A few months back, I saw a banner outside the Besant Nagar Fruit-of-Knowledge-Stealer Temple. It read “Besant Nagar Brahmin Association Annual Horoscope Exchange Meet“. For a short while I wondered if it was like philately, Jaadagately perhaps. But realizing that dot-matrix printouts of planetary positions cannot possibly be collector-items, the meet, therefore, must be for other purposes. A relative informed me that it was like a stock exchange for arranged marriages. I asked if they hold horoscopes above their head and shout themselves hoarse till a bell rings in the evening. After a thoughtful pause, I was told “No. It’s not quite like that”.
But arranged marriage is not just about elderly men exchanging horoscopes at meets conducted at temples and presided over by the BNBA. While men continue to wallow in an imaginary, disused swimming pool of male domination, the real action happens behind the scenes and is run by the oldest social network in India – The Maami Network. These resourceful ladies have been twittering from kitchen window to kitchen window before Twitter. They were scrapping and walling at weddings and other social functions well before Orkut and Facebook. Their RSS feeds of up-to-date family information interspersed with occasional tidbits of gossip, have fixed more marriages than any horoscope exchange meet ever has.
But things are changing a bit and their traditional information gathering, syndication and advanced algorithmic pattern matching and pair-finding role is under a bit of a threat. Pairs are increasingly finding each other without the need for traditional ponpaarthification (Guycheckoutifcation, for the Tamil challenged). But as always, Homo Sapiens Maamiens is a resilient species. While the men go around wearing Old Navy shorts and New Balance sneakers on Besant Nagar beach, sulking about the younger generation’s wanting to know each other before getting married, and how, in their times, they only saw the girl for the first time at the wedding, the women, in the meanwhile, have moved on.
A conversation between 2 maamis, a couple of years ago, might have sounded like this
M1: Hello maami. Howareyoufineaa?
M2: Edho maami. Going on. Yesterday Chitthi episode saw-aa?
M1: No maami. Was busy packing Maavadu for younger son. He is leaving for Berkeley today.
M2: Oh. Visa has come-aa? Anyway, serials can wait. So what do you think of M3’s daughter?
M1: Oh. She has cut her hair, you know.
M2: Oh. Haircut-aa? Today’s girls, too much ba. But they say it’s convenient, and I am ok with some of these new things. Nowadays they (girls) have so much freedom. One can’t give them freedom and then suddenly take it away, you know.
M1: Unlike us.
M2: Adhu seri vidungo (That and all, leave matter no). M4 was mentioning that M5 was looking out for her son. So I wanted to find out if M3’s daughter was suitable.
M1: Oho. She went to Anna Univ, Guindy, I heard.
M2: Oh. Adhukku lots of marks required no?
M1: Yes yes. Ponnu (Girl) romba (very) brainy.
M2: Good good. But payyan went to some shady engineering college outside the city. So what do you think maami? Ego problems varumo?
M1: Yes. Very possible. When I was at Sundari Silks the other day, I saw her, wearing jeans and T-shirt and hair totally viricchufied (left untied), with a group of girls. She looks like a bold one. And M6 told me that she saw this girl at the Konica photo studio near Landmark. The only reason people go to that studio is to take US visa photographs. So this girl must be having higher studies plans.
M2: Hmm. Appo sari varaadhu. Engyaavadhu divorce-givorce la poi nikkum. (This will not work out. It will go and stand at divorce and givorce). Ok. I will relay the information to M4.
And thus, M1 and M2 successfully prevent a mismatched wedding. But 2 years from now, I strongly suspect that the following conversation, presented below, is quite possible. I am already seeing signs of this here and there.
M1: What maami, no twitter updates for a while. Busy-aa?
M2: Illai maami, Was busy packing Maavadu for younger son. He is leaving for Berkeley today.
M1: By the way, M5’s Facebook mini-feed tells me that she is searching for an alliance for her son. What do you think of M3’s daughter?
M2: Let’s find out, shall we? (Opens Apple MacBook Pro, presented by her daughter working for McKinsey in Boston). What’s her name? M3’s daughter?
M1: I think “S$%#^#a” or something.
M2: (Does an Orkut search. 1000s of results). Which college did she go to? That will help us filter these results
M1: Anna University, Guindy.
M2: (adds “Anna” and “Guindy” to search field and filters results down to about 20 or so). Hmm. What is M3’s aatthukkaarar’s (House Man) name?
M1: Sivaramakrishnan, I think.
M2: (filters for “Sivaram”). There she is. (On S$%#^#a’s orkut profile page). Hmm. No photos. Good, sensible girl. It’s very unsafe for girls to put photos on Orkut, theriyuma (You know-aa) maami?
M1: Oh. Appidiya (like that-aa). Who are all those boys and what language is that?
M2: Oh. Testimonials. Must be her friends writing something nice about her. And all of this is Chatspeak, a powerful new language that has only 2 rules
1. Skip letters at random, and not just for purposes of brevity – Wat u lk 2 hv for brakfst
2. Use ellipses (…) as a substitute for all forms of punctuation- I…lk….2…lsten…2…rahmn…msik
M1: Oh. Hmm. Very interesting. What else can we learn about this girl from her Orkut profile?
M2: Lots maami. Just read through all the scraps. All the testimonials. Find out what communities she is a part of. See here. She is a member of “Surya Fans”. And “My Name starts with a S and ends with an A” community. And “Jane Austen”. And the “Feminism without Borders” community.
M1: Ooh. Feminism! And her hobbies?
M2: It says her passions are “Dance, Music and John Abraham”
M1: So what do you think maami?
M2: Maami. Ponnu konjam (slightly) independent, free spirited and talented. She will find somebody on her own. M5 Payyan konjam slightly sombu character thaan (Son is having slightly empty water-holding vessel character). Ill tweet M4 and let her know. She will ping M5.
A few months later, as M3’s husband is about to attend the Nanganallur Brahmin Association’s Horoscope exchange meet, she hands him a printout of their son’s Orkut profile – “YEnna (My dear husband) While you are matching horoscopes, match this also no?”