There are people in India who rave about it. And there are people in America who rave about it.
The latter group is in their nineties, while the former group is in their teens and twenties.
"It" is the mind-boggling (to some) tradition of arranged marriages:
"The true marriage of two minds," says Rama Krishna, a seasoned matchmaker from India, who is in Washington on a matchmaking mission. An engineer by profession, he does not earn half as much -- "Matchmaking is as lucrative as it is interesting," he says -- or travel a fourth as much in his full-time profession as he does in his part-time hobby as a matchmaker. In the past 13 years, Krishna traveled across seven countries and matched about 100 Indian couples.
Many Indians, even after living for years in the West, go back to India to marry by arrangement. In many arranged marriages, the bride and the groom are total strangers. Yet, the divorce rate in India is a mere 1 percent.
On what basis are these couples matched? Common sense, says Krishna. "Any given man and woman from similar religious, economic, occupational and educational backgrounds, with a reasonably good reputation in the immediate community, may possibly be matched for matrimony. Within this broad category, one looks for a perfect couple with similar likes and dislikes, habits and opinions, hopes and goals in life," he explains.
Even strangers are enthusiastic about giving information to parents about a possible match. Parents follow this lead, inquire further, meet, talk, and, if all goes well, the prospective bride and groom are introduced at the bride's place. If they like each other, there is a match: Sort of like a blind date or one arranged through a computer service.
Indian matchmakers are fastidious. The Indian population is divided on the basis of religion, language, customs and traditions. A couple rarely is matched across those boundaries.
"A lot of practical wisdom goes into the process of matchmaking," says Gummaluri Sastry, who has been living in the United States for two decades. "By matching people from a similar background, a matchmaker is minimizing discordance in a marriage on sensitive issues like religion, language, customs and traditions."
The matchmakers inquire into the family backgrounds on both sides, often going back a few generations.
"They mean to eliminate any possibilities of serious mental or physical illnesses that could be hereditary," explains Sastry.
Sastry's daughter, Bindu, now 20, has been raised in the United States. "I see all my friends dating. I would like to date too. But dating could be extremely frustrating," she says. She says she prefers to leave her options open between marriage by dating and marriage by arrangement.
Anu, an Indian woman, married American Warford Reaney when he was temporarily residing in India. She says she married for love, adding that she believes marriages by arrangement have some definite advantages.
"When in love, emotions could cloud facts and the decision to marry could be based on impulse," she says. "Whereas, when parents decide, they are more objective. Parents are now consulting the prospective brides and grooms at every step and are acting more as advisers and liaison persons. I have many friends who accepted arranged matches and they are fabulously happy."
Valisini Balakrishna, an American woman who married an Indian man and assimilated Indian culture, says, "I think, when a child can learn to love its parents, two individuals who have been carefully matched can also learn to love each other. Think of it: Every marriage needs some compromise, some constant adjustment. There is really no 'perfect' mate."
India has been following the tradition of arranged marriages for centuries and so have been many other countries in the East. Holding its truth across centuries is not a characteristic of a shallow tradition.
If marriages are made in heaven, on earth a couple is brought together by professional matchmakers such as Krishna in India, and by computers, dating services and well-meaning friends in America.
Would arranged marriages in their institutionalized form work for America?
As odd as it may seem, by accepting mediation from a third party, some Americans are, at least in principle, marrying by arrangement. Aziza Khan has a "very successful" arranged marriage and lives in Lanham.