India 2008: Modern Love

Hi, I am Ravi itself. I’m a simple-living and high-thinking person with jolly nature. So please marry with me or otherwise your life is on your hand. I myself working for foreign MNC in Noida, and earning well.” So went a typical, linguistically mangled message from one of my suitors on Shaadi.com, advertised as the “most preferred online matrimonial site for Indians.”

For centuries Indians found spouses through arrangements made by their parents, often seeing each other once or twice before the wedding day. Customs have relaxed, but arranged marriage is alive and well, only the arranging is increasingly done on the Internet. Shaadi.com (shaadi is the Urdu word for marriage) is just one of numerous sites— Indiamatrimony.com, Jeevansathi.com (jeevansathi means “life partner”)—that are revolutionizing the way Indians around the globe meet and marry.

I can’t say I was overjoyed at the idea of resorting to Shaadi.com. Born in India, I’d grown up in California and always imagined a love marriage. But I was tired of Western-style dating, not to mention Western-style uncertainty over where relationships were headed. I began to think more about arranged marriage (or at least semiarranged—I couldn’t relinquish all choice). I looked at my happily married parents who, 40 years earlier, wed after meeting just once. Perhaps I was missing something.

Having passed 30, I felt my options dwindling. In India, women my age are hardly a prime catch. There are even special Web sites for us “older” singles, such as Thirtyplusshaadi.com. At least I’m not divorced, though there’s a site for that undesirable group too, Secondshaadi.com.

My parents, once fairly relaxed about my matrimonial intentions, became fixated on my situation. It was my father who initiated the Shaadi.com experiment, and I was all too happy to let him handle the back end of the process. He uploaded my profile, carefully filling out information on my caste, my astrological sign, my hobbies. I was surprised to learn that I enjoyed shopping and never drank alcohol, which led to some confusion when I suggested meeting a date over a glass of wine.

After a few years of deflating dating experiences and some misses on Shaadi.com, I left New York for New Delhi, thinking the rapid modernization sweeping India might lead me to a thoroughly 21st-century Indian man. In Delhi I did meet many young men and women who were poster children for the new India, but most weren’t thinking about marriage.

More than half of India’s population is under the age of 35 (some estimates run as high as 70 percent), and this generation is in the throes of a sexual revolution not too different from the one America underwent in the sixties. You probably won’t find them on Shaadi.com, though they’re logging onto Facebook and Orkut just as much as their Western counterparts, if not more so.

Yet while more and more young Indians are dating and insisting on finding their own partners, most—even among progressive urbanites—still favor some form of arranged marriage. According to a 2007 poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, nearly three quarters of Indians believe parents should have the final say when it comes to marriage.

Several months after arriving in Delhi, I received an oddly enchanting message from an Indian in his thirties named Manoj—living in Luxembourg, of all places—parodying a letter typical of the ones addressed to my father. When I wrote back, I learned it was actually a very clever Nabokovian message within a message. I was thrilled and asked whether he’d be traveling to Delhi anytime soon. A few weeks later he wrote to say he had met someone—and it was going well. Did I mention I’m unlucky in love?

Anita Jain is the author of Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India.