The day starts out bright and sunny. One can witness the usual cacophony of sound and medley of activity on the streets of North Delhi’s Shakti Nagar. Manoj Garg, 54, is busy in a closed-door meeting with his clients – parents who are looking for a suitable match for their only son.
Located along GT Karnal Road in proximity to the North Campus of Delhi University, Shakti Nagar is one of the oldest localities of Delhi dating back to 1950. While humble establishments of the past have transformed into multi-storey buildings and complexes, there are still remnants of the pre-Partition era.
In this urban setting is Gupta Ji marriage bureau, one of the city’s oldest marriage bureaus. Set up by Manoj Garg in 1995, it is still going strong despite all the websites available for the purpose.
Technology, in fact, has made his work easier, avers Garg. Now, databases stored in computers and laptops have replaced the bulky files carrying bio-data of the clients. The 54-year-old Garg is not bothered by the increasing number of matrimonial websites and applications.
“On Bumble and Tinder, you will meet people who are interested in chatting and all…mostly children open their accounts on those sites. But it’s hard to judge whether they are serious about marriage or long-term relationships. Aaj bhi khandani log hum par bharosa karte hain, vo koi website par nahin register karte (Even today, most reputed families prefer marriage bureaus, they will not register on these apps),” quips Garg.
True to his word, he is very busy. His phone rings repeatedly. The callers are clients who want to fix meetings.
Garg explains, “Websites don’t have any responsibility beyond a certain point. Whereas we are involved in the process throughout. One divorce takes a family back by 10 years. It is such a responsible job and these websites have no emotional connection with their clients. It is an ocean where there are mostly fake profiles of clients. The people who register on these websites want to socialize, that’s it.”
Delhi has no less than 3,000 marriage bureaus, running on the belief that business will only grow. Not all of them are chic establishments like Garg’s. Some are cramped office dens and others are run out of homes. The staff’s job involves searching for suitable profiles, arranging meetings between families, conveying messages to both sides, negotiating wedding budgets, among other tasks.
“Nobody can become a matchmaker with 10 bio-data in his/her hands. It is an art. These days there are a lot of people who think if they have some connections they would be able to do the rishta (match). But that doesn’t work. It takes years to build that level of understanding and reliability in society. I have worked for free during my early days in this profession.”
He rues that some people call matchmakers ‘brokers’. “Don’t we deserve respect? We are handling one of the biggest responsibilities of a person’s life,” concludes Garg, who claims to have worked for industrialists and bureaucrats of the city.
Suman Taneja runs Sindoor Matchmakers from her home in Kirti Nagar. She stresses on the process of matchmaking and the reason why, despite a pool of other players in the business, she is busy.
“Marriage is not only a relationship of boy and girl – both families are involved. I, as a matchmaker, visit their home to meet the family and child. It helps us to find a suitable family and match. We have to consider their lifestyle, financial status, personality, education, eating habits, etc. It is a tough task,” claims Taneja.
Taneja has also experienced that these days, education from a branded institution is one of the criteria. “We have to understand their priorities deeply,” she says. “These days, people are particular about the location of the house. For example, south Delhi people want a match from some posh colonies. I have a big NRI clientele and profiles from all states of India as I have a big circle of friends and relatives.”
Interestingly, Taneja didn’t feel there were any effects of the pandemic on the business. “I have been in this field for almost 20 years now. I believe that every phase brings a new set of challenges but gradually everything becomes normal. During the pandemic, we were doing Zoom meetings or telephonic conversations but now again solo and family meetings are in trend. In essence, we are bouncing back,” says 57-year-old Taneja.
Earlier she used to work with a company as a wedding planner. A lot of people told her that she has good matchmaking skills. In due course, Taneja found that this was indeed her true calling.
“I understand that this is a huge responsibility. Everyone loves their kids the most in this world. I engage with every client personally, understand their mindset and what qualities they are looking for. Trust me, it needs a lot of hard work. I have to visit the clients to verify the information they provide. Will these websites do all this? No, they want money and more money,” concludes the lady.
“Matchmakers have really interesting tales to tell,” says Bhawna from Wedgate Matrimony. They have observed the tide turning. A lot of people these days will claim to be matchmakers just because they are part of several WhatsApp groups. Panditjis (temple priests) also try to do all the things on their own. But that doesn’t change the fact that a matchmaker has more knowledge about the nuances of the profession.”
Like most of the marriage bureaus, they too think that online dating apps and websites have changed nothing. Bhawna, who is in charge of the bureau, shares what sets an independent marriage bureau apart.
According to her: “We have renowned specialists with us who have pioneered in understanding human behaviour, psychology and remedial measures. Matchmaking needs a special lens to understand the needs of the clients. It cannot be achieved simply through conversation these days as cheating and fraud cases have increased. Our research and findings help us in understanding varied and complex needs, preferences and psychologies which go behind the brains searching for a so-called perfect alliance. It is emotional handling we do on a daily basis.”
Wedgate Matrimony has been in the market for 12 years. Located in Kailash Park, the bureau serves about 600+ walk-in clients on a daily basis. Their USP is the service they provide to the clients. In order to ensure that the process is smooth, they have add-on services like profile creation, introduction writing, portfolio shoot, grooming, counselling, astro matching, availability of meeting lounges along with refreshments, presence of experienced moderators, ‘Before’ and ‘After’ feedback, query resolution, personal touch from dedicated service coordinators, etc.
Ekta Vohra of Wedding Alliances, a marriage bureau in Pitampura, explains how the age-old practice of matchmaking competes with the online versions.
“These days children are very bold. They want to lead an independent life,” observes Vohra. “What I have observed is that alliances made out of these websites are not really successful. The reason is less involvement of the family. That’s exactly where matchmakers play a significant role in society.”
She says that her staff understands that the kids have their respective opinions and that they have the freedom of choosing their life partner. “But there are certain things that the children can’t handle alone. Hence, firstly, we fix a general meeting where both the families interact with each other and then a solo meeting of the children. It helps to tackle some immaturity that the children have initially”.
While society is becoming more cosmopolitan, marriage bureaus have experienced that the stereotyping still exists, especially in terms of beauty standards and prosperity. A lot of clients simply ask Vohra to find a girl who look like actress Nora Fatehi.
“It’s all about the individuals and their preferences,” says Vohra. “Clients speak to us very openly and we understand what is the highlight of their mindset. For example, a client some days back talked to me that he wants his wife to be homely no matter how educated she is. Similarly, there are some girls who want to settle in a rich family. In a nutshell, it is one’s experiences and individual intent that is supreme in the business of matchmaking. We hear them and try our best to find suitable matches.
“I think matchmakers have far better insight into the details as compared to a website,” shared Abhiroop Das, 62, a resident of Saket. He registered his 28-year-old daughter’s profile on shaadi.com in 2020. After some time, they met a family in a restaurant in south Delhi.
“At first, everything seemed to be perfect. My daughter and the boy also talked to each other. We visited each other’s home and after about 4-5 meetings we decided to fix the Roka ceremony (a pre-engagement ritual),” he recalls.
The boy’s family demanded cash even before the Roka ceremony. They decided to give half the amount asked but on the day of the ceremony, the family didn’t show up.
While cheating and fraud are quite common these days, the chances are comparatively higher in the case of online platforms. That is because people make fake profiles with the intent to defraud.
Tulika Saxena, 45, a homemaker, says, “I have always believed that these websites are nothing but a waste of time and money. Nothing can ever replace the matchmakers in society. I understand that things are changing and we are becoming more advanced but this doesn’t change quickly.”
She is speaking from experience. She connected with a marriage bureau in West Delhi for her son back in 2019. “Trust me, the matchmakers consider our children as their own,” says Saxena. “They looked after all our requirements and understood our preferences so well that within a week, the marriage was fixed. They not only fix meetings and act as moderators but are such responsible pillars of strength in the process that it feels fantastic. At one point when the children were about to make a huge mistake, the matchmaker stepped in and sorted out the matter.”
The equation between a matchmaking bureau and the client is unique and interesting. They don’t hide anything from each other. There’s enough transparency and scope of discussion which is rare in the case of websites. No wonder the marriage bureaus of Delhi believe in the potentiality of their skills. They believe that things are only going to get better with time.
Yet there are a number of happy couples today who met each other online. But that’s a story for another day.