Five years ago, I met with a matchmaker. I went in scornful. Like many of my progressive South Asian peers, I denounced arranged marriage as offensive and regressive. But when the matchmaker recited her lengthy questionnaire, I grasped, if just for a beat, why people did things this way. Do you believe in a higher power? No idea.
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A copy of my marriage vows hung in the bathroom of my marital home. These seven promises were tied to the seven steps I took with my husband around a sacred fire as hundreds watched at our Hindu wedding in San Diego in Over the course of my decade-long marriage, my father made several copies of our vows for us. I had hidden all but that one. India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world, and divorce can bring shame to families and to women in particular. I worried over what our community would think and whether I would still have a place in it afterwards.
And of course I have. I really cannot stress this enough: Agrabah is not a real place! The genre, after all, encapsulates so much of the human condition, from its elegant docuseries to the shows where women throw wine at each other while their husbands mutter anti-gay slurs in the background. High art! A well-lit, well-produced, empathetic docuseries, it follows matchmaker Sima Taparia as she tries to set up Indians both in India and the US for arranged marriages.
The Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia delivers this meme-friendly one-liner in the seventh episode of the hit Netflix series Indian Matchmaking. But she departs from this well-worn model in her attention to one extra characteristic: caste. This silent shadow hangs over every luxurious living room she leads viewers into. She lumps an entire social system, which assigns people to a fixed place in a hierarchy from birth, together with anodyne physical preferences.