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Eunuch marriage makers of Kashmir

The laancch traditionally fixed marriages in the Valley. Now marriage bureaus have taken over. Hilal Mir gives details...

india Updated: Nov 14, 2009 23:55 IST
Hilal Mir

The gentlemen have invaded our profession,” says Riyaz. “Gen-tel-men,” he drawls in sarcasm, fluttering his trimmed eyelashes and flashing a mocking smile. Riyaz, 28, is a laancch (the Kashmiri for eunuchs), traditional matchmakers in the Valley.

The “gentlemen” — the object of Riyaz’s anger — are the “retired officers, barbers, door-to-door pickle vendors, marriage bureaus”, who have turned to matchmaking of late, eroding the business of the laancch.

“This is what we have been doing for generations. In other jobs, we are ridiculed,” says Riyaz, sprawled on the double bed that nearly fills his one-room rented home in the Bemina suburb of Srinagar.

It’s mostly the middle and lower-middle classes in cities who still go to the laancch, since the “gentlemen” matchmakers have all but elbowed out the laancch from the lucrative upper strata of society. Or perhaps, it’s rising affluence, increasing acceptance of ‘love marriage’ and the opening up of society that have affected their trade.

Arranging a marriage is an elaborate affair in Kashmir and it can take as long as two years. Only a person without responsibilities and demands of a family — like a laancch — could take on the onerous job, or so it was believed. The gift of the gab, wit and resourcefulness are added qualities the laancch were reputed to possess.

Ghulam Muhammad, 67, who claims to have arranged thousands of marriages, says, “We can gauge a bride’s future in a home from the way clients serve us tea.”

The task of a matchmaker begins with getting to know the family. He sizes up the boy or the girl and gives the families addresses from his diary. From here begins an exhaustive ‘verification’ of everything from the boy’s income to the mother’s temper. If that goes well, the matchmaker arranges a meeting of the boy and girl, chaperoned by families. If any side withdraws at this stage, it means a loss for the laancch. “Two or three months work goes waste,” says Riyaz, who has faced three disappointments this year.

A matchmaker is paid Rs 100-500 on each visit to the client, and makes between Rs 15,000 and Rs 50,000 on a marriage. The payment goes up in special cases — an ageing bridegroom, for example. Sometimes, lovers who are afraid to talk to their families, ask a laancch to ‘arrange’ their marriage.

A laancch, invariably illiterate and poor, has a diary containing addresses of prospective brides and bridegrooms, the size of their family, educational qualifications, job profiles and other details. The thickness of the diary is indication of success; upstarts often carry loose pages.

Abdul Rahman, 44, and Muhammad Akram, 42, who have been working as laancch for the past 20 years, have been hit particularly hard by the “gentleman’s invasion”, managing barely six marriages this year. “Many weddings were cancelled during last year’s agitation (over the Amarnath land transfer). We had to accept whatever clients gave us,” Rahman says.