New rules, but it’s the same game. And matrimonial ads are reflecting this. According to a Futurebrands report on 40 years of Indian matrimonial ads, men are opening themselves up to the female gaze. ‘I am Handsome’ as self-description rose from 15 per cent in the 60s to 25 per cent in 2007. The individual is increasingly at the forefront. From no mention in 1967 to markers like ‘I am a tall girl,’ the graph rose to 60 per cent in 1977 to 98 per cent in 2007.
In the 1960s, ‘fairness’ as a category was assumed under the imprecise term of ‘good looking’. “Photographs seem to be working almost as furnishing proof, in the face of widespread claim of being beautiful,” says Sraboni Bhaduri, head, Insights and Knowledge Initiatives, Futurebrands. From a 5 per cent demand for ‘proofs’ in 1987, the percentage has moved to 28 per cent in the 80s and 32 per cent in the 90s. “Both sexes talk more about themselves than about what they want,” adds Bhaduri. “In matters of caste, location, professional qualifications, even schools, people are ready to be specific. To talk numbers.”
The same degree of specificity is missing in second marriages. The emergence of height as a desirable attribute has kept its promise throughout. This goes down in case of second marriages showing a willingness to adjust.
The surprises: despite marked social mobility, the report points to a tendency for ‘risk reduction’ in an increasingly uncertain world. 24 per cent ads in 2007 specified manglik /non-manglik perhaps as a ritual warding off of any additional factors that affect the fragile nature of marriages. Astrology, thus, became the impartial mediator to show the way in a society where familiar guidelines were, and are, are fast disappearing.
Though, the desire for a ‘90s woman’ grows in the 90s, there’s also a yearning for the homely bahu, chosen through a matching of horoscopes. The year 2007 notes a sharp fall in the “homely+educated” category. An awareness of the paradoxical demand perhaps? ‘Decent family’ is also no longer a criterion. From the ’80s, it’s been a downward spiral.
Suhrita Basak, a mother of two in Delhi, who scours matrimonial ads in newspapers for use later, notes that instead of PO box numbers, as was the norm even till the 80s, mobile numbers are being given. “The idea being ‘contact me personally.’”