Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking docuseries has taken the world by storm during quarantine, providing a unique window for the Western world into the crazy world of arranged marriages and matchmaking. For me though, it’s been a chance to reflect on my South Asian heritage and my own grandparents’ arranged marriage.
The show follows Sima Taparia, an Indian matchmaker who is paid to match and marry off clients in India and the United States. However, it has received some criticism for its lack of progressive ideals, with elements of sexism, colourism and classism apparent throughout.
The Western world is always very shocked when they think about arranged marriages. I mean it’s no surprise, westerners love their freedom so much they will refuse to wear a mask, even if it may save their life. But as Sima says at the beginning of the series, in India they “don’t say arranged marriage”, there is only “marriage and then there is love marriage.”
For my family, as Sri Lankans living in Malaysia, arranged marriages were a way to maintain our Sri Lankan Tamil bloodline. While Malaysia is a multicultural and progressive society today, at the time an arranged marriage was what was expected of South Asians.
“During the 60s arranged marriages was the norm,” my grandmother told me, when I asked her what she thought of arranged marriages today.
“It took a lot of adjusting. I was lucky, as Tata [her husband/my grandfather] provided well for me. I had to put up with my in-laws who were unbearable and Tata was set in his own ways. My regret was not having a career and being totally dependent on him. Women today will not succumb to arranged marriages as they are more career minded and independent.”
My grandparents were the last to have an arranged marriage in my family, and thank god, because otherwise I wouldn’t exist. My Dad, who moved to Australia in 1986, didn’t want to have an arranged marriage. When I asked him why not, he said: “I don’t believe in arranged marriages because the practice is antiquated, and based on patriarchal attitudes towards marriage e.g. on the husband’s terms. Also, people should be able to choose who they want to marry as it’s their choice and not anyone else.”
Unfortunately, the practice of arranged marriages still puts pressure on the woman to be at the disposal of a man. It is still very normalised for the woman to do all the cooking and cleaning for her husband. So, basically her role is to take over from his mother. Ew.
Woman: “I am a successful lawyer and I have high standards for my future husband.”
Matchmaker: “Ugh, she’s so difficult and miserable.”
Man: “I have rejected 150 potential matches & looks are very important to me.”
Matchmaker: “Challenge accepted!”
— Erin Conley (@Erinsk8) September 2, 2020
In Indian Matchmaking, my favourite story was Ankita Bansal, who in the end chose to focus on her career instead of finding a husband. Goals.
The matchmaker Sima constantly reinforced the idea that the woman has to be “tall, fair and trim” and “flexible”, which didn’t sit well with me, and I’m sure a lot of other women too. As a South Asian/Anglo mix, I’m used to being told by family and friends in Malaysia that I’m ‘lucky’ for being fairer skinned. It makes me feel super uncomfortable because it demonstrates the colourism that not only exists in the western world, but the rest of the world too. Dark enough to be ‘exotic’, but not dark enough to be ostracised by society.
— Esha (@jasmineskiess) September 2, 2020
What I actually did enjoy about Indian Matchmaking, was the accurate depiction of South Asian people. In most western media, South Asian people are only represented in relation to white storylines. If it’s a love story, it’s the love story between a white person and South Asian person – like Bend It Like Beckham or Bride and Prejudice.
I loved how this storyline was noticeably absent from the show, and focused on the importance of acknowledging South Asian culture and heritage. I really appreciated this because throughout my life, I have often rejected my culture to fit in with my white peers. I mean I went to an upper-middle class high school in the Bayside area of Melbourne, for god’s sake. So it was very easy to become white-washed.
So would I actually have an arranged marriage? Fuck no.
It’s hard enough going on a date with a guy who looks nothing like his photo. Imagine being forced to marry someone who looks nothing like his biodata. Besides, the idea of marriage freaks me out. My perfect idea of marriage would be one of those stories where a woman tries to marry a train station. Me, marrying Flinders Street station. Now, that’s romantic.