To the untrained eye, the matchmaking vernacular that floods the matrimonial pages of Indian newspapers every Sunday can seem puzzling.
But for the lonely hearts -- or their parents -- who regularly pore over these ads, each detail, no matter how trivial, could potentially make or break an alliance.
AdvertisementPersonal ads cover every aspect of a person's life that is considered important in India -- religion, caste, profession, family status, dietary habits and skin complexion -- which ranges from "fair" to "wheatish" to "very dark" in this colour-conscious nation.
Even intimate details about whether or not an annulled marriage has been consummated are not off limits to people desperately seeking a partner.
Shyam Sharma's marriage request in the Times of India's classified section reads more like an eye chart than a matrimonial advertisement: SM/KKB invited 4 PQM earning 15 LPA.
Acronyms aside, Sharma is a professionally qualified match earning 15 lakhs (30,000 dollars) per annum seeking a suitable match who belongs to the Kanya Kubja Brahmin caste.
Fifteen hundred rupees (30 dollars) later, Sharma -- whose advertisement describes him as a "V. h'some, fair, tall and smart boy" -- says he has received a few responses from women who fit the ideal image of his future wife.
"I have some figure in my mind and I want a girl according to that only," says the 28-year-old teacher as he rolls off a list of requirements.
"My height is 5'11" so at least I want a height of 5'4" and fair colour and the features should be sharp and they should be beautiful. And for education at least she should be a graduate," says Sharma.
Any prospective spouse should be no older than 26, he adds, considered a ripe age for settling down in India.
Many families who opt for traditional arranged marriages choose to tap into their network of friends and acquaintances before turning to matchmaking services, viewed as a last resort for those who have weak family connections or have been overseas for some time.
In Sharma's case, "We have a very small family and we don't have good social contacts and that's why I've placed an ad," he says.
Within the lucrative matchmaking industry -- which encompasses everything from local middlemen to television reality shows -- newspaper advertisements have emerged as the medium of choice for families who are not quite Internet savvy, even if they limit the scope of potential matches.
"A profile posted in a matrimonial classified column only gives one access to potential matches in one's local area, which leads to narrow search results," says Gourav Rakshit, business head at shaadi.com, one of the most popular matrimonial sites for South Asians worldwide.
But Joycelin Jose, head of the matrimonial classified section of the Hindustan Times, says the paper's clientele is "a mixed bag, cutting across socio-economic groups."
"There are loads of people who come to us to find a match because they find it more reliable," she says.
Compared to Internet sites, newspaper classifieds are crammed with jargon and shorthand to accommodate as many details in as few lines as possible, often using euphemisms that require a skillful reading between the lines.
M/NM refers to Manglik/non-Manglik -- a status assigned to people whose astrological stars could clash -- while "no assets" is a polite rebuff toward divorcees with children.
Similarly, "convent-educated" is a call to all non-drinking, non-smoking women equipped with appropriate social graces.
While old-fashioned virtues are always in demand in India, surveys show the trends for what is important in marriage have matured beyond narrow attributes such as astrological signs and skin complexion.
Rakshit says the changing economic landscape means applicants are more concerned about educational levels and job stability than anything else.
"The mindset of India's youth and marriageable community is evolving and they would rather pay finer attention to details like the education or profession of their potential spouse than factors like caste or religion," he says.
If all goes according to plan, Sharma hopes to settle down sooner rather than later.
"If I get the girl according to my expectation then I will definitely get married in winter."
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