I don't know of anybody who's had to suffer as much (although I'm certain there are countless others) at the hands of overeager matchmakers amongst friends, relatives, acquaintances practically all of Dhaka City, as I have. No one in our beloved Bangladesh seems to be able to tolerate an unwed adult. The general view is: if one is unattached, not too hard on the eyes, and has a degree/job, why would s/he not want his/her 'well-wishers' to intervene? Why indeed!
In a confused state of mind, I turned to my friends for advice, in vain. One married the first patro she had been taken to see. Another, who is on the verge of getting hitched, theorised about marriage being 'a bitter but necessary medicine, to be taken without fuss'. A third threw caution to the wind by eloping with her boyfriend despite repeated warnings; apparently because she 'forgot everything once she looked into his eyes'.
I do intend to get married eventually, but I don't want it to be a chore. I don't harbour any romantic notions about matrimony, but I'd be willing to wait until I find the most suitable life-partner instead of rushing into anything, a notion for which people find me a tad unconventional. Maybe I'm too pragmatic, but I'd like to think that things should work in ways that best suit the people involved. Who gets to decide how things should be done?
I happen to have given a lot of thought to the process of arranged marriages - not surprisingly. Everyone should agree that the process needs a lot of renovation. The word 'renovation' comes to mind, as it would be quite like renovating a near-collapse, old fashioned, user-unfriendly but beautiful nonetheless ancient house. I do think arranged marriages can be a beautiful thing. Or to be more specific, I did think so once.
To recall one of my arguments in favour of arranged marriages that I used to claim in my debates: in arranged marriages well meaning, neutral third parties do the preliminary searching so there's a better possibility of finding someone truly suitable. In reality however, parents or "well-meaning" neutral parties don't even try to look for a person suitable for their eligible intended. They look for a generic "Bhalo Patro/Patri" who maybe suits the person they are searching for just as a pair of boots suit a sari clad woman…or something like that. There is also the fact that my Indian friend helped me with, in an extremely tough debate with a die-hard freedom-of-choice American friend of ours.
In our civilisation, which when compared to theirs, is several hundred years older (something that was unsaid but implied), we have had a chance of checking out all the systems by trial-and-error method before we settled on arranged marriages. So it can't be wrong.
Back to my idea for renovating the system for arranged marriages, it's a simple one, slightly similar to blind-date shows abroad, but Bengalicized to suit our needs. It involves the candidates writing a long, factual essay about themselves. The essay should contain, besides pertinent information about age, religious affinity, etc., details about the candidates' personality - tastes, philosophies, aspirations…things that would matter in a long-term relationship. It should be honest about the candidate's perception of both his/her strengths and shortcomings. The matchmakers would use these essays (and attached photographs) to make potential matches.
The essays are often very revealing, and help narrow down the choices. Once you've found that essay that appeals to you most, you go check out the author. Arrange a meeting, get acquainted with him/her, and his/her family. This 'getting-to-know-one-another' is very crucial, and it often helps not to have a whole crowd of friends and relatives looking on and creating an awkward atmosphere. Even if the meeting takes place in Aunty-moni's drawing room, you can pick up on a lot of ingrained characteristics. What does his/her conversation say about his/her attitudes? The meeting should help you decide whether or not the match is worth pursuing.
So, those of us who have not succeeded in marrying the first person we met, could not take marriage as an essential medicine, or don't even know where to begin to find a person to make us forget the world, this is the perfect solution. I believe, by going through this simple two step process you'd save a lot of pain and would find a person who actually suits you and not an assumed picture-perfect match that looks good to people. It can save you from many unpleasant experiences, whether you're a guy or a gal. If you are one of the multitudinous members of the human species, who is looking for just a beautiful face and/or a hefty bank balance, however, you've just wasted some valuable time of yours. Well, think of it as practice time.
By Sanjana Ameen
ghotoks: the inside story
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of a "Ghotok" (matchmaker) is a person with a chagla dari, a toupee and an umbrella stuck under his armpit. However stereotyped this may sound, these individuals are normally associated with most of our arranged marriages and sometimes cursed by families for their fraudulent nature. However, things have changed by all means these days.
'Almost all marriages need Ghotoks' says Zulfiquer Hossain, an expert who has been in the matchmaking business for fourteen years. He verifies this by pointing out that even in a love marriage there is definitely an individual who plays middleman and helps out, an individual who is normally a friend in our society. Although ghotoks normally create the wrong impression from numerous instances of marriages gone bad, there are small institutions around the city that are springing up and trying to change the impression of matchmaking as a whole.
Sanai is one such organisation that has 'set-up' numerous numbers of couples and has made brisk business. Nowadays, it can be seen that matchmaking has become a commercial venture, and a commercial firm requires well-educated executives. This is one thing that has been revolutionised in this sector. The traditional Bangla ghotok has given way to far more educated professionals. Sanai itself hires individuals with a minimum of a master's degree, and this gives such firms goodwill in a sector where there is a lack of it.
Sanai has a simple, yet effective way of pairing up to-be-weds. Firstly, it collects background information from clients and enters the information into its database along with photographs. Each entry into their database costs the individual Tk.2000. However this whole process is not done using computers as yet. They then form groups from these clients and put the CV's into different folders, depending on type of bride or groom wanted by such individuals. As for example, if an interested woman looks for a prospective husband who is a doctor, she is given quite a few files which have doctors from which she is asked to choose a few. Proposals are then sent out and after this, the organisation helps out the individuals and their families with information, and they also set up a time for them to meet. Amusingly, the most popular places for such 'meetings' are shopping malls such as Eastern Plaza, Rifles Square and even New Market. One aspect that is laudable is that the institution doesn't force the families into making a decision. They more or less put everything else in place, leaving the decision up to the families.
After choosing from prospective partners, the two families' set up an engagement date, and then a marriage date. This is when they pay the matchmaker Tk.10000 as their charges. However, if the relationship breaks up before the marriage, the company offers a full refund.
Commercial matchmakers keep track of a great number of individuals who intend to get married. This aids both the organisations and the families, providing a lot of choices. Divorcees or widows can also be found in the database and this gives them a good chance of moving on with their lives. The search through the commercial matchmakers seems to be quite useful in a city flooded with people.
Similar organisations like Sanai can be found around the city. From a business point of view, such an enterprise can be quite lucrative. Although all the marriages don't always end up like drama serials, it can be seen that most of these marriages do go well.
Long ago, even in Dhaka City almost everyone had an idea about each other living in the same area, but with the immense population growth this has become almost impossible. It seems that the faith of most of the arranged marriages in the future lie in the hands of these matchmakers. Although it is said that marriages are made up in heaven, the rest seems to be set-up right here by relatives, loved ones or even ghotoks.
By Mishel Ali Khan
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