Brides and Grooms Wanted. Looking for a wife in India - not for the faint of heart

By , Joseph Di Bona is a Duke University professor of education on sabbatical in India to research student problems.

IF you have ever thought of advertising for a husband or a wife, you must consult the Indian matrimonial columns, where experienced hands have been finding mates for as long as anyone remembers. The bare essentials are easy enough to master. Include your profession, height is important, education a must, earnings are very clearly stated, and of course ``community,'' that catchall category which covers caste, race, religion, region, and anything else you want it to mean. Girls are usually described as fair, meaning light-skinned; ``wheatish'' is also popular; and homely means accomplished in the domestic arts.

But today many young people are turned off by this perennial search device whereby parents place ads for their children. They say the only ones who are advertised are the losers whose parents have tried everything else - marriage brokers, family connections, the local astrologer, work mates, and anyone else they can find. Their new approach is to advertise directly in slick magazines aimed at a younger crowd.

This qualifies as a daring and exciting development in Indian-arranged marriages, and recently I responded to one such ad. It was placed by Anita K., described as a 40-year-old divorcee. I wrote:

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Dear Miss K.,

You will no doubt be surprised to have this belated reply to your matrimonial proposal of some time ago, but the truth is a friend brought it to my attention just yesterday. I am an active 61-year-old divorced professor from the United States working in India temporarily and looking for someone special. I would like to meet you sometime soon in Delhi in order to become better acquainted.

Best Wishes, Joseph.

In about a week, I received this reply.

Dear Mr. Joseph,

Thanks for your letter dated 1 March in response to my matrimonial ad. I was glad to read the particulars given by you and am attracted toward you. I am looking for someone who is mature, understanding, and maybe you are the right man. Incidentally, I have obtained the US visa, and as my plans go I ought to be leaving for America by the end of March 1989. Your plan to visit Delhi at that time would not be of much help if we want to pursue this matter. Although I have one alternative to suggest.

Do you think you can make it to Delhi earlier than that? If yes, that would be lovely, and if not I could visit your place and meet you and we can talk things over. If we happen to check with each other, then I could postpone my departure for America. But now let me give you some information about myself. I have divorced my husband, have one son who is 17 years old and is living with his father who is an army officer. I have no contact with my son since eight years. I am single and lonely. I would like to settle with someone who is considerate, affectionate, and broadminded enough to help me to live my life and not rule my life. I am very straightforward. I hate hypocrisy and unfaithfulness. I have had a very bitter experience with my first marriage. In my ad I had given a false name to hide my identity for obvious reasons. My name is Punit, and my height is 5 ft. 7 in. and not 170 cms which was wrongly printed. I have wheatish complexion. I am attractive, smart, and have a cheerful disposition. One of my hobbies is to laugh. Do I sound crazy? I am enclosing a photo, you may kindly send me yours.

Much Love, Punit.

The photo was a knockout postcard-size picture of what looked like a movie queen in her early 20s. What to do next? I decided to consult my neighbor who originally showed me the ad. He has been anxiously searching for a spouse for several years but has not yet found the right girl.

``Shambhu,'' I asked, ``what should I do about Punit?''

``She looks like the right girl for you. She doesn't care about your caste, nationality, or religion, and she seems very smart. I would visit her if I were you, or invite her to come here. Talk to her on the telephone just to hear her voice. I find that's a wonderful way to get to know someone.''

I was surprised at how fast things seemed to be moving. I had a much slower time frame in mind, but I was quickly altering my perspective.

``If I invite her to come here,'' I asked with some hesitancy, ``where would she stay, etc.?'' The answers were all well-established protocols worked out over eons of experience.

``She will take care of the overnight travel and you pay for the hotel and meals. No, she will not share a room with you. You will get her a room in a nice nearby hotel.''

``But Shambhu, do things always move this quickly?''

He explained his latest effort at wife-hunting. ``I just returned from Calcutta where I went to see this girl who happens to be from my same biradri (subcaste). I met her family and she is very nice, although she is not very pretty. Not ugly, mind you, but not very pretty. She speaks well, knows English, and I was pleased.''

``So you went all the way there, and what happened?''

``We met, we talked, and she said she was ready to make a firm commitment, but I didn't go that far. I have two other girls in Bombay and Bangalore to see first. The one in Bombay is very clever but always talking about her karma and astrology. The one in Bangalore, my brother met and he says she is OK, but physically we are a misfit. I am small and slim. She is a tall, heavy-built Punjabi girl. But he said I should meet her and make my own decision.''

``So you want to check out these other girls before you give Calcutta a definite answer.''

``That's right, and anyway her father wants to make a site visit to see for himself if all I said checks out. Apparently she had an unfortunate experience recently when a marriage was all sewed up and it turned out the prospective groom was an alcoholic.''

``I am getting the hang of this business now. Your advice is to go for it?''

``With a vengeance, my friend,'' said Shambhu.

``I am now getting my postcard-size photos ready. I have changed my attitude about long-distance phone calls and travel to unheard-of places. I am still not ready to make a commitment after moments of introduction, but I am working on that, too.''

``Good,'' said Shambhu, ``that's progress. Remember, this marriage business is not for the faint of heart.''

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