Every morning in mid-August at 5.30 am on the dot, Varsha Devi woke up, put on some make-up, and found a light-friendly spot to kick off a 6 am Skype call. The 24-year-old in Chandigarh was not prepping for a work call or a reunion with friends, she was video-chatting with a young man living in Singapore to whom her parents and matchmaker introduced her.
The new nature of matchmaking felt disconnected to Varsha, “Which is ironic because at that time the alliance relied solely on digital connection,” she says over the phone. “Though that particular match did not work out, the entire matchmaking process till now has been very digital. I know I’m not the only person in this; even my friend in Delhi was doing a ‘virtual alliance’ with someone in Bengaluru... in ordinary times, them meeting up would have been a non-issue.”
At the moment, thousands of other people are going through this new form of digital matchmaking. With matrimony websites and apps being as digitised as they already were before the pandemic outbreak, now even the ‘dating’ or courtship period has moved online, limiting one of the biggest things of all for singles: certainty.
A two-dimensional problem
One of Varsha’s reasons for wanting to get her marriage arranged is that it is much faster than a love match. “I think wanting an arranged match is perfectly fine when you know what you want, because you’re ready for it; you also have to mentally prepare yourself for a shorter timeline with more defined goals.”
But in the current COVID-19 times, this ‘timeline’ further stretches, she points out. “You don’t know when you may be able to meet that person or how often.”To top this, the familes may want the wedding to happen on a grand scale. “I have heard of a few alliances whose parents and relatives were not okay with a simple registered wedding because the traditional formalities are a must for them but still they want to cement a match very early. When the timelines do not match up, it can get difficult.”
Not every family is ready to wait for a year before fixing the match, says Sailesh Reddy* a private matchmaker in Hyderabad, because they are not entirely sure of where the world will be in the future. “People want clarity so they actually rely more on the judgement of the matchmaker for a holistic perspective on the family of the potential spouse. So we have to be careful not to disappoint anyone; we want people to be sure of the decision they make in the end. After all, these are people’s futures and happiness on the line,” he says.
Clarity is also important to Kartik Sharma, a 31-year-old in Hyderabad, who is looking to get hitched. “It is hard to get a clear picture of someone on a small screen or a laptop screen, which is very two-dimensional. You do not get the person’s mannerisms and it’s very constrained for both parties. About 70% of the getting-to-know-someone is via a screen... and that is a lot of pressure because there’s only so much to go off on.”
Building a relationship through a screen can be taxing at best, and deceptive at worst. Nayana Iyer*, a 27-year-old in Chennai, adds that with the in-built filters on video-chat apps, many people lighten their complexion digitally. “It’s borderline catfish,” she points out, “and unfortunately, so many ‘bio-datas’ have people lying about how they look, which is not needed at all. This is already a very a superficial generation, with the pressure to be fair-skinned. And it’s heartbreaking when reality is considered a disappointment.”
Down to mom and dad
Nayana explains that her parents have not been a fan of the digital matchmaking process. “They absolutely hate it. My two elder siblings had very traditional alliance where our families met at each others’ homes. But now with places slowly opening up, people are not meeting at home. My father says you can tell a lot about a person from their homes — not just financially — and meeting in a hotel in a physically-distanced manner is very clinical.”
Kartik also explains that having his parents in another State — Maharashtra — during the matchmaking has not been easy. “It requires so much patience,” he laughs, “and a lot of coordination. And because you are also chatting with your parents over Zoom or Duo, you end up missing them most of all, and the prospect of marriage gets pushed to the back of your mind.”
Varsha, whose parents are learning a lot from the digital side of matchmaking — such as operating video-chat platforms and doing online searches of a person’s background on social media — says the process has been fun for her. “I’ve actually become closer to my parents. We think our parents do not really know much about ‘modern coupling’ but I’ve learned a lot from them and they have learned a lot from me. We do get into fights but the clarity we get as a household has been really valuable.”
For now though, Varsha has put the matchmaking process on hold. She is willing to wait until it is safe to proceed with the more organic process she has been waiting for, and when she does, she will be taking her new-found knowledge with her.
*Names have been changed to protect identity