Gomathi Ramakrishnan and Prashanth Vishnumangalam Narayanan at their wedding in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. (Photo courtesy of Sathya Sai Video)
In India, middle-class couples used to find each other and marry through family connections, a marriage broker or by way of a newspaper ad. Today, they -- and their counterparts around the world -- are just as likely to use any one of an explosion of matrimonial websites, some with apps for your smartphone. Two of the largest sites are Shaadi.com and Bharatmatrimony.com.
A growing number of the profiles on these sites are written by the hopeful wedding seekers themselves, but those with a more traditional mindset will allow their parents to write them. That was the case for Gomathi Ramakrishnan and her husband, Prashanth Vishnumangalam Narayanan:
Gomathi: She’s intelligent…pursing her Master’s in Canada…she’s homely and traditional…plays Badminton…she’s cute.
Prashanth: He’s an Iyer Brahmin…he doesn’t eat meat…he doesn’t drink. He’s a good boy. He’s done his bachelor’s, he’s done his master’s, and he’s based out of California.
About three years ago, Gomathi was 22 years old and working to complete a master’s degree in neuroscience at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. One day her father called from her hometown of Chennai in southern India. “We’re going to put up a profile for you on Bharatmatrimony.com,” he said matter-of-factly.
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Gomathi delights in sharing what happened next. “He started entering his profile information. He typed his name, he typed his age, and he typed all stuff about him." In retrospect, she figures he probably thought he was registering, as opposed to creating a profile. But the error became apparent when the first bite of interest came from an older woman.
"My dad was like, 'Why is someone who is 50 years old giving information for my daughter?' ” Gomathi giggles.
A tech-savvy cousin soon came to the rescue -- and now Gomathi was on the hot seat. “Within two weeks, he [her father] came back with a list of 15 guys. I was really overwhelmed!”
She demurred, but her dad insisted, and then begged her to at least call his favorite: Prashanth.
Prashanth Vishnumangalam Narayanan was 27, a Fremont resident and established consultant on supply chain management for PricewaterhouseCoopers in San Jose, when he started getting curious calls from his mother in Chennai.
She told him women were expressing interest in getting to know him better, which made no sense, until she admitted she'd posted a profile of him online. Soon after, she sent him a list of 25 matches. And she hardly let the matter rest there.
“I had my mom’s sister call me and say, ‘This is the right time to talk.’ Then I had my grandma call me and say, ‘This is the right time to talk.’ Then my dad, then everybody, decided to take turns calling me, and say, ‘This is the right time to talk,’ " says Prashanth. It was obvious he had to talk to somebody, soon. He had to name at least one candidate.
Prashanth chose Gomathi.
Even though their parents wrote the profiles, picked the candidates and met each other before giving the go-ahead to Gomathi and Prashanth, they call the process that led to their wedding semi-arranged. That's because they did get to pick who to talk to, and they got to talk for nine months before settling on each other.
Prashanth explains, “I got introduced to the person I was getting married to through family relations and connections, and they established the connection through a digital website. But then we talked, and we really understood each other, and we got married. I had my freedom, and she had her freedom.”
That said, even with the freedom to choose over time, they still felt pressure to come to a decision eventually.
Had Gomathi and Prashanth not liked each other, they would have worked through match No. 2, No. 3 -- and so on -- until they agreed to somebody their parents found suitable.
Gomathi says the two sets of parents got along really well. “Based on their hard work, they were able to come up in life," she says. "That was something, that both of them have mutual respect for each other. That was something that I also wanted in the person that I was going to marry.”
Then came the first phone call. “I remember Gomathi being the one who asked a lot more questions than me asking her,” says Prashanth, laughing. “She was like, ‘Who’s your favorite actress? Who’s your favorite actor? What movies do you like?’ I found her to be very full of energy.”
The couple began phoning, texting and talking on FaceTime regularly.
After a few months, Prashanth and Gomathi decided to meet in Canada. The gravity of it all hit Prashanth as he went through the airport in Edmonton. When the visa officer asked him the purpose of his visit, he said he was going to see “a friend.” A friend he had never met, perhaps his future wife. Prashanth had seen Gomathi only virtually, and he scanned the airport for her. “She seemed small. And I was like, “I’ve seen her before.' Then I realized: That’s Gomathi!”
Gomathi remembers, “It felt really odd, because you have spoken to this person over the phone, but you haven’t met the other person.”
They spent a long weekend getting to know each other: going out to eat, taking walks, watching the movie “Brave.” When Gomathi cried during the film, Prashanth felt touched by her empathy with the characters. But by the time he left Canada, Gomathi had not made a decision.
“I felt kind of sad," Prashanth says. "I thought, initially, I wasn’t emotionally invested, but I learned that I’d been heavily emotionally invested."
“You need to understand the person really well before getting married," Gomathi says, "because it’s a one-time thing, and you just don’t want to screw it up. You just don’t want to make a decision until you know, ‘Yes, this is it!’ ”
Prashanth’s mother urged him to talk to other matches from Bharat Matrimony. He told her he wasn’t interested.
The couple talked for several more months. Gomathi says her love for Prashanth “deepened more when I realized who Prashanth was and what sort of a guy he was. When I was able to trust him, I really fell for him. I know in my heart that he has high moral standards. That was the point that I came to when I decided, ‘Yes, I should get engaged to Prashanth.’ ”
It didn’t hurt that Prashanth plays a mean game of badminton, Gomathi’s favorite sport. The wedding was on. Their families organized a lavish three-day event that took place in Chennai on June 28, 2013.
Fremont, Capital of Indian California
Today, Gomathi and Prashanth live in Fremont, home to a large and growing population of immigrants from India, filled with bustling Indian restaurants and stores. Karthick Ramakrishnan (no relation to Gomathi), professor of Public Policy at UC Riverside, says that Indian immigration more than doubled in Silicon Valley between 2000-2014.
That shift is reflected in the number of Californians on Indian matrimonial websites. Shaadi's chief marketing officer, Aditya Save, says approximately 200,000 accounts are registered to people living in the state. He adds that the platform is used mostly by South Asians -- and not just first-generation immigrants.
“A lot of our platform is used by people of Indian origin, born in the U.S., the UK and Australia. A larger percentage of that 200,000 (in California) would be people who are American citizens, born in America, but of Indian descent,” he says. For those spouse seekers, Save says it's more likely they'll set up their own profiles, as opposed to letting their parents do it.
Today, Gomathi Ramakrishnan co-manages a neuroscience lab at UC San Francisco. Prashanth still works at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Their lives as newlyweds are filled with pleasures they enjoy together: playing badminton, watching TV shows like “Game of Thrones” and eating ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. Gomathi isn’t shy when she explains how she and Prashanth found compatibility first, allowing love to follow after.
“Love doesn’t happen one sudden day," she says. "It takes a really long time. I feel like we are still falling in love."
This podcast features music by Karthick Iyer (“Brovabarama” and “Manavyalakim”).