As a prank, my friends published a classified ad in the newspaper [That was the eighties!]. The ad gave my skinny profile and postal address under the title, ‘Wife wanted’. Over the next couple of weeks, I received many letters. Most said the same thing, “You can take my wife.”

I assure you I did not poach. I wooed mine fair and square.

I was born in Kerala, a tiny coastal state at the southernmost tip of India. Kerala has an interesting statistic. For as long as I can remember, the women population of Kerala outnumbered its men. So when it came to marriage – the percentage of arranged marriages in our community is 70% plus – men had the delightful option to pick and choose.

This poses major challenges to parents with daughters. The moment a daughter is born, the parents start investing for her wedding. The money goes mostly for the purchase of gold jewelry the bride wears on her wedding day and the fortune [including some outrageous demands from the groom] she will take with her.

An arranged marriage!

Let me introduce my nephew. For the purpose of this story he will be Arun. Six months ago, Arun phoned and said he wanted to get married. I advised him, “Do not take this extreme step, my boy. Man may be incomplete until he is married. And then, he is finished!”

Arun was determined. In every sense of the term, Arun was a ‘suitable boy’. At the time he was 26 years old and was working as a software engineer in Seattle.

Much before Arun expressed his desire, the complex machinery of finding a ‘suitable boy’ was set in motion by a professional group of spotters. Spotters, usually aunts, frequent social events and carry with them dossiers of suitable boys that keeps the industry busy through the wedding season. Arun was ‘spotted’ at a wedding on one of his home-coming trips.

Once a suitable boy is spotted, the matter is handed over to verifiers who check out the family history as far as the Stone Age. Verifiers collect relevant/irrelevant information about the boy that puts NSA to shame.

In Arun’s case the spotters and verifiers had put together a sizeable dossier. They confirmed with their discreet overseas network that Arun had a sizeable bank balance, was of sound mental health, and had no known [visible!] damaged body parts.

Both sets of parents have their set of spotters and verifiers. After the filtering and matching process, Arun’s parents were presented with the horoscopes of three girls with the finest pedigree. This is the third process in the business of marriage.

In our community, when a child is born, the parents consult a ‘good astrologer’ and based on the time and date of birth, the astrologer charts the horoscope. Astrologers play a major part in one’s life. From birth, to passing of exams, finding jobs, maintaining health, and even death…. they have the power to predict fortunes and misfortunes; if they see red flags they even ensure that their solution templates are followed!

For a perfect match, the stars have to align. Different astrologers are employed by the boys’ and girls’ families. When it’s time for a ‘match’ astrologers play god and find a partnership made in heaven.

Two weeks later Arun called to inform me that the marriage was fixed. After giving the mundane details, he wanted to know what it would cost to get married. I told him, “I don’t know my boy; I am still paying for it.”

The astrologer gives three dates and a timeframe on those days as the most auspicious time to get married. The wedding planner then takes over and books the wedding hall on one of those days. The planner organizes everything from the guest list, to the entertainment, the menu for the banquet, and more.

The bride’s family now scrambles and heads for the great gold rush. Every bank deposit and investment is broken. Mattresses and other hiding places [even backyard] are taken apart. With wads of money [black and white] stuffed in hand bags, the bride and her family head for the shops – mostly gold and clothes.

Arun had a memorable wedding. What’s even more memorable is the fact that the first time he saw his wife was on the wedding day.

You’d have heard the expression Love is blind. In our community of mostly arranged marriages, we take it a bit further. Love is certainly blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.

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