Tag Archives: India 2012

Schoolboy Souvenirs: Poster Children of India

I go back to school, learn how diverse India is and how to keep it neat and clean; I swot up biology, geography, history, and find 17 reasons to return.

sagar-stationery-bangaloreA few hours before my flight to Malaysia, I crouched at the entrance of Sagar Gift and Fancy Stationery.  I was sorting through a stack of school posters, all dusty from the street.  With rows of pictures captioned in both English and Hindi, they made excellent language practice and a wonderful cultural souvenir and were only two or three rupees each.  I purchased several dozen.

poster-children-of-indiaOn the “Children of India” poster, schoolboys from 17 different states or religions pose in characteristic dress.  Casual Kerala is in bare feet and bare head with a bunch of bananas and a cross around his neck: doubting St Thomas likely landed in this south-west coastal state.  At the country’s other extreme, a northeast tribal Naga boy has earrings and a headdress of feathers like an American Indian.  The lad from Himachal Pradesh in the sub-Himalayas wears long sleeves and trousers, with shoes and a walking stick.  A Sikh boy strides smartly to school in tie and collared shirt, socks pulled up and a leather satchel on his back.  The poster demonstrates how India more resembles Europe than a single nation, as do posters of married couples and dances from each state.  As Winston Churchill said, “India is merely a geographical expression.  It’s no more a single country than the equator.”

poster-community-cleanlinessSeveral posters teach these lads and their sisters how to be good citizens.  “Community Cleanliness” shows a girl tipping rubbish into a dustbin in a village that looks unbelievably litter-free.  Nowhere in India, alas.  Smiling pupils show how to “keep the school clean” by polishing desks and wiping the blackboard, and “keep the village library neat and clean”.  Women carry water in bulbous red jars from a village well that’s also “kept neat and clean”, before a warning against “drainage of sullage and sewage into fields”.  This poster reminded me again that, although India has some of the planet’s biggest cities and that’s where I’ve mostly been, around two thirds of the population still lives in rural villages.

The predictable exhortations on “Road Traffic Signs” made me laugh when I thought of Indian roads.  “Always Stand in Queue at the Bus Stop”, “Always Walk on Foot-path”, “Always Keep Left”, “Always Obey Traffic Signals”, and “Never let any part of your body outside the vehicles”.  As we Kiwis say, yeah right!  Few students pass these tests.  “Driving rashly through the heavy traffic is dangerous”.  Don’t I know it after three months here.

poster-indian-snacks“National Symbols” teaches children, and me, that India’s national animal, bird and flower are the tiger, peacock and lotus.  Posters for geography class show rivers and dams of India.  For biology there is “Beaks and Paws” of 20 birds (most colourful is the Copper-Smith) and 16 trees with their fruit.  Historical posters cover gods and sages in the Hindu period, then Moghul emperors and monuments like the Red Fort and Taj Mahal, then chubby-faced British colonial rulers, then 24 Freedom Fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, before Presidents and Prime Ministers of independent India.  In a patriarchal society where far fewer girls can read and write than guys, it was good to find two posters featuring 32 great Indian women: from Moghul princesses to Mother Teresa, Gandhi’s wife to Prime Minister Indira, astronauts to novelist Arundhati Roy.

poster-means-of-recreationFor once school is out, there is “Means of Recreation”.  This is a curious poster, drawn in a different style, with English children, not Indian.  A dog sits straight up beside a boy fishing, his arm around his little sister, in an idyllic vignette that looks like a biscuit box picture.  There is a rollercoaster at an amusement park, a merry-go-round at a fair, and a stage magician in tails, who looks quite Victorian.  An earnest young gentleman plays billiards.  A curly blonde lass points with glee at a black and white clown on TV.  On the beach, a white woman in yellow bikini with champagne glass suggests an American dream of California.  I’d have guessed it was an old Western poster, a collage of pre-war advertisements perhaps, except for the Hindi script and a single caption below kids playing in the snow: “Hill station”.

poster-festivals-of-indiaPosters of spices, snacks and sweet dishes helped me identify what I’ve eaten and remember what I’ll miss: Paoo-Bhaji and Chole-Bhatore, samosas and dosas and laddoos.  My favourite poster has 20 Festivals of India that showcase the country’s religious diversity: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, as well as a secular parade of tanks and helicopters on Republic Day.  I’ve only been here for Diwali, Dussehra, and Holi, leaving 17 more reasons to return!

See collections of Indian School Posters online here and here.  (I want to find the Moral Stories series next time!)


Batting, Baking and King Chilli Pork

I’m inducted into the creed of cricket and cringe as bandits attack; I’m thanked with pink icing and farewelled with pork.

As well as power cuts and oppressive heat, summer brought the 76-match IPL cricket series.  The Indian Premiere League is apparently the second-highest paid sporting association after the NBA.  Players earn on average US$4 million per year and teams have been sold for over US$300 million, some to Bollywood stars.  I’ve read that 80% of cricket’s global revenue comes from India.

I’m at sixes and sevens when it comes to cricket, but many Indians have said I resemble NZ’s cricket captain Daniel Vettori.  I wouldn’t know.  I hadn’t heard of him before I came.  There’s even a Kiwi or two on the IPL teams.  I thought I should experience the Indian obsession before I leave, and I can almost count it as religious study.  Cricket is practically a creed here.  When Sachin Tendulkar came to visit one front page screamed, “GOD COMES TO TOWN” – only at a second glance did I see the small font “cricket” that came first.  So I joined the boys to watch the gods play live on TV several evenings.

Cricket must be one of England’s most enduring gifts to its former colony and it’s been called an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British, but the IPL hype recalled American football more than leisurely British reserve.  Teams have names like the “Delhi Daredevils”, “Pune Warriors” or “Deccan Chargers”, with logos of roaring lions, a snorting bull or a mounted spearman.  Cheerleaders in miniskirts dance with pompoms.

india-ipl-cricket-teamsMy students taught me the rules, or tried: as one writer said, “baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus”.  I understood enough to share their excitement as the Chennai Super Kings took out the Kolkata Knight Riders with a six in the very last ball.  I savoured the accent of an Aussie commentator, and was surprised by eloquent outbursts from the junior cook, whom I’d thought did not speak English: “Catch, catch, come on… very good, very good catch – three wickets out!…  Oh beauty, what a six, yeah!”  Phrases from years of cricket-watching, I presume.  I shared the frustration when lights and TV died – praying for power to come back, beseeching someone to switch on the diesel generator, texting friends for updates.  At 9 pm, someone from the North replied, it was still 45oC in Delhi.  I’m glad I’d escaped to down here by summer.

I enjoyed the adverts as much as the game, for their snatches of Hindi and humour.  A car drives through a rocky desert on a dark and stormy night.  It is forced to stop where a tree trunk blocks the road.  A gang of fierce bandits swoops down.  Driver and wife quail in terror.  The bandit chief, with a wicked grin, taps on the car window with the butt of his gun.  Electric window slides down a crack.  With an even broader grin the bandit asks in an eager wheedling tone, “What is score?”  Camera zooms in to the built-in TV on the car dashboard. Batsman strikes and crowd erupts and bandits group around to watch: it’s the latest feature of car model X.

One morning in the last week of English teaching, as the wives and children of students arrived for the coming semester, I found a baby bat trembling on the curtain of my classroom.  It flew off once gently bumped onto the windowsill.  For our farewell party, the lady teachers baked peanut brownies, chocolate chip biscuits and cupcakes with pink raspberry icing.  The smell reminded me of home.  The class presented us each with a hand-made card and a group photo with warm thanks, although some admitted of our Kiwi accents that: “the first few days I couldn’t get much because of adjusting pronunciation.”

kiwi-cookiesIn the final days of teaching, I had a little Bangalore belly, my only sickness here.  The other teachers covered my classes while I studied the tiles of my bathroom and made occasional excursions to bed.  I’d read that Indians love to play doctor and it seemed to be true.  For my stomach, one student prescribed gulab jamun, a desert made from balls of milk powder soaked in sweet syrup, or maybe lemon juice.  Another said that sleeping under a fan with a bare stomach is bad for digestion – I always do!  A third recommended I try bananas and avoid jackfruit.  Several expected me to be dosing up on drugs.  I took my own prescription of dry crackers or toast and Marmite, with glasses of the orange-flavoured rehydration mixture my Auckland doctor had prescribed – almost the only item of my medicine box that I used except for daily malaria tablets – and a day later things were looking up.

On most weekends students from the Northeast states prepared their chilli pork special, so hot it made their own noses run.  On my final evening, I helped Worchihan cook it in the male students’ kitchenette.  For chefs among my readers, here’s the formula:

Ingredients: pork, onions, garlic, ginger, salt, turmeric, and chilli powder from local markets.  King chillies and fermented bamboo shoots from the Northeast.

Instructions: Peel and slice onions, garlic and ginger, then crush with mortar and pestle.  Combine all ingredients and cook for an hour or two.  Do not add water.

In the cramped room, in long sleeves with trousers tucked into my socks to keep off mosquitoes, it was sweaty work. While we peeled and cut and crushed, Surendra entertained us with his guitar – Amazing Grace et al. – and with music on his phone.  “This is when we have fun”, said Worchihan once the pot was bubbling away: time to relax and chat, shaking the saucepan every five minutes to mix and avoid burning.  They helped me identify words in Bollywood songs and Hindi Christian choruses, before dancing to the Back Street Boys and Justin Bieber’s “Baby Baby Baby”.

chilli-pork-specialThen up to the TV room for the interstate cricket semi-final of Delhi vs Chennai.  The last Delhi batter went out around 10:30pm and we trooped back down for pork and rice.  The spicy pork was a slight gamble with my recovering stomach but too good to miss, and despite my contribution it didn’t disappoint.  Except for Kevi, who complained that we’d only added four king chillies: there’d be a better taste with eight.

Biblical Power Plagues: Sweating in Suburban Bangalore

I find churches of every persuasion, marvel at Bangalore’s IT boom and measure its electrical bust; I’m as hot as James Bond but wet as a frog when it comes to catching snakes.

The surrounding suburb seems like the Bible Belt of Bangalore.  I’ve found no mosques, though heard a distant prayer call at night and passed the Masha Allah Chicken Biryani Hotel, so there are Muslims around, and I’ve only seen a few small Hindu temples which are mostly closed.

temple-entrance-gateThe 1.5m high granite slabs lining the road are painted with arrows to Christian organisations like Home of Hope – a rehabilitation center, Prison Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, Union of Evangelical Students.  On an advert for “Nazareth Inc. UPS”, glowing electric blue stars radiate from an Uninterruptible Power Supply – something you can’t do without here: there’s a sermon illustration!

bangalore-biryani-restaurantWithin 15 minutes’ walk are Bethel Brethren, two different Assemblies of God, a large Church of South India (roughly like Anglican), Roman Catholic convents, a sign pointing to “Christ the King Church”, and the Infant Jesus Children’s Home.  Further along, past Omega Christian Books and the Galilee Fish and Chicken Center, a tall poster proclaims “Jesus, I trust in you”, with rays of light like red and blue sari fabric streaming from Christ’s heart.  The St Lourdes Grotto mimics the pilgrimage shrine in France with a small alcove of stones set in concrete beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Murals depict the Nativity, life of Christ, and ascension of Mary.  A row of tea lights flicker as a tearful woman prays.

bangalore-catholicFor a software developer like me, Bangalore is a notable town.  In 1906, it became India’s first city with electricity.  It now has the country’s second highest literacy at 83% (after Mumbai), and the most engineering colleges, as well as the most pubs and the highest proportion of smokers (34%).  In the last two decades, it has become India’s IT capital.  The inventor of Hotmail grew up here and many Americans have been “Bangalored”, losing their jobs due to outsourcing.  Foreign IT campuses are self-contained cities, enclaves of America with first world facilities.

There are still open fields nearby, even a few with cattle, but my brief run before breakfast or dinner also passed new buildings covered in wobbly-looking bamboo scaffolding, while a construction crane overlooked the flat roof where I cooled off.  The civic infrastructure can’t handle the rocketing population.  A billboard over the entrance to the Ajantha Hotel where I stayed in central Bangalore showed a woman wielding an electric iron bigger than her and read:

Excessive power consumption in one home leads to darkness in ten homes.  SAVE POWER.
Let us do our bit.  Avoid ironing clothes during peak hours between 6 and 9 in the morning and in the evening.

I experienced this darkness in my own home here.  My flat is equipped with battery backup light, candles and matches on the desk.  Gas rings to boil water when the electric water filter and jug won’t go.  On top of the Samsung fridge is a heavy object shaped like a flying saucer with red “input” and “output” lights that went off and on every day: a V-Guard Electronic Voltage Stabiliser.  For techies, the specs read, “Output voltage: 200-240 V, from input: 170-260 V.  Low and high voltage cut-off: 145 V and 270 V.  Time delay: 2 to 4 ms”.  Wished I’d brought a pocket multi-meter to measure the mains variation, and graph it against fan rotation frequency.  My students could have used their new vocab to describe the plot, with plenty of “sporadic fluctuations”, “imperceptible lows” or “fitful spikes”.

bangalore-potboilerThe spasmodic vacillation became more predictable and more vexatious in the final weeks when classroom fans stopped around 3 pm, just as the temperature climbed to the mid-30s.  Without the breeze, mosquitoes buzzed by my ears and little bugs flew at my eyes.  At 920 m above sea level, Bangalore used to be pleasantly cool, but is heating up as trees and lakes are replaced by buildings and pollution – which makes the sky glow red at night.

Magazine articles like “Sunny Side Up!” or “Bangalore Potboiler!” said, “You can no longer look smug when friends from Chennai and Delhi complain about the heat in their cities”.  The whiteboard markers dry out almost overnight, and I never use my shower heater.  I sometimes wake sweating with itchy arms: the fan over my double bed has stopped, dropping my shield against heat and mosquitoes.  After dark I feel like James Bond, padding around my flat bare-chested with a wet flannel cooling my back and a Maglite for his Magnum stuck in my waistband.

bangalore-sunnyAs well as heat, we’ve had dramatic thunderstorms and downpours, when drains overflow and traffic crawls as windscreen wipers are overwhelmed.  In 1961 Bangalore had 262 lakes, but all except 80 have now been filled in, which makes the flooding worse.  My salt shaker proclaimed “remains free flowing even in the rainy season”.  One night – without power for six hours – lightning strikes were so frequent I set my camera to ten seconds exposure and let nature’s flashbulb illuminate the garden outside my window.  After the rains, small frogs hopped around, providing, I was told, tasty meals for snakes – so look out where you walk.  It wasn’t idle advice.  Our driver stopped short of the gate one night for a cobra to cross the road.  A stray dog fled.  Campus boys were thrilled to find a snake under the house of teachers Dennis and Barbara, who were somewhat less delighted.  Our students were unperturbed.  One informed me that snake tastes something like chicken neck and said, “You catch; we cook!”  I said I’d prefer, “You catch and cook; I eat!”  In the words of Christ,

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”  Luke 11:11


Matrimonial Marvels: Part Two

I investigate more matrimonial mysteries like fasting and cleanliness, divorce and detectives, north and south, the minute of birth and the height of Mars.

After getting over the codes of caste and colour and class (see my first matrimonials post here), I was drawn into higher mysteries of the ads in my New Delhi Hindustan Times.  Heights are supplied in feet and inches (The Hindu daily in Bangalore used metric) but the critical stat for many ads is your birth, both date and time, to the minute.  These ads mostly end with “send BHP”: biodata, horoscope, photo.  The moment of birth is critical for astronomical calculations of compatibility, most of all, I discovered, if you are born as a Manglik.  These are individuals who chanced to emerge into the world when the fiery planet of Mars was in certain ascendant positions.  Mars was the Roman god of war and has similar pugnacious tendencies in Hindu thought.  So Mangliks are marked by tension and disharmony in relationships, making them a poor prospect for marriage.

Five columns were dedicated to Mangliks and numerous entries specified M or NM – Manglik or not.  The curse may be reduced by certain religious sacrifices, mantras, gemstones and charities, or annulled in two ingenious ways.  You can hold a ceremony to first marry a gold idol of Vishnu, or a banana or peepal tree – I’ve seen many trees with withered flower garlands hanging from their branches, as if around a spouse’s neck.  Or a Manglik can marry another Manglik so the bad effects cancel out.

matrimonials-advertsInterspersed with the individual matrimonials are ads for jewellers, sari suppliers, wedding cards and marriage banquet halls.  There are matrimonial services dedicated to Sikhs, Jains and certain castes, and exclusive matchmaking for “Distinguished/Top Shot Industrialists”, or “only for elite/high status proposals”.  And of course there are astrologers: it’s been said that an Indian without a horoscope is like an American without a credit card.  If astrology isn’t enough, for a triple barrelled prediction contact “India’s Famous Astro-Numero-Palmist Sri GKD Divyadasan”.

“Call us now” shout the star-gazers’ ads to know “auspicious time to fix your marriage”, check “compatibility levels with your prospective partners”, or find “astrological remedies for avoiding delay in marriage”.  A sidebar of horoscopes has the usual vague predictions for each star sign, as well as Hindu specifics.  To bring auspicious marital results, Pisces should fast on Monday, Leo on Tuesday, Aries on Thursday; for a long lasting relationship Gemini should worship the god Ganesh, Libra the goddess Parvati, and Taurus the goddess Durga.

Perhaps the saddest entries specify “I’less Div. mrg. non-consummated”.  Divorcees with offspring are pretty much doomed to a life alone, although if “issueless” they may stand a chance and there are matchmaking websites just for the divorced.  I’m bemused by the number of “unconsummated” divorces – women who’d fled an arranged child marriage?  In this society, such women have few options and their ads may simply say “seek any suitable boy” – they can’t be picky about caste or class.  “Earlier Marriage Broke on Day One As Boy Secretly Married.  Legally DIV.  Caste Region No Bar.”

the-hindu-matrimonialThere were only three pages of matrimonials in The Hindu, Bangalore edition, Sunday May 20, 2012.  There seem to be fewer horoscopes than in Delhi ads but the same income consciousness: “earning good sumptuous amount every month”.  I found signs of Bangalore’s international IT status, one candidate a “MBA working in IBM Bangalore”, and several “Alliance invited for US settled GC holder”, who may be visiting India next month to meet girls who are willing to emigrate to America.

South Indians are darker skinned so there are more ads with “wheatish” complexions.  Several Sunni Muslim girls want a “groom with clean habits”.  There are also more Christians down here.  A few ads requested a “god fearing” partner, and my New Delhi paper had nothing resembling this:

BORNAGAIN BAPTISED non Pentecostal SC 30/150 fair slim doing Ph.D. in Agriculture with SRF fellowship, seeks suitable non-Pentecostal believer groom.

One Delhi ad was placed by a family “having perfect blend of modern and traditional values”.  Even for Bangalorean expat professionals, who you’d think would major on the modern, the old ways still hold strong (including lack of proof reading), although some now downplay the dowry, as in this ailing lad’s proposal:

Looking for unmarried Brahmin (Iyer/Iyengar/others) bride, for a well-settled Unmarried Groom, PhD, aged 30 years, owner of multinational company and financially well-to-do family settled in Los Angeles, California USA.
Boy born in India and brought up in Indian tradition, fair and has clean habits (Non-smoker and non-smoker), pure vegetarian.  Boy is handsome, Ails from respectable and affluent business family.
Expectations from Girl: can speak Tamil, Fair, Good looking, height 4’12’’ to 5’3’’, non-drinker, non-smoker, vegetarian, homely girl, cultured family background, age group 22 to 27 years, not to work after marriage.  Girl should be willing to relocate to USA.
No financial expectations from the boy side.
Email mysonmarriage@…

Many Indians now find their partners online or in such classified ads.  Prospective families are often unknown, unlike in the past when marriages were arranged through extended family or village connections.  As a result, the pre-matrimonial detective business in India is booming to verify the rosy claims of glossy matrimonials.  Office investigators verify bank accounts, property ownership, and university degrees, while chatty detectives in disguise gossip with neighbours and servants.  They hope to uncover any undeclared relationships, and assess the character of the potential mother-in-law, who will likely dominate the young bride’s life as it’s still common to live with your husband’s family.

It may be that among my readers is a slim, fair, beautiful, professionally qualified and pleasantly homely lady, holding perhaps a Ph.D. in literature or art history or another of the humanities, speaking several languages, gifted at painting or music, earning, shall we say, at least $100,000 PA, of Judaeo-Christian persuasion though preferably non-Pentecostal, with a character like Christ and Gandhi and Mother Teresa in one, birthdate and horoscope and caste no bar – I’m not a fussy bloke – and even height not overly important, as long as able to carry a pack and tramp at about my pace.  If that’s you, dear fair reader, please feel completely free to contact me at highhopes@hotmale.com.  Don’t worry if you subsequently encounter inquisitive strangers – they will merely be my private eyes verifying the above stipulations.  And, I almost forgot, I want a clean-shaven lass: no girls with whiskers need apply.

For more edutainment, see articles from Indian papers “The madness in matrimonials“, “Netrimony: The new mating game“, or the BBC’s “Netrimony: how to find love online“.  Sleuth out “Wedding Detectives In India: Investigating Future Mothers-In-Law“ or “India’s wedding detectives enjoy booming trade“.

Wedding Socks and Matrimonial Codes

I attend an Indian wedding and account for a marrying vendor of socks; I crack the code of matrimonial ads to reveal the eligibility of Ph.D.’s, pigments, and beards.

Weddings are big in India.  I’ve heard several processions with banging crackers, pounding drums, tubas and trumpets and loud raucous horns.  I’ve stumbled across two in the street.  Retainers carried lanterns that lit up the night and sparkled off saris and suits.  Just along the lane is a wedding hall where I’ve seen workers hanging chains of fairy lights on trees and lining the entrance steps with pot plants – I’d sometimes hear the wind and percussion players at night.  During the first week of the English course in Bangalore, I actually attended my first Indian wedding, for the daughter of a friend who lectures here.

delhi-wedding-processionRavi’s daughter’s do was less flamboyant than those I had glimpsed, in a Methodist church decorated with flowers and yellow ribbons in a fairly Western style.  At the end the bells rang ten times, rings were exchanged, and the groom placed a floral wreath around his bride’s neck.  It drew her white veil in like a Muslim headscarf – I thought the mixing of East and West in this case seemed a little inelegant.  At the outdoor reception in the cool of evening, church songs played softly, lights lined tree trunks and cascaded from branches.  Red-white striped curtains muffled Bangalore’s traffic and you almost forgot it was India.  Speeches were short and plates piled high.  We had to eat in shifts as there were 1000 guests.

That’s not excessive.  One day a man at the wedding hall down the road told me they were celebrating his cousin’s marriage and expected 2000-2500 guests.  Not for nothing is it said, “a wedding costs one thousand harvests”; guests expect to leave stuffed with food.  Marrying off your daughters can be crippling.  Rural girls are still burnt to death in “kitchen fires” because in-laws find their dowry inadequate.

Last Friday night on Bangalore’s Brigade Road – lined with McDonalds, KFC, Nokia and Levi’s – I met Abdul, who illustrated the nuptial challenge.  He was a middle-class looking bloke with neatly trimmed hair, tidy jeans and sneakers, and a bulky backpack.  His father’s death had left him responsible for his two sisters.  He was still paying off one sister’s wedding; the second was in eight months.  He needed cash.

By day Abdul is an event manager; from 8pm till midnight, every night, he sells socks on the street.  He charges 100 Rs for a packet of three pairs, making 30 Rs profit and about 15,000 Rs per month – his day job nets 20,000 Rs.  By my calculation, that’s about 17 packets per night.  Sometimes, he said, his backpack empties in an hour.  That day was slow and at 10pm he’d only sold eight packets.

As we talked, I gave a few coins to a barefoot kid pointing to swellings on his neck and ankles, after Abdul assured me he really was poor and police don’t allow begging gangs (see my change of heart about giving to beggars here).  Around the corner, Abdul’s friends in white Muslim gowns were laboriously slipping hundreds of sunglasses from a display rack into individual covers.  They said around 8 pairs get scratched every day, slashing their income.

It’s a hard life and saving up for the wedding is not the only challenge to getting hitched.  I have before me the matrimonial section of the Hindustan Times, New Delhi edition, Sunday April 1, 2012.  Each page has 10 columns of small print proposals: five sides for “Grooms Wanted”, then three sides for brides.  It’s a rich source of social data and I perused the entries for several hours one evening.matrimonials

The first hurdle is to crack the code: “PQ SM 4NM 3-2-1983, 10.23PM / 5’5” Gori”.  After comparing adverts with varying degrees of abbreviation, guessing and googling around, I’ve deciphered much but not all of the entries.  Many read like a chemical formula.  The author of “SM 4 Pb Sr Br NM B’ful Girl” is seeking a match for (SM4) a beautiful girl, who, for a chemistry grad like myself, is clearly marked by lead, strontium and bromine.  I’m unclear why these particular elements should be so alluring.  I’d have gone for Ag, Au, or perhaps Pt (for non-chemists: silver, gold, or platinum).

Matrimonial ads are surging in popularity, and in 2006 the organised marriage industry in India made US $180 million.  India has over 100 matchmaking websites and I read that a few years ago the top two alone had 20 million users.  www.shaadi.com (in Feb 2015 it claimed to be “trusted by over 30 million for Matrimony” and it has arranged over 1.3 million marriages) and www.bharatmatrimony.com both franchise off-line centres, often staffed by older women who resemble traditional matchmakers, reassuring prospective parents who feel less comfortable than their offspring online.

In a country still divided by caste (see my post here), I’m encouraged to learn that the younger generation is starting not to care.  A few years ago one survey found that 64% of Delhi men thought inter-caste marriage was okay, though only 24% did from Chennai in the south.  I was pleased to see ads that say “caste no bar”, though unsure how enlightened “upper caste no bar” is supposed to be.  Entries grouped by region fill many columns in my paper, but there are still sections for specific castes.  The longest is for Brahmin, the uppermost caste who are traditionally priests and have the most exclusive purity regulations.  Some wanted a specific sub caste like “gaur Brahmins only”.  The four major castes have thousands of subdivisions and even untouchables often despise lower ranking outcastes.

life-partnershipsMy overwhelming impression from the paper is that, even if caste consciousness is thankfully decreasing, it is being replaced by class snobbery based on physical appearance, professional status, and wealth.  Many entries seek a PQM or professionally qualified match, often working in a MNC (multinational company), although some blokes prefer a “homely” girl (a euphemism for barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?)  Many specify their own salary in LPA or lakhs per annum (1 lakh =100,000) or modestly demand a match with “salary in six figures pa”, if not seven.  Entries read like mini CVs, listing qualifications for “convented” girls who attended good Catholic schools, to MBA, MPhil. and studied in England, or “completing Ph.D. Ivy League University”.

There are sections for Doctor, Engineer, MBA/Professional, and parental professions are also flaunted: daughter of bank manager, colonel or business mogul.  Candidates are frequently “hailing from a respectable high status family” and seek a “decent marriage” with a “stld” or settled family.  Sikhs seem to pull out the most stops, purchasing the pricey ads with bigger print, standout shading and floral borders.  The following filled half the column height:

South Delhi based renowned, sophisticated, sikh family having various multifaceted business interests seeks alliance for their very pretty and enterprising only daughter… We wish to hear from an educated very smart and enterprising boy from a similar status business/industrialist/highly placed professional open minded family with refined taste in life.

A 2009 Nielsen survey of 1000 Indians found that 70% of women are more likely to marry a clean-shaven man.  For a bearded bloke, Sikh adverts had a further delightful twist.  Conservative Sikhs wear turbans and trim neither hair nor whiskers, unlike some of more liberal persuasion.  The divide is evidently of matrimonial moment.  One prospective groom comes “from Non-Trimming Non-Drinking family”.  One girl’s family “seeks turbaned Sikh boy”, while another “seeks shaven Sikh”.  And I loved this modest special:

An Affluent Sophisticated Cultured clean shaven Sikh business family living in a posh area of S. Delhi seeks alliance for their slim, fair, beautiful, highly qualified and homely daughter.

Girls in their late 20s, shockingly late to be single, mostly “look much younger”, and many girls have a “wheatish” complexion, which I understand means midway in shade between despised dark and desirable fair (see details at www.wheatishcomplexion.com).  A few ads mentioned the pigmentation disorder of leucoderma which I’ve seen and brings social stigma: “smart girl having white spots” or “has 2% white patches”.

On one page of my matrimonials is a Hindu advert with two swastikas.  It was a religious symbol from millennia before Hitler, but Mein Kampf was prominently displayed at the airport bookshop (and is applauded by some Hindu fundamentalists). Caste racism extends to skin colour here and whitening products are widely advertised: Aryans reign supreme.  Bollywood stars are generally pale-skinned and some endorse whitening treatments; feminist and social rights groups have accused them of racism and demoralising women by promoting lighter skin as superior and dark as despicable.  There are more recent male treatments like Fair and Handsome, but the most prominent is for women.  Its website www.fairandlovely.in says:

Fair & Lovely was launched in 1975 and Indian women finally found hope in a tube. In a very short time, Fair & Lovely would become women’s accomplice that would provide her with the natural fairness that she always longed for.

fair-and-lovely-whitening-creamTypical advertising videos (watch some here) show a girl with a dark face who once slouched around in depression, unwanted by boys and bosses alike.  Then Fair & Lovely “gave her the confidence to achieve her dreams” by bleaching her face.  Now she dances in ecstasy with white streamers, trailing handsome men and earning mega-rupees.  In other ads, a prospective dusky-skinned bride had feared rejection because the boy’s family wanted a fair bride, or the horoscope wasn’t quite right.  Then the magic of Fair & Lovely “changed the stars of her destiny” and gave her nuptial bliss.

See articles “India’s hue and cry over paler skin”, “Criticism in India over skin-whitening trend” and “The Color Complex: Is the Fixation Really Fair?”.