"Indian Matchmaking", Netflix's latest reality show gives a global audience a portal into the mysterious world of arranged marriages. So what's the takeaway? What makes the show so hilariously cringe-worthy? And why do we find ourselves cringing at something that, if we're going to be real, is so familiar to us? As far as the modern Indian millennial/family likes to believe they've adapted an age-old tradition to fit the needs of a new generation, this show exposes a reality that's quite different from this assumption. Think pandits, kundli matching, biodatas and tradition coexisting with two-household incomes and a vastly diverse Indian diaspora. The dirty laundry has been aired. The question in front of us, is this: what do we consciously change as we move forward now that we can acknowledge our reality for what it is. Mumbai based, poet and journalist, Manvi Jalan gives Le Mill her take on "Indian Matchmaking" after a careful midnight binge session. *Spoilers ahead*
C is for compromise, says Sima aunty. If you want a marriage to last, compromise is key. While she's not wrong and yes, all relationships do take compromise and communication, might we add. The show exposes a traditional (sexist) expectation for a woman to compromise and sacrifice more than a man is expected to. Take for example the case of Rupam, a single mom and divorcee, who was flat out told that she isn't all that eligible in the singles market because she has 2 out of 3 strikes against her. As woke and Westernized and American as she may be, in Rupam's Indian world, this still stands true. Women are constantly told they aren't enough having no choice but to "compromise" aka settle for less, if they want love. Marriage, as an institution, teaches that happiness cannot be found alone. But if a relationship with another costs you the freedom to be who you are, is it worth the sacrifice? This is the million-dollar question all the love-seekers in the show find themselves asking.
What is ‘emotional labor’, you ask? Simply put, it is the time, energy and effort it takes to be emotionally available for a loved one. To be fully present and aware of a partner’s emotional state and needs, one needs to sometimes put aside their own, empathize and communicate. If you take, Pradhyuman’s case study into account, you’ll notice that Mr. Rich Pretty Boy, goes through a bit of a transformation. In the first few episodes, he is unwilling to meet any potential ‘matches’. His ‘criteria’ boils down to chemistry. After a few sessions with a designated life coach, he begins to question who he would need to be, to meet his potential partner’s needs. Go figure. In the patriarchal society we live in, women are burdened with the expectation to put their needs after their man’s. This is not just true for a ‘traditional’ family but most brown families. The burden of nurture, it’s for a partner, children or the in-laws, falls on the woman. We don’t want to generalize, but if Indian Matchmaking reveals anything at all, it is the reality of how unwilling many men seem to be to show up for their partner. Must we remind you of the poster child, Nadia being ghosted to drive our point home? In conclusion: ladies and gentlemen, cupid’s bow will only last, if you both show up for each other. Sima Aunty has made it clear after all, that relationships take work, and she isn’t wrong about that.
Ah children. Most parents want to see their kids married with the hope of enjoying their grandchildren (because babies are more fun when you can give them back). On a serious note, Akshay and his family represent the most traditional of Sima’s clients. Preeti, Akshay’s mum expects her sons to follow in her path and follow tradition. Her eldest son may not have a child till her youngest is wed. Her daughters-in-law may not have a life outside of their marriage. This conservative perspective seems to be at odds with the expectations of cosmopolitan young Indians who have had the opportunity to experience a world outside their bubble. Akshay, with his Liberal Arts degree though, is still a traditional boy at heart and expects his future-wife to sit at home, take care of the kids and run his household. While it may sound jarring at first, we have to acknowledge that we grow into what we are taught. In India, women are still seen as baby-makers and caregivers and marriage is still seen as a contract. Akshay exposes the stark reality that traditional patriarchal values are entrenched in our society, and money can’t hide that.
Indian Matchmaking also seems to expose the dangerous tendency we have as humans to marry a version of our parents. Akshay is unapologetic about wanting a wife whose exactly like his Mama. “A marriage is not just between two people, but two families”, Sima our matchmaker, has said several times over the course of the show. This value is intrinsic to how we as Indians view marriage. In India, we still live in ‘joint families’, with elderly parents living in our home. Given this cultural context, this intrinsic value holds some truth but also exposes the warped expectation for a woman to submit entirely, not just to her new husband’s will, but also to the will of the in-laws. Marriage in Preeti’s world view translates into a woman being laid at a sacrificial altar, giving up her body and breath to her man. It exposes the 90s trope of the evil mother-in-law who subjugates her new daughter-in-law to the same hazing she went through as a young wife. This toxic trope is patriarchy at its finest, reducing women to mere objects and one-dimensional caregivers. In case you bought into this toxic illusion, we’re here to remind you that it isn’t your responsibility to be your future-husband's mama and vice versa.
Indian Matchmaking exposes yet another reality we deny acknowledging in India today. Caste. Historically, caste represented the socio-economic and cultural strata you belonged to. Today, that hierarchy may not be as visible to the elite, but still determines the course of many Indians’ lives. Marriage is no exception. Matchmaking appeals to Indian families because it preserves generational wealth into the same community. We like to pretend we live in an India that has evolved from this systemic injustice, but we have not. So yes, in a traditional Indian household, caste matters, while in an Indian American household for example, as Sima pointed out, “people don’t look at caste as much”.
In conclusion, as cringeworthy and problematic Indian Matchmaking is, it exposes a very real India, that may be hidden from our view, but still exists. India is diverse and our diaspora is vast, but tradition lives on. The show exposes how deeply sexist our traditions are, where are biases lie and provides an opportunity for us to reframe the narrative. We need to teach our daughters that they don’t have to settle for less, that they deserve respect and love without compromising who they are, without giving up their independence and without having to apologize for a complicated past. We need to teach our sons to bear responsibility, carry their emotional weight, look at women as whole beings and not a baby-making, slave. And most of all, we need to remind each other, that love cannot thrive without respect, understanding and communication. The ideal does not exist, we’re human beings, flawed and full of potential. You’re worth a loving partner who can take you as you are and don’t let any aunties tell you otherwise.
*The opinions presented in this article are those of the author and the author alone and don’t represent the values of our organisation.