Today I had my ‘day off in the middle of the trip’. In high spirits and curiosity I sought cultural stimulation from two sources. I might have stretched that to three but it took me just 10 minutes on the first night to conclude that the 70 TV channels available in this hotel are all appalling (and 3 of them were Hindi versions of Big Brother).
Firstly, I visited the Qutub Minar, which I reckon is the most attractive visitor site in Delhi. Photos will follow. And secondly, as has become habit on these visits, I turned to the Hindustan Times classifieds section, for a gander at the Matrimonial ads.
As an entire section of the paper, this is home to a host of intriguing cultural insights. Here's a good example:
Alliance invited from a well settled, well educated Brahmin boy, preferably from Delhi, for marriage with March ’83 (168cm) very fair, slim, charming, beautiful, convent educated, MSc Economics graduate, belonging to a well established Brahmin family. Please send photo, biodata and horoscope details.
This format is by no means standard with a good proportion of the ads focusing particularly on the spouse sought, while others wax lyrically on the aesthetic appeal of the would-be celebrant proferred, these latter type often consisting of 5, 6 or more synonyms of the word beautiful.
Touchingly, some of the ads can veer from comical to heart-breaking in one sentence:
Looking for a well educated effluent (well i'm full of it!) tall boy (furnish me with a groom?) belonging to a rich family, upper-caste preferred, for marriage with 30 years, 5' 5", qualified, very fair & extremely beautiful girl (i'd need to see a photo) of a highly educated and affluent (so they do know how to spell affluent - the plot thickens!) family. Innocently cheated in first marriage.
Check that last bit. Awwww. :(
Two examples are probably enough. But I did have a good skim through for other highlights and turned up these gems:
- slightly healthy (ie not dead???) with pleasing mannerisms (now if that doesn't set your imagination racing...)
- 32 (looks much younger) - seriously this appears a lot, and always in brackets as if to be read sotto voce!!!
- with slight stammering problem – well I guess that’s something you’d want to know before you got to the vows…
- greedy people must not contact at all – to reduce the cost of the wedding banquet??
- convent educated - haven't they seen St Trinians???
- son, never married, 38 but looks 27-28 - well i guess thats the benefit of never being married!
- girl with modern and traditional values - I think this might be the Indian equivalent of 'a cook in the kitchen and a vixen in the bedroom'!
Seriously, I find all this fascinating. Though arranged marriages are not nearly as universal as they once were, they still account for a significant proportion of marriages in Indian society.
And, I mean no disrespect. These ads are funny because the terms appear so esoteric to the uninitiated. But of course when something becomes familiar, you no longer think of it as esoteric. The average singles column offers just as much bemusement potential for the novice. Who is this ‘Mr Right’ that everyone wants to find, and what exactly constitutes a ‘good’ sense of humour???
And maybe what makes all of these ads more humorous is the fact that the ‘human-ness’ is – by convention – truncated from the language of classified ads. Go to the ‘motors’ section and you’ll find wordings such as ‘Car for sale. One owner. Comes with manuals and full service history,’ rather than ‘I’m selling my car. I’ve had the car since new and once I’ve hoovered all the grit and fluff out from under the seats I’ll be fishing out the manuals and including them with the sale.’
So we get passive-verb laden gems like ‘convent educated’, ‘alliance invited’ and ‘innocently cheated in first marriage’.
If I were looking for a wife through a newspaper ad, I’d like to put all the nice bits of the language back in. It'd probably go something like this:
Hi ladies (‘parents’ for the Indian version of the ad). I’m on the look out for a young – or at least a fairly young looking – lady with a big heart and a curiousity to find out what we’re supposed to be doing on this crazy planet (though not through horoscopes). I’ve been single for a couple of years now, though I have dated often (amusing stories will be shared in the event of marriage, though full service history has been lost in transit). A wilfully quirky sense of humour would be a real bonus as my humour on occasion seems very odd to the largest part of the population excepting a few mates who are as ‘eccentric’ as I am. I’d love to meet someone who is honest and open because those things matter a lot to me. And my experience suggests that the sort of person who appeals to me is passionate. It doesn’t matter what you're passionate about (a love of drum ‘n’ bass would help - is that too specific?), and in fact I would be especially taken with someone who could make me share their passion for something that I would have thought I’d avoid like the plague. But I’m never going to another Julia Roberts move as long as I live…
Ahhh crap. That’s gonna cost me a gazillion rupees. Oh well, it was a nice thought. The search for a soulmate will have to continue to bypass the mainstream media. I am still curious about the convent education though…
Coming next week – a review of that Bond movie and notes from rockstar tour of Southern India.