Indian matchmaking hit hard in era of distancing and coronavirus
Few people in the Capital can talk about matchmaking as insightfully as Poonam Sachdev. After all, she runs Connex’on, previously called ‘Rishte hi Rishte’, Delhi’s oldest matchmaking company, which was started in the early 1970s by her uncle Dharam Chand Arora, the city’s legendary matchmaker. Their catchphrase Rishte Hi Rishte: Ek Baar Mil Toh Lein (matches and more matches, meet us at least once) used to be scrawled along railway tracks across north India in the 1980s.
Sachdev, 53, who has been in the business of matchmaking for 30 years, says Covid-19 has made her job more complicated than ever before. “Matching two people and arranging a marriage takes endless rounds of meetings and negotiations between two families, most of which used to take place in hotel lobbies. But hotels are closed and families do not want to invite each other to their homes because of the fear of the coronavirus disease, though they continue to press us for finding suitable matches for their children,” says Sachdev.
“While my business has gone down by 80%, one positive aspect of the pandemic is that those seeking matrimonial alliances have never before been so flexible about their demands regarding salaries, looks, the family status. Suddenly, a lot of people seem to believe in a simple marriage.”
Her sentiments are shared by many other well-known matchmakers in Delhi, who before the pandemic had an estimated 3,000 matrimonial bureaus. While a large number of them have had to permanently shut shop in the past three months, as business has nosedived like never before, those that have survived say finding a perfect match has never been so tough.
“Given the constraints of meeting spaces, I tried arranging meetings on Zoom, but it did not quite work out. Zoom, I realised, is not a place where boys and girl can meet, families can discuss budget, and most importantly, the two families can see each other’s houses and lifestyle, which plays an important role in a matrimonial alliance in Delhi. I managed to arrange a few meetings in hotels outside Delhi, but family members want to see each other’s faces during such meetings, but asking everyone to take off their masks is a bit awkward and not safe,” says Shree Garg, who, along with his father RK Garg, and brother, runs Guptaji Marriage Bureau in Shakti Nagar. “We used to charge 1% commission on the total budget of a wedding, but now those who wanted to spend ₹50 lakh wish to spend only ₹5 lakh on a wedding.”
Neelam Pathak, who runs Pathak Ji, another well-known marriage bureau, testifies to the ‘downturn in the groom’s market,’ saying the seemingly suitable boys might not actually be as suitable in reality. “He may be working in an MNC earning an astronomical salary, but given the current economic uncertainties, one can never be sure about what might happen in the next couple of months,” says Pathak, adding, “While our income has crashed like never before; the prevailing situation suits families with lesser means, who are now able to find a good match without the pressure of having to spend much on the wedding, which is currently a close family affair.”
Sachdev concurs: “There are a lot of middle-class families who want me to find a match for their children as soon as possible so that the wedding takes place before the pandemic is over. I worked over the phones and have already helped a couple of such as families to find the perfect match without obligations as to how and where the wedding should take place. ”
The loss of offline matchmakers has worked to the advantage of matrimonial websites, which have introduced newer features such as video profiles and video calling. “We have got 30% new users in the past three months,” says Rohan Mathur, chief business officer, Jeevansathi. “During the pandemic, we have sought to be a match-meeting destination through secure video calls whose use has gone up three times in the past three months.”
So, will the pandemic change the fat Indian wedding forever?
“In India, weddings have been a way to make a social statement. But right now there is no social pressure on anyone to organise big weddings,” says Anuja Agrawal, associate professor, sociology, Delhi School of Economics, whose specialisations include anthropology of family, kinship, and marriage.
Referring to the present trend of people getting married in courts, temples and at home with a small ceremony streamlined live for relatives, she says, “Some of these alternative weddings will survive after the pandemic is over. But a lot will depend on how long the Coronavirus crisis lasts, and also on the experiences of the people who are adopting these alternatives.”
But right now Sachdev’s primary concern is to stay safe as she looks for suitable matches for her clients. Giving an example of matchmaking horribly gone wrong, she says, the pandemic has not only made her job difficult, but dangerous. “Last month, I came across the case of a matchmaker who contracted Covid-19 and died a couple of weeks after she visited a prospective groom’s house,” says Sachdev. “ It turned out the boy’s grandfather had been sick for a few weeks and still the boy’s family invited the matchmaker to their house with the girl’s family. Eventually, the grandfather tested positive and died.”