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The Indian Matrimonial Dictionary
Apr 18, 2016

Indian matrimonial columns are something. When it comes to attitude and language, there's no beating them. They also reveal a lot about society. 'Wheatish', 'homely', 'convent-educated', 'innocent divorcee' - are terms you find in Indian matrimonial classifieds and carry their own esoteric meanings.

To begin with, are 'brides wanted' and 'grooms wanted' really derogatory terms treating love as commodity in the 'marriage market' governed by the economic principles of demand and supply? But many people like Swapan Mukherjee, Sociologist by profession, disagrees, "Brides Wanted and Grooms Wanted are not derogatory terms. They signify the need of the advertiser and classify the requirement in specific columns." In support Psychologist Chrisann Almeida also feels, "Marriage is deemed essential for virtually everyone in India, so the term "wanted" actually reflects an almost dire need, so I don't think it's derogatory as such. I'm disheartened about the lack of romance, but this is the reality of things in India."

Matrimonial advertisements haven't shown much change over the years. Ever since the 50s almost everyone wanted to marry a fair girl and the groom had to be financially established and from a so-called respectable family. Though most families were quite particular as far as caste and even gotra was considered, even in 1947, there were advertisements in which 'caste, community and religion' were no bar. Divorces were quite unheard of in 1947 but there were grooms from liberal families quite open to the idea of marrying a widow. However, over the years more importance has been paid to a girl's professional and academic background. When India just got independent it would generally suffice if the girl was just a matriculate and even 16-year-olds were considered old enough for marriage. Dowry hadn't been made a crime so it was asked for openly in print. Browsing through Indian matrimonial classifieds which appeared in the Amrita Bazar Patrika in 1947, one comes across lines like, 'preference to party willing to bear groom's foreign studies expenses' or 'reasonable / liberal dowry'. There were a few cases in which no dowry was asked for or the bride's father boldly refused to pay dowry. A nationalistic father had advertised in the year of the Indian Independence for his daughter's marriage stating- 'unable to pay adequate dowry according to modern foppish standards.'

A glance at contemporary Indian matrimonial classifieds reveals words like 'beautiful', 'professionally-qualified', 'respectable family', 'caring' etc... this may lead one to wonder - are all those who are advertising themselves as good-looking, virtuous and from well-to-do families as claimed in print? If it was really so why don't we see as many gorgeous looking people with great jobs all around us in everyday life? Why doesn't humility ever feature in matrimonial classifieds?

The above just proves matrimonial advertising is very simply either about selling yourself, or sourcing a suitable mate, so you go the whole hog and sell yourself as hard as you can. Ever heard of any manufacturer underselling his product or service? Ditto for matrimonial ads!