Just like grocery, food, cosmetics, clothes, house, car and much else we care to buy for a living, there’s another item available for sale, especially in markets in Kerala. It’s an auction of sorts, where the highest bidder gets the privilege of taking the item home after a grand handing-over ceremony.
You’ll know what I’m talking about if/when you’re between 21 & 25, finished your graduation / post-graduation, Syrian Christian (SC), eligible spinster hailing from Kerala (esp Thiruvalla, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta Districts)… ready to hit the market (at least that’s when it all begins!).
The Sunday Matrimonial columns bring them in.
Grooms Wanted: 21 yr old, white (a point to note!), good looking (could have contested for Miss Universe!), SC girl of medium height (meaning 4’ 9’’ or 5’6” or somewhere in between?), in Kottayam, seeks TDH boy (as in Tall, Dark & Handsome or Tom, Dick & Harry) with good qualification (read Engineer or Doctor) and good job (read Government job, Bank job or working in the Gulf).
Brides Wanted: 28 yr old, 185 cms tall, handsome SC boy, working as Manager in reputed Oil Company in the Gulf, seeks fair, beautiful and well educated girl, preferably a Nurse / Teacher (point to be noted), having sound family background (read cash-rich).
There is a spate of calls, in response. Half of which could be people from the newspaper desk to prove that their paper indeed brings response. Quarter of which could be dimwits who don’t get the details in the ad right. And the other quarter may or may not work (it’s like a weather forecast…it may or may not rain).
The brokers are worse. It’s like setting up a blind date. The difference is, the date here is usually between parents. And the main factor discussed (apart from exchanging courtesies) is how much money and gold can the bride’s family cough up in exchange for their son.
Then come in the views of the extended family and friends. The grandparents, aunts and uncles (who you didn’t know existed until then), friends and well-wishers (you know what I mean!). They step out of their way to offer their assistance or give their opinion on matters (even without asking).
Once upon a time, I was this eligible spinster on a vacation to my maternal grandparent's house in a small town called Ranny, in Kerala. It's a beautiful place, kinda uphill with winding roads and rubber plantations on either side. I was 24 then, and my grandfather started checking the matrimonial column and calling the eligible bachelor boys' families frantically, from the day I landed. I was witness to one of the ugliest nature of haggling in the marriage market.
Excerpts of a telecon I overheard...
Appachan (Grandpa): I'm so and so, and you? (Establishing credentials). [They find some common connection and the next couple of minutes is dedicated to telecon in that direction. Then resumes...] What does your son do? My granddaughter is here for a few days. Why don't you drop in today or tomorrow and see her?
In the backdrop:
Me (Panic button on): Mom, let's get out of here quick! I didn't come here to buy myself a buddy boy.
Mom(hushes me up): Relax. You have to get married some day or the other.
On the other end of the telephone (on speaker phone, so we get to hear the atrocious conversation, loud and clear):
Lady(Thankfully not my mother-in-law!): My son is an engineer in KSEB. You know, sound Government job, getting a fat cheque and all! So how much are you ready to give?
In the backdrop:
Me (With my jaws wide open and my eyes ready to pop out): What? Is she out of her mind? What does she mean, how much we are ready to give?
Mom (hushes me up again): Quiet. That's the way marriage aliances work.
Me: Hmmph..I think I'll rather stay a spinster!
Back to the telecon:
Appachan (Keeping his composure): They're just 2 daughters, the elder girl is married off and is abroad. So, you know...(and trails off).
Lady (She's lucky I'm not her daughter-in-law or I would have probably wrung her neck): 10 lakhs, nothing less!
In the backdrop:
Me (ready to swoon at this outrageous demand for money, and swearing under my breath!)
On the telephone:
Appachan: I suggest you first come and see the girl and if you like her and everything goes well, we'll get to money matters.
Lady (Shamelessly desperate to make money at somebody else's expense) If you're ready to give 10 lakhs, we'll come.
Appachan turns in our direction, we nod our head left to right to express our disapproval.
Back on phone:
Appachan: We'll think about it...
Beep, beep. End of call. End of alliance. I returned home after the vacation feeling heavier, full of questions. How could anyone demean themselves asking a total stranger blatantly for something they do not deserve? Do they consider their son a product for sale in the marriage market? Where the auction starts at 10 lakhs and the highest bidder becomes the bride? Is that the price value they've given their son? Isn't human life worth a lot more, above currency value? The questions remain. The practice remains. And boys are preferred over girls.
PS: Since asking for dowry is against the law, people think they outsmart the legal system, by asking for the "share" of the girl! Such people need to be lined up and asked to shoot themselves, because what they commit is a bastardly and shameless act of daylight robbery!
Ladies and Ladaas, I rest my case.
Points to note:
1. White - Fair complexion (In Kerala it is 'nice colour', white or black)
2. Nurse / Teacher - There's a big demand for nurses, as it is a free ticket abroad. Nurses from Kerala rake in big moolah in the US, Europe and the Middle East. Teachers in Government Schools in Kerala are also in demand in the marriage market. Government job, easy money, plenty vacation!