IN a central Delhi office building, a stream of names and code numbers blip across the computer screen. Suddenly, blue lights flash and and a loud Beeeeeep! breaks the machine's steady hum. Life Partners Computer, one of India's new high-tech marriage brokers, has found another match. For generations, Indians have married under the watchful eyes of their parents and families. Marriages often are arranged through a network of relatives, friends, and acquaintances. In towns and villages, the go-between may be the local busybody or the barber.
However, in major cities, newspaper ads and, most recently, computer services have become key cogs in the matchmaking process. Every Sunday, newspapers run pages of ads searching for the perfect bride or groom.
At publications like Hindustan Times - one of the largest English-language newspapers - families placing a matrimonial ad may try computerized matchmaking for no extra charge.
``The traditional ways of finding a match are becoming increasingly difficult because the joint family is breaking up,'' says O.P. Sharma, advertising manager of Hindustan Times, which operates the Life Partners Computer service. ``The traditional is giving way to the scientific.''
Computerized matchmaking is the rage among India's emerging, status-conscious middle class. The Hindustan Times - which pioneered the concept of matrimony-through-advertising 60 years ago - runs up to 1,200 of the ads every Sunday.
Many would-be partners also opt for the free computer service which the newspaper launched as a promotion four years ago. Fifty to sixty computer forms are submitted daily. Almost 100 tidbits about the person and his or her preferences are punched into a computer. Although caste and religion remain key factors in marriage for many Indians, job and living standards are of increasing importance.
Each prospect gets a printout of possible matches to pursue. Flexible Indians get as many as 40 candidates. The too-picky may get none.
``There are not many cases where marriage by newspaper or computer has failed,'' the ad executive insists, although he has no survey to support the claim.
Playing matchmaker can be dangerous, however. When the Life Partners Computer matched up a brother and sister, Mr. Sharma had the angry and offended father raging in his office. Woman's rights activists have also protested some ads, saying that they are degrading.
Sharma says he is careful that the computer not be used for dating, which is considered risqu'e by Indian standards. ``We are very vigilant. This is not not a dating service,'' he says.