November 22, 2010

Caste-ing calls

I've put some old books up for sale on Amazon and, in flipping through them to assess their condition for the product descriptions Amazon requires, have found some interesting things stuck between their pages: letters, newspaper clippings, church bulletins, ticket stubs, a 1960 Smokey Bear bookmark.

And, in an old guidebook, a two-page spread I tore from an October 1983 edition of The Times of India. When you travel, reading the local paper is a great way to get a glimpse into everyday life. I've often found articles or ads that make better souvenirs of a place than any trinket from a gift shop.

The two pages of "Matrimonials" contain hundreds of listings placed by parents advertising for a bride for their boy or groom for their girl and by the hopeful singles themselves. Attributes advertised and advertised for include physical specs, domestic tendencies ("homely" was the word used in 1983 Delhi to describe a girl who could stay put and tend to hearth and home), religion, ethnic community, economic status, employment situation, country of residence, astrological considerations, education, caste and, in bride-seeking ads, dowry requirements. ("No dowry" was a selling point: no worries, prospective future wife, about possibly being doused in kerosene and set afire in your kitchen because I or my family are dissatisfied with what you've paid for the privilege of joining our clan. I remember reading, in this same Sunday, October 23, 1983 edition of the Times of India, several articles about women found dead in their homes, apparent victims of bride-burning, which continues today.)

Sample listings:

"A Bombay Based Handsome Kerala Catholic athletic sincere boy of 27 years drawing Rupees 8,000, in Gulf, coming to Bombay shortly, invite alliance from parents of well-employed young beautiful Christian girls with good character. Final year student nurses preferred. No dowry demands..."

"Highly Qualified Brahmin Match for engineer boy, 27, 165 centimeters. Correspond with horoscope or exact date time and place of birth at first instance to Box 82445..."

"Wanted, Beautiful, Slim, Tall, smart Bengali Kayastha girl, for smart, handsome bank officer, 30, 174 centimeters, earning 28,000 Rupees/annum. Father gazetted officer. Correspondence open for beautiful girls only..."

"Talented, Accomplished Graduate bride for respectable, educated Arya Samajist, handsome, green card holder, 26, 178 cms, senior associate engineer IBM. No dowry, early marriage..."

"Jain/Agarwal Match For Homely extremely beautiful Goyal graduate, 29, 157 cms, purely vegetarian, legally divorced, innocent girl, belonging to respectable industrialist family. Widower also invited..."

"Wanted, Suitable Match For A Business Communication graduate girl, employed as stenographer in Delhi Administration, drawing good salary, wheatish color, aged 26 years, 152 cms, intelligent, knowing all household work. Caste Hindu Brahmin..."

These and hundreds of other Matrimonials, placed in the classifieds just ahead of Motor Vehicles, Plywood & Timber and Precision Tuned Components.