Marriage bureaus: Finding a perfect match, Delhi way
There are over 3000 marriage bureaus in the capital-- and growing. Why do they continue to be so sought-after? Inside their curious world!delhi Updated: Dec 15, 2017 16:28 IST
It’s a bright, sunny afternoon, and Delhi’s signature smog has dissipated to reveal a clear blue sky. Neelam Pathak is busy in a closed-door meeting with her client—parents of a girl desperately looking for a match for their engineer daughter—at her sixth-floor office in a dark corridor of Janakpuri’s district centre.
The multi-storeyed towers of west Delhi’s first and once-fashionable, high-rise office-cum-retail-space built in the 1990s have fallen into decay over the years and shoppers have switched to malls but Pathak’s establishment — Pathakjee, one of the city oldest matrimonial bureaus set up by her father-in-law in 1972 — is going as strong as ever.
But technology, Pathak says, has made her job difficult.
What bothers Neelam Pathak is not the increasing number of match-making websites and apps. It is the beauty apps that are worrying her.
“These days, almost every boy and girl whose profile I get looks so pretty in pictures. These beauty apps have made it possible for everyone to look fair and lovely,” says Pathak. “The problem arises when I set up a meeting between boy and girl who look not so pretty in real life. My efforts at matchmaking end there and then, leaving me red-faced,” says the matchmaker, sitting in her small chamber. Hanging on the wall behind her are the framed photographs of her late husband and father-in-law.
A hoarding outside the office says the firm ‘provides matches for all religions, caste, ages, status — and budget’. A hand-painted message on the door’s glass, says: ‘No admission without permission’. One has to ring the bell to seek permission. As we talk , the bell rings and Pathak lets us know politely we will have to finish the conversation fast. “We are the number one matrimonial consultant in the city,” she says with her daughter Dimple Vohra and grandson by her side. “We are busy like never before, what with people’s rising expectations and their never-ending search for a perfect life partner.”
Pathak is not the only one in the profession—Delhi has an estimated 3,000 matrimonial bureaus --and half of them have come up in the past five years. Some are hole-in-the wall affairs, some run out of homes, others have pretty chic offices. Their job involves searching suitable profiles, arranging meetings between families, conveying messages to both sides, negotiating wedding budgets, among others.
They all claim their own specialty: some such as Global Alliance Matrimony cites its ‘association with elite branded families’ as its strength. Others such as Guptaji Marriage Bureau in Shakti Nagar claim to specialize in fixing marriages in the Vaishya community. Its website lists some of the city’s big business families as its ‘clients’.
The names of many marriage bureaus begin with community surnames: Pathakjee, Khannaji, Sharmaji, Guptaji. The favourite catchphrase of most of them is Rishte hi Rishte (matches unlimited), made famous in the 1970s by a matrimonial bureau of the same name in Karol Bagh set up by Dharam Chand Arora, Delhi’s first and legendary matchmaker. Most of the matrimonial bureaus charge a registration fee that ranges from Rs 5, 000 to 50,000. Others take a commission on the total cost of the marriage.
They all unanimously dismiss the challenge from the growing number of online matrimonial services, contending that technology is no match for their match-making skills. “A lot of profiles available online are fake, no one knows better than us who is who and what is what in the marriage market,” says Pathak. “These apps are for migrants who come to the city for jobs and do not have social connections. We deal with the high-status, wealthy families and they do not look for grooms and brides for their children through apps,” says Manoj Garg, who runs Guptaji Marriage Bureau (GMB) with his brother Shree Garg.
The brothers sit across a large desk in their teak-panelled office in north Delhi’s Shakti Nagar. On the wall behind them are glass shelves with dozens of folders marked ‘B’ and ‘G’. “B is for boys and G for girls,” explains Shree Garg.
Both men are busy these days. Shree Garg says he returns every day at 3 am after attending 2-3 wedding ceremonies on an average. “One of the biggest changes I have witnessed during a wedding is ego clashes, a reason why marriage brokers are needed more than ever before. A lot of disputes are over how the relatives of boys are welcomed during marriage rituals. It can test your patience and persuasive skills.”
Curiously, the Gargs manufactured soaps before they found their calling in match-making. “But I do not want my children to get into this,” says Shree Garg, whose mobile phone rings every few minutes. The callers are his clients. It is 11 am and he orders a quick breakfast of samosas in his office. An office assistant tells him that the venue of a meeting between the families of a prospective couple he is supposed to attend in the afternoon has changed from Taj Hotel to Hyatt. Manoj Garg says the marriages they broker cost anything between 1 and 20 crore. And how much does he charge for his services? “One per cent of the money spent on the marriage,” he says.
For most marriage bureaus, the money mainly comes from the registration fee. Vikas Bhardwaj runs Global Vivah Matrimony from a small flat in a run-down, middle-class locality in Rohini. The only sign that it is a commercial establishment is a designer nameplate at the door bearing the name of his matrimonial firm. Bhardwaj says the number of marriage bureaus in the city has doubled in the past few years because there is a lot of money to be made from selling registrations.
“Unfortunately, a lot of them have become sales-based enterprises that promise to send perfect profiles,” says Bhardwaj with sanctimonious disapproval. “Even if you sell two registrations every day at Rs 5,000, you earn Rs10,000 a day. But many marriage bureaus do not care about the suitability of profiles they send to their clients. Many families register with multiple bureaus hoping to find that perfect match for their children.”
Suman Taneja, who runs Sindoor Matchmakers from her home in Kirti Nagar, calls herself a writer, poet, painter, and, of course, a matchmaker. She says a lot of matchmakers are now collaborating with each other on WhatsApp groups. “In many cases, boys’ and girls’ families have their own matchmakers. No wonder then, a lot of people have begun to look upon match-makers as property dealers,” says a soft-spoken Taneja.
Taneja used to work as a marriage planner with a company before she turned a matchmaker. “I used to meet a lot of matchmakers for generating business. They felt I had the perfect personality for this job,” says Taneja. “I treat every child as my own. I personally visit families to verify their claims regarding jobs, business and property. Matchmaking is my passion, not profession”. Her own son though found his own life partner. “He is married to a French girl,” she says.
In fact, these matchmakers give you pretty interesting insights into how marriage has changed or not changed in India over the years. A lot of marriages, Taneja says, are happening during the day. The biggest change, Pathak points out, is that caste and cash is the last thing on the minds of people. “But that does not mean there is no greed, it is just that the idea of a suitable girl has changed,” she says.
In the past, she points out, the suitable girl was someone tall, slim, fair and a teacher.
Someone tall, slim, and an IT professional, she says.
Pathak should know. After all, her firm’s catchphrase in the last 45 years has been: Dulhan wahi jo Pathakjee dilwayein (the perfect bride is the one that Pathakjee gets you).
“Now families look for a girl who is well-paid, it does not matter if she is not so slim and fair. But education is a new status symbol and even parents’ education can make and break one’s chances ,” says Pathak. “But what has not changed, she says, are people’s faith in horoscopes. “Ninety per cent of people believe in them.”
And what does a suitable girl expect from a suitable boy? “Until the mid-1990s, the upwardly mobile girls would often demand a family with a Mercedes car, now they put premium on education and sophistication. Big cars are no more a status symbol,” says Pathak. She says the marriage age has been rising constantly, and now it is 30 for girls and 35-40 for boys.
The reason, Vikas Bhardwaj says, is high expectation. “Many boys and girls of marriageable age keep rejecting each other in search of that perfect life partner till they are in their mid-thirties. And then begins a phase of compromises. In most cases, it is too late by then,” says Bhardwaj. “But unfortunately, it means more business for matrimonial firms and more desperation for parents”.