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Meet Sima Aunty
Hansa Narasappa, 33, arrived at a five-star hotel in downtown San Jose for an April 29th meet-and-greet mixer headlined by Sima Taparia of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking. Hansa hoped she would meet someone worthy of investing time and effort in a long-term committed relationship, possibly even marriage.
A software developer for a healthcare firm, Narasappa had searched dating apps for years for her ‘soul mate.’ And like others who attended, she too preferred meeting people in person rather than through dating apps — and she has had plenty of experience with that.
At the meet and greet, Sima Aunty as she is popularly known, met fans for a photo op and a taste of ‘Sima Aunty-isms.’ In the audience, young (under 40), educated Indian ‘techies’ working in Silicon Valley absorbed her words as wisdom as they scanned faces around them for signs of a potential life partner.
In the Silicon Valley tech bubble, data from 2015 indicates that over 89,000 Indian ‘techies’ live in and around San Jose, and constitute about 6% of its total workforce. Foreign-born Indian immigrants make up 75% of the 4.6 million Indians in the U.S.
Fortune reported that “of the 3 million foreign-born people who identify as Indians, 29% have been in the country for less than five years–and 51% are non-U.S. citizens.” They arrive in the U.S. on student visas and are employed in various industries on a non-immigrant H1-B visa.
What falls by the wayside as young immigrants chase career dreams abroad, are the connections that create opportunities for people to find partners – at home a reliable network of family and friends get to work. But living abroad, there is no one to fill the gap.
In recent years dating apps serving the Indian diaspora have proliferated. But successful matches are hard to make, especially for young Indians raised in traditional backgrounds where dating apps did not figure in the search for a soulmate.
That’s the gap Sima Aunty hopes to fill.
As guests collected their tickets, they were given green bands to wear indicating that they were single and ready to socialize. A red band signified they were not. The venue had a dance floor and Bollywood hits such as ‘Mujhse Shaadi Karogi?’ blared from a loudspeaker. Occasionally it proclaimed Sima Aunty’s personal email address.
The matchmaking queen held court from a chair where guests were invited to take pictures and chat as she shook hands with a warm smile, and talked to anyone who had questions or wanted to share experiences.
Taparia kicked off festivities by sharing her personal journey as a matchmaker. From her perch on a make-shift stage, she described her social circles in Mumbai where she first began helping people like her sister find potential life partners.
“I’m very proud of my Indian traditional values, and my Indian values have made me a star,” Taparia said.
Traditional Indian values
Those values first came to light in a gritty 2017 documentary ‘A Suitable Girl’ featuring Taparia. In it, she says, “As the girl is born, it is understood that she has to get married one or the other day. She has to leave her parents. She has to go to her in-law’s place, that is fixed. That’s our Indian culture. After she gets married, we lose her.”
The documentary is a far cry from the glitzy reality show that followed in Indian Matchmaking. A Suitable Girl follows three women searching for a husband. In fact, one of the women was Taparia’s own quietly rebellious daughter.
The documentary showcased the rigid caste and beauty standards the women must match, the rejections they suffer, the jobs they must leave, and the sacrifices they must make to find and keep a husband. It was co-produced by Indian Matchmaking producer Smriti Mundhra, who initially approached Taparia for a match and discovered her matchmaking enterprise.
Arranging marriages has been good for business. Since Indian Matchmaking launched, Sima and her husband Anup Taparia have built a clientele of around 700 people.
Their digital database documents the ‘biodata’ of candidates from Indian communities around the world, in countries such as the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, and UAE. Their clientele base is gradually opening up to Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and even a few Germans and Singaporeans.
“We cater to those we can…for Europeans and the far East people we do not have matches, so we cannot cater to them,” said Anup Taparia.
The Taparias are open to matching the LGBTQ+ community as well if it’s “what the clients want – and if we have the matches in our database.”
The modern Indian marriage
In many ways, the traditional Indian arranged marriage is a distant memory. Today Sima Aunty blends the traditional search for matches with a modernized version of blind dating.
She firmly believes her services are better than dating apps, because of the personal touch she offers. “I meet them, I scan them, I ask them the criteria, and then I match according to that. So, there is a mediator, a human being between them, so the success of the marriage is higher this way…that is the beauty…,” Taparia explained.
Cyberdating vs Face-to-Face
Hansa Narasappa, like many other singles, feels the human element is missing from cyber-dating. Meeting people face-to-face is a better way to judge chemistry and personality than swiping on Dil Mil. It’s a popular dating app among young Indians in the U.S. There’s a greater chance of a connection leading to marriage because cyber daters are unwilling to commit.
Gita, 36, a software technical leader said that she loved the Indian Matchmaking show because the personal touch is important. “I’ve tried many apps, for almost 10 years. But it is tough to get commitment nowadays.”
“I do socialize, and go to meet-ups, and I have even tried dating apps,” said Narasappa. But she is yet to find someone who is seriously seeking a relationship. “For me, it has been very hard” finding people willing to commit.
Caste no barrier
The new generation of Indians doesn’t regard caste or community as a factor in finding a soul mate. They may however use those criteria to whittle potential candidates from a larger pool. What matters more was finding someone who is Indian.
“I’m open to meeting people from all backgrounds,” said Aniket Payade, a 32-year-old software engineer. But he acknowledged that matching with someone from his background would make it easier for his family to “have a normal conversation” with them. Payade said he faced additional obstacles – his height (he is 5 ‘6) and most of his matches landed on the east coast. And he felt he was meeting women who “want to take a lot of time and are confused.”
What are your intentions?
It’s hard to ascertain a person’s intentions from a dating app, said San Francisco-based Anjali Naskar, 33, who attended this event. She’s from season 2 of Indian Matchmaking. “I started looking during the pandemic, and I was struggling with dating apps.” Naskar said she was not finding the right people and wanted to go via the Indian Matchmaking route “because the people are pre-vetted.”
In the show, she was matched with Arshneel Kochar, but that did not work out. Naskar is now dating someone from Chennai in a long-distance relationship. Ironically they met through a dating app. “We are from very different backgrounds,” said Anjali, who belongs to the Bengali and Maharashtrian communities.
Did she think the arranged marriage system was regressive given that traditionally, it’s based on religion and caste? Anjali dismissed the thought. “This is not a typical arranged marriage at all. That perception has evolved. You meet someone, and you date them for a few months before committing to anything.”
She candidly admitted that one can identify with people of the same culture, as there is a base level of commonality. “I have dated all ethnicities and never been in a serious relationship with an Indian person – until now,” she added.
Today many young Indians tend to be more open-minded about caste and religion because of limited choices. The Taparias said that Indians abroad are more likely to seek an intellectual or mental connection, while in India, young adults were more focused on criteria like family, community, and even height difference.
But Anup Taparia shared it was difficult even in India, to match people according to caste or community preferences. “At first, people want people from their own communities, but when we tell them we cannot take their case because (of such limitations), they become more flexible,” he said.
But Payade said that neither he nor his family cares about caste or community, and both Gita and Hansa Narasappa agreed that that was not important to them too.
Caste and community were far from the minds of attendees. With badges displaying quirky personality traits (Payade wore one that read: “Confused soul gym foodie. Worst cook.”), green band-wearing guests scoured the crowd for others wearing their hue.
Once Sima registers interested candidates, the Netflix producers scrutinize her list of potential candidates for Indian Matchmaking. “It’s very difficult to come on the show,” said Anup. The producers choose candidates after a rigorous process of selection, interviews, on-screen tests, and criminal and psychology tests. Nor do the Taparias just choose anyone. “Some are very difficult to match…such as people divorced 3 times and with many kids,” said Anup. He refused to share information on consultation fees.
And after a while, the event turned into a Bollywood dance party. People either gave up or just left. A few met at a bar in the hotel to continue conversations. Hansa Narasappa was disappointed. She had not found anyone who met her expectations.
After the meet and greet, Sima Aunty expressed her frustration with modern youth. She said they were picky. “They give a lot of their criteria that are so specific,” and “vague.” They don’t like it either when she advises them to not be choosy.
A week after the event, Sima Aunty said that she is yet to find a client from this last audience. Some may have exchanged numbers or connected via social media – but have not reached out to her yet.