The desirable male, on the other hand, is primarily a good provider. "Well settled" is a favorite adjective in the ads; "affluent" is another. Each is at least three times as common as "handsome" or even "smart." And although many parents like to arrange an early marriage for their sons, age is not a major issue. More important is a husband's profession, with women showing a strong preference in recent years for "medicos," software engineers, and MBAs. Equally significant are salary details and family finances, which matchmaking agencies will double-check for a fee.
Matrimonial correspondence invited from parents of South Indian Brahmin girls of Non-Srivasta Gotram, good family background, goodlooking, reasonably accomplished, with ability to converse well in English, age 26-29 height 160-170 cms. for a foreign returned executive engineer, aged 34, earning over 2500—of very good family background, references. Please apply ... giving full particulars together with horoscope. [2/2/69]
Overseas well educated company Director, Hindi, English speaking of Hindu Brahmin family, handsome with beautiful home, car, office, servants and other facilities, age 30. Invites matrimonial proposals from girls, preferably lady doctors and lawyers, wonderful opportunity to establish own practice. Race, religion, caste no bar. [2/2/69]
AN examination of thirty years' worth of matrimonial ads also reveals important changes in attitude toward the Indian diaspora. The first ad I cited from 1969, when the original swell of Indian immigrants came to the United States, declared that the bride-to-be should be willing to go abroad. This would demonstrate her adaptability: she agreed to endure the hardships of a strange land. But resettlement was certainly not something that either she or her parents would wish for: the popular feeling was that only boys who couldn't make it in the home country went abroad. As late as 1979 expatriate men looking for hometown wives needed to prove their worth and not be finicky: "London settled handsome Gujarati Research Chemist, owning property, car, drawing Rs. 10,000-per month, height 170 cms., 33 but looks 30, seeks matrimonial alliance, no bar, send particulars."
An additional worry for families was that once abroad, impressionable young people might forget their duties to family and bloodline and allow themselves to be lured into marrying foreigners. Here is an ad with a distinctly panicky tone:
Matrimonial correspondence invited for Brahmin Engineer, 27 serving in America, drawing 6,000 per month, from parents of respected Brahmin girl, Medico, engineer or science graduate, immediately, as boy will fly back soon. [3/6/69]
Over the course of the next twenty years the tide turned. By 1989 being a prospective groom or (rarer) bride who lived abroad was a distinct advantage. Someone thus situated could unabashedly demand more.
Australian residents, North Indian sisters (Aristocratic Kshatriya Zamindar ancestry) aged 29 and 27 years, very pretty, and cultured, living in Sydney seek matrimonial alliance with refined Indian gentlemen of excellent family background, prosperous businessmen or highly qualified Chartered Accountants, Actuaries, Dentists, Orthodontists, Medical specialists good natured, very ambitious, willing to settle in Australia. Girls visiting India soon. [2/26/89]
And although England, Canada, or Australia was acceptable, by last year the United States had become the destination of choice, for which many bargaining points were willingly surrendered.
Really beautiful very fair slim tall BE/ME (Comp/Electronic) MCA girl from reputed Hindu family ... for Vaish (Madhesiya), very fair handsome boy 29/180/65 M.Tech Software Engr. in USA on H-1 visa coming India next month. Early marriage. [3/14/99]
By last year The Times of India had a long column titled "NRI [nonresident Indian]/Green Card." And the Internet had arrived in the marriage supermarket. Kalpana Shah, a matchmaker, sent in a group advertisement for eight potential brides (with caste information and vital statistics) who all wanted grooms from "USA/UAE/UK." "All brides are beautiful attractive & slim," Shah assured us. Her Web site is www.kalpanashah.com. A typical entry reads,
At present California/U.S.A. working as a product marketing manager, beautiful, slim, fair, highly educated from well settled family, 39 yrs, Bengali, Education MBA/MS/MSc/BSc from USA. Wanted highly educated officer or well settled businessman first preference U.S.A. based. Caste no bar. [12/29/99]
As more immigrants settle abroad, NRIs are beginning to prefer other NRIs, or at least "Green card holder H-1 visa"—a status that allows the recipient to live and work in the United States for long periods. This is in part to ensure cultural compatibility and in part a response to a prevalent urban legend about unscrupulous Indians who marry NRIs in order to get a green card and then shrug off their spouses with a quick divorce.