Took a proposal to Sima Aunty. Not!

Updated: 16 September, 2020 07:31 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Asking the world's best-known Indian Matchmaker what she means by the 'guru mantra: adjustment and compromise'

Sima Taparia
Sima Taparia

Mayank ShekharIf you don't intend to marry at all, is there such a thing as pre-marital sex?" No, I didn't ask Sima Taparia that. That'd be too cheeky. Probably in her late 50s, Sima Ji comes across as rather conservative. Like a lot of India's wealthiest, sworn to the idea of arranged marriage as a familial alliance — not very different from kingdoms of the past, imitated chiefly by business empires of the present.

Sima Aunty is world's best known Indian Matchmaker, ever since she hosted the docu/reality series by a similar name, which dropped on Netflix in July (trending both in the US and India), turning her into an overnight celeb of sorts.

She finds memes on her, "mazedaar" (enjoyable). The Mumbai/Worli resident hasn't tested her street-level fame yet. Having only been out to a couple of temples, post the pandemic/lockdown, where heads tentatively turn. Thousands of cold calls, in client speak, that have followed since the show, is testimony of her expanding business, during an economic contraction.

Also Read: This Rhea-lity TV has an expiry date

Speaking of which, if you were to hear a personalised hello, or a birthday wish from Sima Aunty, you'd have to shell out Rs 15,000 a minute, on GoNuts —an app for shout-outs from celebrities (a new, post-pandemic revenue stream for the famous, if not the richest). By that calculation, spending these 26 minutes without a proposal for the matchmaker would have cost me around R4 lac. Feeling blessed already!

Sima Aunty essentially does for a living what a well-connected family-friend or relative in every Indian home has specialised in, over generations, out of charity/hobby/hope: Facilitating lifelong hook-ups for young, eligible singles from the same/similar caste/community. Which in turn will be ecstatic/jubilant, dancing all night, once that prospect materialises!

She trades in precious information, about two interested 'parties', initiating negotiation, on each other's behalf. She's the broker of melding hearts and practical minds. Sima Aunty reveals there is no dowry involved in any of her deals.

What must match, besides horoscopes, face plus palm readings ("for a sense of satisfaction"), are "looks", and "culture", meaning "families". What's been added only lately to the inventory of key demands of her already punishing job are matching "wavelength", and "chemistry", meaning "compatibility", between couples who haven't met.

Ironically, but unsurprisingly, pretty much no one, over four hours of Indian Matchmaking, ends up finding a match: "That can take about a year or two; depends. The series was shot over only five months. And the director wanted to show the process, traditions, and rituals of Indian matchmaking," says Sima Aunty, sitting beside 'Sima Uncle', both of whom don't wish to come on video in the Zoom call — because she may have to read some answers!

Indian Matchmaking has been roundly criticised for its racial/colourist overtones. To be fair (no pun intended), it is a reality show. Blame the reality! Why hate the show? "If there is a demand for a particular family, then we have to fulfil. That's the purpose of arranged marriages. Why come to a matchmaker otherwise," Sima Ji reasons.

She has been a matchmaker since 2005. Which would be about a year before Facebook. And a decade before Tinder, that allowed independent agency to young men and women (from small towns to big cities), segregated in the real world, but matching with each other at the swipe of a cell-phone.

Sima Aunty wishes dating apps well: "But I'm only into arranged marriages." One of which was her daughter's — a story you can find on the Indian Matchmaking director Smriti Mundhra's documentary, A Suitable Girl (also on Netflix). A poignant moment in it is the shot of Sima Ji in tears, during wedding preparations, because she must part with her young girl: "By [age] 30-35 toh, pressure becomes way too much," she says.

I didn't ask how her daughter is doing. She doesn't track the daily lives of those she has got married off either. But her "guru mantra" remains the same. That, much like with Indian Matchmaking, she's repeated to me a few times already: Thoda (little) adjustment. Thoda compromise.

"When we sit at the airport and realise the flight's delayed by three hours, what do we do — jump, scream, shout? No. We sit quietly. Likewise in our office, we adjust. Then, why not in our personal life? Earlier, both the boy and the girl showed patience. Thoda adjustment and compromise in married life ho, toh divorce ki naubat hi nahin aati (there won't be need for divorce). Understand this philosophy, and life will go smooth.

Financial independence [of the girl] ho gaya hai, bahut. Pehle yeh nahin tha (Wasn't so before). This is the biggest reason for divorce rates going up. And western culture aa gaya hai — ussay bhi farak pada hai. Ladka-ladki (boy-girl) independent ho gaye hain. This wasn't the case 15-20 years ago. 'Why should I listen to anyone?' That is not the right thing, na? Mein ghalat hoon kya? Boliye, boliye? (Am I wrong; say)…" Listening.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14

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First Published: 16 September, 2020 04:55 IST

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