Four users on the GTA’s largest South Asian dating website—Shaadi.com—share the secrets of ethnically loaded matchmaking

Four users on the GTA’s largest South Asian dating website—Shaadi.com—share the secrets of ethnically loaded matchmaking

Shades of Brown

For members of traditional South Asian communities, marriage—in Hindi and Urdu, shaadi—is the single most important event in life. To help unmarried South Asians find a suitable partner, Anupam Mittal, a Mumbai entrepreneur, launched the dating website shaadi.com, and it became so popular in the GTA that the company chose to open a satellite office in Mississauga last year.

Like Lavalife, match.com and other dating sites, Shaadi contains pages and pages of users’ profile pictures, interests and hobbies. But Shaadi bills itself as a site for people who want to marry, not a hangout for promiscuous daters, and it requires that its members indicate skin complexion and religion and caste—decidedly old-fashioned ideas that have created something of an image problem. Many of its members deny they use it out of embarrassment. And yet that hasn’t diminished the site’s popularity; 24,000 of the GTA’s 684,000 South Asians now use Shaadi’s services, including parents who set up profiles for their eligible children—a computer­-age variation on the arranged marriage.

Justin Thomas, 31, freelance software developer and mother Valsa Thomas, 57, oncology nurse

Umbreen Tapal, 29, marketing analyst

Sathish Balasunderam, 35, real estate lawyer

Sampada Kukade, 32, communications officer

Shades of Brown
Justin Thomas, 31
freelance software developer
Yonge and College

My parents signed me up to Shaadi a year ago. They argued that if I didn’t start looking, there wouldn’t be anyone left to marry when I’m older. They set up my profile and described me as a kind-hearted person, working in Toronto, born and raised in Canada, with good family values, well-liked by everyone and known to be very down-to-earth. The description is short, so I didn’t object to anything. My parents are new to computers, so the fact that they got it done by themselves is impressive. They set up my profile with their email account, looked through the available women, received requests from some girls and forwarded the ones they liked.

At first, I rejected everyone they sent my way because they had only selected girls who are in India. I don’t want to date someone from India; the cultural difference is too big. My parents have an idea of what kind of daughter-in-law they want—they’re Christian and they want a religious person, but religion isn’t that important to me. What’s important to me is someone who is nice and funny. I’ve told them to start looking at girls here in Canada or in the U.S.

My friends, mostly the Indian ones, know about Shaadi, and they aren’t surprised I’m using it. Most of them think it’s about time I got married. But other people think it’s strange that my parents are so involved. I don’t see why it’s a big deal that they set up a matrimonial page for me. Other parents bug their children, too—they just do it in a different way.

Valsa
Thomas, 57

oncology nurse
at Grand River Hospital
Kitchener

My husband, Abu, and I signed Justin up because he was then 30 years old and I want him to get married. We want someone suitable for him, but ultimately who he marries is his choice. We’re just helping him. I met my husband through my parents, who arranged my marriage. In India, at the time, we were not supposed to go out and date. Once you finished your education, you were ready to get married. The proposal would come from the family. Then your parents checked the suitor’s background and asked your permission if you liked the match. I see Shaadi as the modern version of that.

Justin Thomas, 31, freelance software developer and mother Valsa Thomas, 57, oncology nurse

Umbreen Tapal, 29, marketing analyst

Sathish Balasunderam, 35, real estate lawyer

Sampada Kukade, 32, communications officer

Shades of Brown

Umbreen Tapal, 29
marketing analyst at American Express
Bay and College

I moved back to Toronto this past summer after spending the past two years in Karachi with my family, and one of the things I was looking forward to was getting on dating websites, because it’s a normal and acceptable thing to do in Canada. In Pakistan, you’re limited to the people you already know through your family connections, and the guy has all the power. On Shaadi, I can pick who I want to date.

Shaadi asks about your complexion, and that tells you right away that it’s a South Asian dating site. To certain people in our culture, complexion matters a lot: the whiter you are, the more “attractive” you are. I’m regular brown and proud of it, so I chose the “wheatish” category. The site also requires that you describe your religion. I’m culturally Muslim, but I’m not practising and I don’t think it’s an important variable for dating.

I’d say 95 per cent of guys who send me messages are not Canadian. Many of them are from Pakistan, and I’ve received interest from people as far away as the Fiji islands. Some ask if you’re a citizen. In those cases, I don’t express interest back, because there’s no point if the guy isn’t in the same city or is just trying to marry for residency status.

I had one horrible experience on Shaadi. The site asks you to enter a phone number when you’re setting up the profile, so the site’s staff can verify that you are who you say you are. I thought that was just a security measure, but because the privacy settings are so difficult to navigate, without my realizing it my phone number was posted on my profile. Some guy called me and said, “I don’t know what your name is but this is your handle on Shaadi.” He seemed sketchy—he was calling from an unknown number, and he insisted that we keep talking. I told him that it’s the middle of the day, and I’m at work, and if you like you can email me. He said he wasn’t an email person and told me he would call me later. I wasn’t going to pick up the phone if he did.

Justin Thomas, 31, freelance software developer and mother Valsa Thomas, 57, oncology nurse

Umbreen Tapal, 29, marketing analyst

Sathish Balasunderam, 35, real estate lawyer

Sampada Kukade, 32, communications officer

Shades of Brown

Sathish Balasunderam, 35
real estate lawyer in private practice
Hurontario and Central Parkway, Mississauga

I joined the site in 2008 because I don’t like going to the typical places to meet girls. I don’t enjoy going to nightclubs, and the girls who go to temples are nice but they’re usually wrapped around their mothers.

While I’ve had mostly good experiences on Shaadi, I’ve encountered prejudice from other Sri Lankan Tamils about my caste—I’m part of the blacksmith caste. The women who broke free of the caste system did it in their 20s, in university, and I missed the boat with them. The women who abide by the caste system and remain single are often controlled by parents who would feel shame if their daughter married someone of a lower or even a different group.

This year, I almost got married to someone I met on Shaadi. She lives in Malaysia, and she’s a Hindu Tamil. She’s an IT specialist, 34 years old, fair complexioned, an intelligent girl. She was attractive, we had great chemistry, and we laughed a lot. We communicated every day by sending texts and instant messages. One time we had a conversation for five hours via text. I first connected with her in January. In February I went to Malaysia to meet her and her family. She decided to come to Canada to see if the relationship could work and arrived in mid-April with her mother. After a week we started talking about a wedding: they wanted the wedding to be in Kuala Lumpur, and my mom wanted it in Toronto. That was the first conflict. Then my dad made a comment about financial assets, which they interpreted as a request for dowry. That made them bring up our caste, which her parents claimed we hadn’t been up front about.

She and her mother went back to Malaysia, and we tried to salvage the relationship, but by the end of May it was pretty much over. She told me that she wanted to marry me, but her whole family was against it. After the pain was gone, I was able to appreciate that she had a lot to fear. I’m now back on Shaadi, but I haven’t found anyone as nice as her.

Justin Thomas, 31, freelance software developer and mother Valsa Thomas, 57, oncology nurse

Umbreen Tapal, 29, marketing analyst

Sathish Balasunderam, 35, real estate lawyer

Sampada Kukade, 32, communications officer

Shades of Brown

Sampada Kukade, 32
communications officer at the Ontario Medical Association
Morningside and Old Finch

A couple of my girlfriends met and married guys from Shaadi, so I thought I’d join to see where it would take me. I’ve been using it since 2006. The good thing is that the guys on the site are serious; it’s a venue for people who don’t want to waste time. Maintaining your profile is like a second job, though, and it’s tiring. Every day I make sure that my information is up to date, check out what other people are doing, upload new pictures of myself. And every single day I do a search to see who is new on the site. I’ve initiated contact with or expressed interest to 150 guys or maybe even more, I’ve had phone conversations or email exchanges with about 100 guys, and I’ve gone on dates with maybe about 40. My approach is to go out there full force, not half-assed.

When I first joined Shaadi it was very important to me to find someone who is also Marathi and Hindu. When I was growing up, the Toronto Marathi community was so small and close-knit, and it wasn’t easy to meet someone to date from that pool. On Shaadi, I met the perfect Marathi guy. Our first meeting was at a Starbucks on Front Street near Church. He was tall, fair skinned, a bit geeky. I try not to dress too formally on these meet-ups, unless it’s a dinner date, so I was wearing jeans. He’s an engineer who came to Canada from India during the IT boom. I wasn’t immediately attracted, but he had a pleasant-looking face.

Because he was Marathi, the stakes were higher, so I was a bit more nervous than usual. I remember telling myself that I should let him lead the conversation because, in my experience, South Asian guys don’t like a girl who talks too much, and I definitely talk a lot. Because of the Marathi connection, we discussed India, travelling there, where our families were from. We went out a few more times, but in the end he made it clear that he wanted someone from India. He felt that I was too independent, too confident and too passionate about my career; he wanted someone who would stay home and take care of the kids. I was disappointed but ultimately okay with the breakup, since I want someone who’ll let me be me.

Justin Thomas, 31, freelance software developer and mother Valsa Thomas, 57, oncology nurse

Umbreen Tapal, 29, marketing analyst

Sathish Balasunderam, 35, real estate lawyer

Sampada Kukade, 32, communications officer