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Mission Delhi – Anonymous Girl, Indian Coffee House

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi; the above photo is for representational purpose only]

Same age as Lady Gaga, she is as audacious as the singer when it comes to talking about sex. Inching towards 30, this girl graduated from a prestigious college in the University of Delhi, and now works in a high-profile company, earning 60,000 rupees a month. She drives a Maruti Alto she purchased with her savings, and she often uses it to take her parents out to south Delhi restaurants. She holidays in Europe and has an active social life (both real and virtual; she has 300 friends on Facebook and 1,000 followers on Twitter). She is a privileged caste Hindu from a populous north Indian state and is dating a Muslim boy.

And yet, all of it could be just for the show. The girl is resigned to looking for a life partner through arranged marriage.

“Frankly,” she tells The Delhi Walla, “I’m only a spectator in all this.”

Anyone who knows this girl would consider her fiercely sovereign about her affairs. But her father, not she herself, created her matrimonial profile on the matchmaking website, and he also manages that account.

With the promise of her identity being kept a secret — lest “this Mission Delhi project destroy me” — the girl spoke candidly about this crucial period of her life in a quiet corner of Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place.

“I can’t see myself compromising, so I have closed my eyes to all this,” she says. “My father shortlists the guys. My part is to go to a coffee shop to meet them. I wouldn’t mind a guy who is at least physically not repulsive and is loaded with money.”

That’s the least unhappy alternative for a girl standing at the threshold of arranged marriage, a tradition deeply entrenched even in the Capital where young Indians are apparently brash, modern, confident and in full control of their lives. At least the last point is not totally true. According to the Hindustan Times 2014 Youth Survey, conducted over 15 cities among more than 5,000 respondents in the 18-25-year age group, 48% girls will “accept arranged marriage without any question”.

This woman too has accepted the same, notwithstanding her current relationship. Delving into the details of her quest gives a sense of the most vulnerable moments of young, cosmopolitan, semi-independent women of a rapidly modernizing Delhi, and how they eventually succumb to traditions they don’t personally relate to.

“I’m okay with being single,” she says. “But I have started to feel a pressure. My mother is also getting worked up.”

The girl’s father created her profile on the matrimonial website in early 2014. Before uploading the all-important portrait shot, she says bemusedly, he lightened her “wheatish” complexion on Photoshop. “My parents have given me the liberty to marry a boy as long as he is not an SC/ST (scheduled caste/scheduled tribe) or a non-Hindu.”

Each week, the girl’s father shows her profiles of potentially interesting men. One day she rejected all the “faces” prompting her mother, who married at 19, to loudly proclaim, “I too did not want to marry your father because of his looks. But if I hadn’t agreed to it, you wouldn’t have been sitting here!”

It’s the instant phone messaging service WhatsApp that paves the way for the online interaction to materialize into a real offline meeting. First, the girl’s father mails her mobile number to a prospective groom, who adds the number on his WhatsApp. Then they chat briefly before picking a day to meet each other in a café.

“My parents have given me the liberty to marry a boy as long as he is not an SC/ST (scheduled caste/scheduled tribe) or a non-Hindu.”

She has reluctantly met four men in the past two months. The first bride-seeker was a vice-president in the human resources (HR) department of a multinational company in Mumbai. The second had just finished his MBA from a university in Dubai. The third was in a senior managerial position with a construction major in Gurgaon. The fourth was an army officer.

“The HR guy’s profile said he is 6ft,” says the girl, “but when I met him at CCD (Café Coffee Day), he was only a little taller than me. What put me off was when he said that he was cool with firing people.”

The Dubai-returned happened to be 6ft tall. “I picked him up from a Metro station and drove him to a Barista (café). When I asked him what he was looking for in a woman, he said, ‘A daughter for my father.’ I said ‘Fuck’ to that and started to laugh. He didn’t contact me again.”

The third boy came wrapped with guarantees of financial security. “He drives an SUV and owns a house in Greater Kailash II,” the girl says, referring to a posh south Delhi locality. “He was good to talk to but I think he was gay.”

The barrel-chested army man fared no better. “His English was very tight (sic),” she says. “I was cold to him. Moreover, he was posted in some godforsaken cantonment town close to the Pakistan border. He himself told me that I would have to sacrifice my job if I were to live with him, because army wives stationed in remote areas have nothing to do except paint or read.”

The girl’s boyfriend himself hails from the border state of Jammu & Kashmir.

“He works in a textile designing firm in Noida. I met him at a friend’s place two years ago. He has such a lovely neck and he looks so untouched. He is a very pious Muslim so we haven’t done anything together except exchanging a few kisses.”

Although the girl talks of being “in true love” with this young Kashmiri man, she would not consider marrying him. “One has to be practical. It’s not only that my dad will be disappointed and angry, and that my mother will kill herself, but I’m not willing to convert to Islam. He also understands and accepts that religion divides us. He doesn’t eat pork; I love pork. He doesn’t drink. I don’t know if I would be in touch with him after my marriage…but he has been the best thing in my life so far.”

Even as the girl is preparing to distance herself from her love interest, she is getting closer to one of her four suitors — the remotely posted army man.

“Four or five days after our meeting, we suddenly started messaging each other. We would chat about useless things late into the night, the kind that I would regret the morning after. Recently, he returned to Delhi for a week’s holiday. Each evening, he picked me up from the office where he would arrive dressed in his army uniform. We would drive on the Yamuna expressway. He has a beautiful voice and he would sing along with the FM songs (on his car radio). Since I always wear low-back kurtas and T-shirts, he would caress my back. Once he kissed me. I tried to be outraged….”

Could he be Mr Right?

“I don’t think I can marry him. He talks crudely to restaurant waiters and parking attendants. His English is embarrassing. My parents would freak out if they learned of our car rides. As far as they are concerned, I originally met the fauji (army guy) for a purpose, and if that’s not working, then I have no business meeting him. But he is fun to hang out with. Honestly, I could have considered him seriously but I cannot live away from big cities.”

Meanwhile, the girl’s father has shown her another profile.

[This is the 96th portrait of Mission Delhi project]

Suitable Boy sequel

1. (A copy of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy)


8 thoughts on “Mission Delhi – Anonymous Girl, Indian Coffee House

  1. You’d be amazed at the number of ‘fiercely independent’ girls/boys who surrender themselves to the comforting certainties of arranged marriages. But I guess it’s none of my business if that is what floats their boat. I for one find the whole parent-mediated-dating routine rather appalling. That said, could I have the third guy’s number? Is she sure he is gay? He sounds like fun. lol

  2. It appears that romanticism is out and practical-ism is in. Even the man-woman equation is now more balanced. Earlier one heard about young boys having lots of affairs and ending up marrying girls of their parents’ choice. Now girls also do the same thing.

    Here are my favorite lines from Sarojini Naidu’s poem, Love, presumably for Dr. Naidu. “It is enough to me thou art/ the noblest, dearest, best/To thee I yield the the treasures of my heart.” For my daughter’s sake, I hope and pray that she keeps this poem in mind when she wants to get married.

  3. This piece reminded me of the song from Bobby, “Na Maangoo sona chandi, na maangoo hira moti, yeh mere kis kam ke, deta he dil de, badle me dil de…that’s what I have been humming these days, just to reassure myself that certain things will not change, come what may…

  4. 1000 marks out of 100.
    Having born in a village in the small-town feudal Jat heartland of interior Haryana, I can relate to this. But I still could not relate to an arranged marriage. I had given a choice to marry any Indian even if she is not a Jat, except SC/ST. Later it got diluted to, “marry any Indian”. Which later further got diluted to marry any race, religion or nationality except Muslims (perception being is that they are so intolerant that even if we do not ask for conversion, they ultimately try to convert) … lolz. Eventually even that condition also went away.

    It is all about taking the stand. I did not have to fight though as my parents always gave me free hand. I always tell my nephews and nieces in the extended family, if they want to marry anyone from any race or religion, I will support them completely.

    In lot of ways, we Indians are very hypocrites, conservative and feudal in mindset the name of culture. Being educated makes us that much more dangerous morons in the grab of morality because we can then learn to justify our hypocrisy in more intelligent ways.

    If you want something, TAKE A STAND.

    JATs the right way babyeeee, aha aha 🙂

  5. What if this Fauji is also seeing a girl but still wants to marry someone through arranged marriage for the sake of his family. Would this delhi girl still consider him a decent prospect?
    I guess this is girl is simply playing around. If she can’t marry that muslim guy, break that relation.

  6. So why do certain people make “love” and “marriage” conditional – only if you convert to my “faith”

    political correctness can be bad for general health

  7. I still remember the first line from Vikram Seth’s Book “A suitable Boy: ‘You too will marry a boy I choose,’ said Mrs Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter. 🙂
    I think if a girl is ok with the arranged marriage, then who we are to judge, even if we believe it is not right to let someone else choose a man with whom you will become very intimate and spend the rest of your life.
    But the girls like the one that Delhi Wallah has written about, with more modern views on life, i think it’s time to become rebellious and stand their ground, even if it will upset their mom and dad. Girls should have their own choice. It’s their life after all.

    1. More than fighting for their choice, I have seen girls becoming gold digger and ditching the boy friends as soon as they find one NRI/Big Shot corporate/ Big Businessman through arranged marriage. I would skip any generalization but have seen this so many time in my close circle.

      Even this girl clearly says she would not mind a guy “loaded with money” 😀

      Few things have remain unchanged for quite long.

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