Wanted Suitable match for a Brahmin graduate virgin aged 22. Handsome and well versed in household affairs and music. Brahmins preferred.
Punjabi Captain 27 wants highly connected bride.
Delhi based reputed Gupta Medico family seeks alliance for their beautiful, fair, smart, slim, N.M. daughter
23/5'5, MBA (U.S.). Pursuing C.P.A. from U.S.A. and working in reputed bank (U.S.A.). Looking for tall, handsome
below 28 years, well placed professional.
Preferably qualified (IIT, IIM and PG Medico). Match from Status family only.
That’s India circa 1930, 1960 and 2009. And, oh, how things have changed. HT’s matrimonial section has been around since the 1920s. And, over 85 years, they have traced a society changing, evolving, renewing itself.
A look back shows how a caste fixation gave way to concerns about education, then the yearning to travel the world, and finally, a sense of parity: Educated women who wanted educated men, and vice-versa.
As society opened up, it wasn’t just the content of the matrimonial ads that changed. The volume changed too. Matrimonials went from being seen as an embarrassing last-ditch effort to the smart way to replace the local gossipy matchmaker — with one that could reach out across a nation.
From occupying a small space on the classifieds page in the 1920s and 1930s, matrimonials now run into several pages of the four-page Sunday classifieds supplement.
HANDSOME, HEALTHY, VIRGIN In the 1930s and ’40s, matrimonial advertisements were short, straightforward and to the point. ‘Handsome, healthy, virgin’ was the typical description of the ideal bride.
And highly educated women were frowned upon. ‘Wanted suitable match for 25 year old Khatri Sikh bachelor…’ says one 1940 ad. ‘Western fashioned, highly educated need not approach’. By the 1950s, though, smart men began to look for smart women, and educational qualifications came second only to looks in terms of importance. By the 1960s, as the Government of India grew in size and strength, so did the demand for grooms in government service. The next best thing was ‘family with connections’, a demand in several matrimonial advertisements like this one: Punjabi Captain 27 wants highly connected bride (September 18, 1960).
THE ‘FOREIGN-RETURNED’ CRAZE As international travel gained popularity
— Hindustan Times at this time begins to get flooded with advertisements by travel agencies and airlines
— ‘foreign-settled’ and ‘foreignreturned’ became the tags to have for grooms-to-be. ‘Wanted a beautiful girl for a Punjabi boy aged 27.5 years,’ says one ad from 1965. ‘Holding respectable position in a reputed private firm. Monthly income in four figures… visited Europe twice on business trip.’
The obsession with foreign-returned boys continues, and the tag had become a common boast in most ads by the 1990s. Today, it'’s becoming a big plus for women too.
The working girl — including doctors and engineers — came to life in the matrimonials from the 1970s and ’80s. The archetype ‘fair, tall, homely and convent-educated’ began to make its presence felt.
“The matrimonial space reflects social aspirations,” says Mumbai-based sociologist Nandini Sardesai. ‘Conventeducated’ meant the girl could speak English.”
By the late 1970s, as India Inc began to stumble to its feet, government jobs were suddenly not so popular any more. ‘Suitable match for slim, fair, accomplished B.A., M.B.A. Arora girl,’ says one ad from 1975. ‘Middle class family. Engineers, Doctors, Industrialists preferred.’
This trend would continue, and by the 1990s, advertisements for grooms in government service were very few indeed. Most parents wanted their daughters to live in the relative luxury of an engineer, doctor or MBA’s home.
THE NRI BAHU
By the turn of the millennium, the Non-Resident Indian had become the most sought-after groom-to-be. “Social status since the 1990s has been determined not by caste but by education, where you own a house etc,” says Poonam Sachdeva, CEO of Connexon.H, a marriage bureau in Delhi that was started in early 1970s. “And economic status precedes even social status now.”
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE… The most marked difference in the ads from 85 years ago and the ones printing today, though, is the age at which women are married.
While it was perfectly acceptable in the 1920s for parents to invite matches for girls in their early teens — ‘Wanted matches for two Agarwal Vaish respectable and handsome girls one aged 13 Hindi knowing and the other aged 14’ says one ad from 1929 — the average age is now up to the mid- and late-20s and going up further. Despite the changes, though, much has stayed the same.
“The ‘handsome and healthy’ of the 1930s has given way to ‘fair, tall and beautiful’,” says Sardesai. “Our definition of beauty has changed but physical attributes are just as important, if not more so.”
And though the nuances of caste have changed, it is still extremely important to many that their daughters marry into homes of the same clan, as it were.
The stress today may be more on finding familiar ground in a big, flat world than an inherent bias against other castes, but, as Sardesai puts it: “Some things just don’t change.”