In the West it is commonly referred to as 'The Proposal'. In India we call it 'Sealing the Deal’. In the West this mostly involves a solitaire ring (the size being directly proportional to the speed of the reply), a fancy restaurant and some amount of knee contact with the ground. In India it involves pretty much the same things. An alarming display of family jewels, plenty of calorie-laden sweets and snacks and (fingers crossed) a few hugs and handshakes if the deal is sealed.
What starts off as a small-scale search through a matrimonial website or a helpful comment from an over-zealous relative can snowball into such great proportions that by the time the prospective bride and groom meet, there are a hundred people involved in their meeting.
Contrary to popular belief, arranged marriages have even more depth analysis of your future spouse than any love marriage. Beg to differ? For example, our Western counterpart Lisa might know that boyfriend Ben has blue eyes, likes his coffee lukewarm and wears red boxers to bed. Well done Lisa.
But Lakshmi here will know her future husband Bharathan’s salary and bank account details down to the last zero, whether there is any trace of diabetes or madness in his family for 3 generations and how much property she is due to inherit in the event of his death. Now let’s see, which of that information is more useful during a life-long commitment. Hmmm...
So after the spy network, in the form of retired uncles and nosy aunts, have done their bit of sniffing up the dirt on the targeted family, and not so much as a speck of it has been found, then the interested family proceeds to approach the targets. The approach is usually negotiated by an individual acquainted to both parties. Photos are exchanged and scrutinized under the hawk-like eyes of the ladies. Sometimes the photo can lead to even more detailed spying.
“Is that shining patch on his forehead a sign of early balding or just a trick of the light?”
“Is the girl really that fair or have they done a good job with Photoshop?”
Next the fathers call each other up, beat about the bush, and finally bring up the original reason for calling. This is followed by both parties politely listening to the lofty details offered at the other end of the line. Details which they anyway knew, thanks to the investigators working diligently for this very cause.
A meeting date is fixed. As is the custom, the boy’s family visits the girl’s family, usually with two cars full of relatives. And I am not talking about the 2 in front and 3 behind seating arrangement the rest of the world follows.
The girl in question is decked from head to toe in jewellery and makeup. After all a head-to-toe inspection awaits her.
The guests are ushered into the living room. And keeping in sync, the girl is hurriedly ushered by an aunt or a cousin into a bedroom, where she must wait until her mother gives the cue. Here she passes her time making last minute adjustments to her hair.
The AC might be thoughtfully switched on so that her makeup doesn't smear and spoil the effect. Like a seasoned actress she makes her grand entry as soon as her mother calls her out.
Her entry is generally associated with a shift in the energy of the room. Appropriate ‘aaahs’ and ‘ooohs’ are murmured, quick 3-D analyses are performed and one or more adventurous cousins of the boy might nudge him playfully. Depending on the satisfaction levels from the 'viewing', the conversation becomes less strained. The guests start to snack more freely on the delicacies placed in front of them. The girl's mother ensures that all the guests are stuffed beyond permissible limits coaxing them with her 'Just one more…’ line.
After a respectable time period of ‘Just one more...’s and sly glances at the girl, the guests begin to rise.
This is the moment it all boils down to.
Was the Rs.200/ kg halwa, imported cashew nuts and the much recommended Gold Facial worth it? Did the boy's MBA aspirations and his mother’s discrete (but visible) diamond set make an impact?
If the deal does get sealed, another round of sweets is introduced after which the two families proceed to the porch and linger there for a few minutes making small talk.
The girl and the boy might be made to shake hands or some totally unnecessary, unnatural gesture like that. Sometimes a quick ice breaker session is organised for the two in which they are huddled into a nearby bedroom. The bride and groom-to-be hardly get through the usual pleasantries before the mental alarms go off in their minds and each make a gesture to leave lest it be reason for the older womenfolk to 'tut-tut' later on.
A more daring groom might try his luck and request for the girl's mobile number amidst giggles from aunts who are really past the giggling age.
With all the food in their stomachs, squeezing back into the two cars proves to be quite a challenge for the leaving party. But nevertheless, the Indian spirit wins over and the task is accomplished with a few "ouches” and frayed dupattas. A dozen hands wave as the cars drive off and a dozen hands wave back from the porch.
The two sets of parents sigh with relief. The girl wonders if the boy had hairy arms or not? She didn't really notice while trying to be all coy. And the boy wonders if the girl had noticed that his hands were too hairy. He had been busy looking if her gums showed when she smiled.
Inside the exhausted but elated relatives gather around the half-eaten platters of food and begin to dissect how the 'Deal was Sealed'.