“Indian matchmaking”, it’s time to break up

“In India, we don’t say ‘arranged marriage’. There is “marriage” and then there is “marriage of love”. Of all the platitudes – and she spouts a lot of them – spouted by Sima Taparia, Mumbai’s self-proclaimed top matchmaker and star of Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’, there’s no truer land than this. It’s not like finding husbands and wives for unmatched offspring had not been a fixation of anxious parents across centuries and civilizations, though in Europe and the United States love may have finally entered the chat and remained long enough to become commonplace. But for older generations in India, finding spouses for their children has been the norm for so long that the idea of ​​these same adult children marrying for “love” is still foreign enough. for it to occupy an entirely separate category – now a reality – TV show.

“Indian Matchmaking,” whose third season premiered on April 21, follows a perfectly styled, highlighted and bejeweled Taparia as she navigates the lives of unhappily single men and women of Indian descent living mainly in America. She promises to find them the spouses of their dreams, provided they don’t dream too much. The cast varies (with a few fan favorites and villains occasionally brought back), but most are seemingly affluent, urban, cosmopolitan youngsters who run their own businesses and attend boutique workout classes. This season’s stars include an ER doctor named Vikash, whose god complex extends to referring to himself in the third person as Vivacious Vikash and performing solo dances to Hindi songs at his friends’ weddings (and allowing airing videos of himself doing it on the show); he wants a tall girl who speaks Hindi because he is very attached to Indian “culture”. There’s Bobby, the overly energetic teacher who performs a math-themed rap that ends with him scolding “math, boiii” at the screen. Miami’s Arti lists weekly visits to Costco as his hobby.

The activities these aspiring matches choose based on the dates they attend (wine tastings, yoga with kids) are straight out of gentrified Williamsburg. Interspersed between these scenes are cameos of their stone-faced parents, astrologers dispensing sex advice, face readers, tarot card readers, and Taparia’s own stern warnings reminding them that they never get everything they want in a partner, so they better start lowering their expectations now.

She promises to find them the spouses of their dreams, provided they don’t dream too much.

The fact that she has yet to make a single match resulting in a marriage over the course of two seasons and 16 episodes has not deterred either Taparia herself or the series creators from continuing this Sisyphus journey in a third. . She’s not one to suffer from impostor syndrome or even, apparently, soul-searching, so her matchmaking methodology remains decidedly unchanged. The only big departure this time around is the expansion of her hunting grounds in Britain, where she begins her reign of terror in London by telling a 35-year-old divorcee named Priya that she “shouldn’t be so picky”.

For people like me, who grew up in this third party matchmaking environment, Sima Taparia or Sima Aunty (a nickname she calls herself) is just that – a aunt, an archetype we’ve known and avoided all our lives: the obnoxious, overbearing parent, neighbor, or acquaintance who has no sense of boundaries. But for global audiences eagerly tasting “Indian matchmaking” during the early months of the pandemic, Taparia was a delightful novelty, spouting out good words of marital wisdom in an instant with the serenity of an all-knowing sibyl (“You don’t you’ll only get 60-70% of what you want; you’ll never get 100%” and the next moment ordering a client to shed her “high standards” with the brusqueness of a counselor orientation that breaks him to an overzealous student that they do not enter Harvard.

In India, the trade of parents seeking grooms for their children is cruel and ruthless, originating as a means of preserving caste endogamy.

Throughout history, the coming together of two people in marriage (holy or otherwise) has never been solely the union itself – it is the larger institution that reveals the deepest anxieties ( financial, religious or racial) that underpin a society. “Indian Matchmaking” feels like any other show about the quirks of trying to find love in a hostile world. It’s based on the idea that seeking help from someone as oddly old-fashioned as a matchmaker is superior to the difficulties of online dating, where one has to endure far worse indignities like being ghosted or breadcrumbs. Here, at least, the relationship expectations are mutual, and after all, what is a “biodata” (a document with a curious name that Taparia uses in its practice) if not the same exaggerated dating application profile but in CV form and with less grimace-inducing mentions about the love of tacos and pizza.

But in India, the trade of parents seeking grooms for their children is cruel and ruthless, originating as a means of preserving caste endogamy, and it continues to be fraught with pitfalls on both sides. , a reality that is at odds with the show’s portrayal of the process as a decent, civilized exchange that takes place over tea and manners. The more pernicious aspects are hidden behind a flimsy veneer of manufactured kindness, apparent in the many euphemistic phrases in which Taparia, the singles she associates, and their parents communicate. The title of the show itself reads like a clumsy, false-anthropological translation, when in reality the Indian here in “Indian Matchmaking” is just a stand-in for outrageously upper-caste Hindus rich (with an exception here and there).

Caste, one of the most malevolent forces still dictating India’s social fabric, is gently intimidated by low-voiced mumbles of “same community”. To openly state that you want to marry someone very wealthy would be rude, which is why the words “good family, good upbringing” are uttered frequently. Women can’t afford to be “picky”. Women must be “flexible”. They must also learn to “compromise”. My favorite, however, is “adjust”, one of the more laborious euphemisms in Indian English, the linguistic meaning of which can range from the tight addition of a third back on a bus seat meant to be none accommodate only two, to that of a man. the parents demanding that the young girl predestined to marry their son give up her professional career to carry out full-time activities as a daughter-in-law. Curiously, men are spared such exhortations.

“In marriage, every desire becomes a decision,” Susan Sontag remarked in 1956, a surprisingly incisive retort I remembered watching the show’s contestants asked about their “criteria” for a potential spouse. Initially, they begin by reciting millennial language straight out of the 2012 twee-internet era: the desire for someone “nice” with a “sense of humor.” But by dint of insistence, the real claims tumble, the decisions which show that their modernity has not yet overcome the inherited prejudices which govern this whole phenomenon. Costco-obsessed Arti can’t help but mention that her dad would have really, really, Really liked her to marry someone from her “community”. Vivacious Vikash, meanwhile, for all his insistence on Indian ‘culture’, forgot to mention that he wanted a Hindi-speaking girl from America (a “same community” in its own right) and not the “very Indian” woman with an Indian accent that Sima Aunty found for her.

Source photographs: Netflix

Iva Dixit is the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Her previous articles include an appreciation of the consumption of raw red onions and an exploration of the continued popularity of “Emily in Paris”.

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