Society

Arranging love in urban India

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01dmc arranged marriage1   | Photo Credit: 01dmc arranged marriage1

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These highly curated platforms are now working hard to find you the love of your life.

The thing is, fictional love stories almost always guarantee a soul-mate before credit roll. In life, the search for a potential life partner doesn’t quite work like that, and it isn’t completely unwise to guard against potential disappointment, undue pressures and the possibility of unwanted advice from distant relatives. Still, who doesn’t want true love, or something like it? Obviously, there are the usual ways of finding it – that boy your friends know, that girl you bump into in the neighbourhood, the classmate you always liked, the witty Facebook banter you took offline. Or you could always opt for the tried and tested old world methods – arranged marriages fixed over family dinners and profile matches on matrimonial websites.

It is this concept of arranged marriage, so far in the domain of families, quick meetings and immediate follow through, that is undergoing a curious shift, especially in urban, young India.

It seems that while these young, highly educated, professionally driven young Indians have not lost their inclination to marry, they have certainly decided that it is no longer necessary to settle for the first or most convenient suitor. Instead, using platforms which tweak the idea of arranged marriage to give back control to the individual, they have decided to look for their partners themselves, and take their time doing so. These platforms allow for you to interact with like minded individuals in highly controlled environments, where each member is hand-picked so that you only meet people who you are most likely to get along with. This seems, then, a kind of hybrid edition of traditional arranged marriages and old fashioned boy-meets-girl love stories. Only, it removes the usual, time consuming parts from both activities, saving you the effort of going out there in the world and waiting to bump into the right person, or sitting indoors and sifting through stacks of matrimonial photographs and resumes. Since everything is targeted towards serving the individual, the usual aspect of parental pressures, expectations, and for that matter, opinion, also seems to play little role.

In the group category, perhaps the biggest and the most widespread of these networks is Floh, and its competition is the increasingly popular A World Alike. Both are networks that function as facilitators, bringing together members for group activities. Floh’s co-founder, Siddarth Mangharam says that his company's purpose is to “connect singles in the real world”. With a strict age limit of 25 to 35, and only singles on their network, Siddharth says that he can’t deny that when people join Floh, they are looking to perhaps find love.

“When you go through a matrimonial site, people are expecting you to close the deal very quickly.

What’s happened in urban Indian society, which is a lot more progressive, is that people are not averse to getting married but they want to take three four months to get to know somebody before they say yes.. We allow to for those natural interactions to happen at our events in a safe and fun way, where people can try and figure out if they have chemistry with someone. They might start seeing each other. Then if it gets serious they involve parents.”

Himanshu Gupta, A World Alike’s founder, doesn’t think that his platform’s exclusively for dating or matrimony. Instead, he says that he just wants to bring together like minded people and give them a space to meet each other, get along, connect and have some fun. “But if you put smart, like minded single men and women together, sparks are bound to fly,” he adds. Currently, Floh operates in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. A World Alike is active in Delhi, and is launching operations in Mumbai.

Both Floh and A World Alike are exclusive, highly curated platforms. Their membership works on invitations, and is definitely not open to everyone.

Of late, though, both platforms have become known for being exclusive in terms of money and social status, something that their founders deny vehemently. About Floh, Siddharth says, “We want our members to be well-educated and gainfully employed.

We don’t take people who are just waiting to get married, regardless of what their economic background is. What we look for is diversity. We have every profession and college and institute represented. We don't cater to too many business people or folks of the page 3 variety.” Siddharth adds that Floh never asks people for their economic background, caste or religion is. “We feel that questions like that objectify people”.

Both Floh and A World Alike begin with asking members to apply online, verifying their profiles as genuine by linking them with Facebook or LinkedIn. Then, both have detailed telephonic interviews with potential candidates, after which, the process is slightly different for the two networks. In Floh, a detailed conversation, if satisfyingly positive, will lead to an invitation with membership plans. A World Alike, though, follows up the telephonic conversation with an invitation to an event. “We want the members to meet the potential member too. I don’t take a call, the members take a call collectively”, says Himanshu.

The membership fees to neither networks is exorbitant, though it isn’t on the other end of the spectrum either. Floh offers special plans for members from government, non profit organisations, armed forcesand academia .

Considering that both networks are bringing together strangers, no matter how similar, the trick lies in the success of the events that they organise. Floh holds at least one event per day in each of the three cities it is operative in. The frequency of A World Alike’s events is lesser, but both ensure that the events are diverse, fun and perfectly poised as ice breakers. A quick look at past events will tell you that you can expect anything from a mellow canvas painting session on a terrace to wine tasting sessions, board game nights and masquerade balls, Sarvana Bhavan breakfast and Old Delhi food walks. Both networks charge separately for each event, but Siddharth reiterates that once again, the sheer range of event pricing makes them accessible. “Our events are priced from 100 rupees to 1500 rupees and higher.”

While both Floh and A World Alike are working both as networking and dating websites, with potential of leading to long term commitments, they do so via group events. There is an alternative that presents itself in a platform like Sirf Coffee, which curates one-on-one first dates between, once again, like minded professional individuals. Naina Hiranandani, Executive Vice-President of the company feels that in a group event, things are bound to become cliquey after a while. “It’s the same people you meet in event after event.” Sirf Coffee hand-picks members and then plays matchmaker. Naina talks about the problems of curating and selecting candidates online, and doesn’t trust authentication via social networking profiles. “Even Facebook can be misleading. You might put up a profile picture from the 1990s and now might have lost all your hair and be 40 pounds heavier.” So, Sirf Coffee asks for only the most basic details online. Post this, it arranges a face-to-face interview, for which Naina is always present. “We look for above average individuals, people who are doing exceptional things with their lives.” Sirf Coffee doesn’t put an age limit for its members, but does have a list of requirements. “We look for three things. You must be well-educated, and I’m not talking about passing 12th from random school and then joining a family business. You also need to be gainfully employed and be happy and passionate about what you are doing. And finally, you need to have the intent of getting into a long term relationship.”

For Sirf Coffee, the location doesn’t matter. Once the member is accepted, the matchmaking process starts, and each date is hand-picked based on the personality, profession and background of both individuals. A relationship manager juggles schedules and logistics, and even second dates, if necessary.

Whether it is Sirf Coffee, or Floh and A World Alike, these platforms have, at least partially, given the control of finding and arranging love for themselves back to the individual. Of course, they cater to a select few, and by that very logic, the pool of members that they bring together is limited. It is possible that your soul mate won’t be exactly like you, or have the same educational qualifications, opinions and ideas. It’s possible that after all, opposites do attract. But just in case they don’t, it seems like you’ve got some help in your quest for love.

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Printable version | Nov 20, 2018 6:20:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/arranging-love-in-urban-india/article7486191.ece

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