest attempt to fall in love with someone, for others it is having sex. A lot of people want to travel as much as possible before they get married, as Marriage in its perceived definition is a chain that ties you down.
The considerable age of marriage is not just set by the society. Individuals wait to get married, and with that begins a new race. One of my friends had put a case (voluntarily) to me for the primary reason of why she thinks it is the right time for her to marry right now. “Aakhir, humaari bhi kuch zarooratein hoti hai” she had declared, leaving me temporarily dumbfounded. After a few seconds, I realised that whether we want to accept it or not, sex is the open secret for which people want to get married.The first night (suhag raat) is clearly about sex where under the artificially constructed amphitheatre of privacy, million eyes and ears are imagining the sexual union of the newly weds.
It is an important factor to consider that the pressure is not just for the children but there is immense pressure on the parents. If they are parents of the daughter, the pressure is double. The society becomes a parallel force that singlehandedly puts pressure on everyone to get married, in order to find a supposed balance in life. A part of this society is also market driven. Market showing trendy lehengas, its ‘jewellery that makes you want to marry’, event management companies that help you make it larger than life, HD makeup, cosmetic treatments for the bride, available for the face to private parts⎯ all these, try to lure you towards the competitive market of marriages. For some girls, their biggest dream is to get married, which is highly ironic (and Bollywood inspired) considering a girl’s life changes multifold in the Indian system of marriages.
The fear of defying the societal principles of ‘whom to marry and whom not to’, implies being ‘bad mouthed about’, being banished from their own parents and family; or worse⎯ death in the form of honour killings.
None of the arranged marriages guarantees love and peace, nor do love marriages. Marriages don’t come with a guarantee. In spite of that, arranged marriages are advocated with a sense of pride and assurance. Like in our education institutions, examination grades decide whether you’re a success or a failure. In our institution of marriage, divorce declares you as a failure. On the flip side, being in an unhappy marriage is typically fine, and normal.
No one tells us what is okay⎯that beyond husband and wife, no two humans living together under the same roof shall live peacefully ever after; that friction happen because it is human but you don’t stop loving.
No one tells us what is not okay⎯that the person who mentally or physically abuses you⎯ doesn’t respect you, doesn’t deserve you. It doesn’t make you undeserving of love. You deserve every bit of it.
No one tells us that marriage means more of equal companionship, that it could a beautiful way of leading life, having someone by your side no matter what; and a brilliant (yet not guaranteed) way of not dying alone.
This piece was first published while translated in Gujarati for a beautiful Gujarati magazine called Sarthak Jalso.