Arranged Scissors 13 – Pruning

Q: How do you carve an elephant?
A: Take a large stone and remove from it all that doesn’t look like an elephant

– Ancient Indian proverb, as told to us by Prof C Pandu Rangan during the Design of Algorithms course

As I had explained in a post a long time ago, this whole business of louvvu and marriage and all such follows a “Monte Carlo approach“. When you ask yourself the question “Do I want a long-term gene-propagating relationship with her?” , the answer is one of “No” or “Maybe”. Irrespective of how decisive you are, or how perceptive you are, it is impossible for you to answer that question with a “Yes” with 100% confidence.

Now, in Computer Science, the way this is tackled is by running the algorithm a large number of times. If you run the algo several times, and the answer is “Maybe” in each iteration, then you can put an upper bound on the probability that the answer is “No”. And with high confidence (though not 100%) you can say “Probably yes”. This is reflected in louvvu also – you meet several times, implicitly evaluate each other on several counts, and keep asking yourselves this question. And when both of you have asked yourselves this question enough times, and both have gotten consistent maybes, you go ahead and marry (of course, there is the measurement aspect also that is involved).

Now, the deal with the arranged marriage market is that you aren’t allowed to have too many meetings. In fact, in the traditional model, the “darshan” lasts only for some 10-15 mins. In extreme cases it’s just a photo but let’s leave that out of the analysis. In modern times, people have been pushing to get more time, and to get more opportunities to run iterations of the algo. Even then, the number of iterations you are allowed is bounded, which puts an upper bound on the confidence with which you can say yes, and also gives fewer opportunity for “noes”.

Management is about finding a creative solution to a system of contradictory constraints
– Prof Ramnath Narayanswamy, IIMB

So one way to deal with this situation I’ve described is by what can be approximately called “pruning”. In each meeting, you will need to maximize the opportunity of detecting a “no”. Suppose that in a normal “louvvu date”, the probability of a “no” is 50% (random number pulled out of thin air). What you will need to do in order to maximize information out of an “arranged date” (yes, that concept exists now) is to raise this probability of a “no” to a higher number, say 60% (again pulled out of thing air).

If you can design your interaction so as to increase the probability of detecting a no, then you will be able to extract more information out of a limited number of meetings. When the a priori rejection rate per date is 50%, you will need at least 5 meetings with consistent “maybes” in order to say “yes” with a confidence of over 50% (I’m too lazy to explain the math here), and this is assuming that the information you gather in one particular iteration is independent of all information gathered in previous iterations.

(In fact, considering that the amount of incremental information gathered in each subsequent iteration is a decreasing function, the actual number of meetings required is much more)

Now, if you raise the a priori probability of rejection in one particular iteration to 60%, then you will need only 4 independent iterations in order to say “yes” with a confidence of over 95% (and this again is by assuming independence).

Ignore all the numbers I’ve put, none of them make sense. I’ve only given them to illustrate my point. The basic idea is that in an “arranged date”, you will need to design the interaction in order to “prune” as much as possible in one particular iteration. Yes, this same thing can be argued for normal louvvu also, but there I suppose the pleasure in the process compensates for larger number of iterations, and there is no external party putting constraints.

Arranged Scissors 7: Foreign boys

This post has been in the pipeline for a long time now, but a recent article in the Wall Street Journal documenting the diffficulties faced by NRI men in finding brides has finally resulting in my writing this.

For a long time, the grooms that came highest in the pecking order in the arranged marriage market were the NRIs, as most women aspired to migrate to America. In communities where dowry is practised, these guys used to get the maximum dowry; where dowry isn’t practised, the more beautiful and smart women would be the prize for being an NRI. Actually, one can make a weak case that since most of the good-looking women migrated abroad one generation ago, a lot of their daughters who would have otherwise been prize catches in the arranged marriage market here have now grown up as ABCDs, leaving the local (indian) markets poorer.

The three-way ticket protocol for bridehunting by NRI grooms has been well documented (I would especially recommend this article by noted AI stud and ASU prof Subbarao Kambhampati). I think I might have written about this in my blog some time back, though I wouldn’t have used this name for the protocol. The protocol goes something like this:

  • Boy lands in india on a two or three week trip (this is getting shorter nowadays)
  • On the way home from the airport his father hands him a sheaf of CVs and photos. By the time they reach home, a shortlist has been made.
  • Boy rushes off into the kitchen to eat the long-awaited home food, while his father quickly calls up the parents of all shortlisted girls and arranges for “bride-seeing sessions” (i’ll put a separate post on that) with each of the shortlists in their respective houses. Boy’s father needs to make sure to allow for some slack so as to account for traffic jams
  • Bride-seeing ceremonies happen wrt all the shortlists
  • End of the day boy and parents sit down with a list of all girls, and objectively note down each of their strong and weak points. Appropriate weights are given for each point, and an objective sumproduct (nowadays this is done on excel I think) reveals the winner.
  • In the classic version of the protocol, wedding would happen a week later in the US and the couple would go to Madras the following day with marriage album in order to apply for the wife’s H4. Boy would return to the US and girl would hopefully follow him a few months later
  • In the modern version, where you have cheap tools to keep in touch across continents, the first trip for the boy ends with engagement (usually held less than a week after he landed in india). He goes back to India six months later for the wedding. In some cases, the engagement is followed by a discreet registration of marriage in court, so that the girl can have her visa ready by the time she gets married formally.

In fact, I sometimes get the feeling that the speed with which NRIs want to process their “scissors” is what has led to the common minimum programme model. Given the absolute lack of time in order to make a decision, they would look for checklists. “good looking enough”. “smart enough”. “dowry enough”. etc. Now, the girls that they would usually end up getting were “premium”, because of which what these girls did would be “aspirational” to the rest of the girls. (waves hand furiously). And thus, the entire market tilted in favour of the common minimum programme.

I know of a NRI boy who got ditched by his fiancee a week before they were supposed to get married (it was the usual protocol; he had come to india six months back; seen this girl; got engaged and flown back to return just in time for the wedding). Now all arrangements had been made and he had also spent thousands of dollars for the India trip, so it would have been suboptimal for him to have gone back emptyhanded. So what does he do? Within the course of the one week between the ditching and the original date of his wedding, he does another round of scouting, finds another girl, and gets married to her at the same time and place as he was supposed to originally get married!

In another case, I know of the cycle time being as short as four days. Basically two days between the bride-seeing ceremony, and the first wedding ritual. And some other cases have had the two parties agreeing to get married to each other by just looking at each other’s photos. Bizarre is an understatement.

So¬† I suppose I’ve spent most of this post talking around the mechanics of the NRI marriage, and making a few random pertinent observations about them. Next, I want to talk about segmentation in the arranged marriage market (which I had briefly touched upon in this post), which I think vaguely ties in to this NRI concept. I hope to write that sometime this weekend.

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

Arranged Scissors 6: Due Diligence Networks

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Now that I’m in the arranged marriage market, I’ll probably do a series on that. I think there has been this book that some female has written about it, but I haven’t read it. I periodically plan to write about this market, and its quirks, comparing it to the “normal louvvu market”. I’ll try my best to keep the identities of those I’m interacting with in the market secret – if not for anything else, because there is a good chance that they might be reading this.

A lot of people shudder at the thought of arranged mariage. They think it’s some kind of a failure. They say that it is a compromise. Some of them enter the market only grudgingly. If not anything else, presence in the arranged marriage market is an admission of failure to find a long-term partner without bankers’ support. Some people tend to take that personally. They think that they are failures in life because they had to request their parents to find them a partner in life.

Two years back, my good friend L Balaji (no, not the cricketer) came up with the hypothesis of a “common minimum programme job”, borrowing the phrase that our politicians are most likely to use when they form a coalition government, which is getting increasingly common nowadays. He defines a CMP job as one which “clears all cutoffs, but doesn’t perform spectacularly according to any criterion”. A CMP job offers you decent pay, keeps you in a decent city, gives you a good work-life balance, decent colleagues, etc. But you cannot really expect to get too much kick out of the job. You may not love the job, but it offers you enough to not get pained.

I think the traditional problem with the arranged marriage market is that people assume that people are in the market to find CMP spouses. Someone who looks “decent enough”, is “smart enough”, is “nice enough”, etc. Traditionally it seems like the evaluation in the arranged marriage market is a series of tickoffs – looks good? check. Can talk grammatical English? Check. I good to talk to? Check. And so forth. So what one ends up with is someone who clears all criteria, and not necessarily someone spectacular. You basicallly try to find someone you can share a house with until you are sixty four, and little else. Even that one major cutoff, I think, sometimes is given short shrift.

This boiling down of the market to CMPNess is responsible for the “compromise” label that the arranged marriage market attracts. And amazingly, a lot of people (who are lucky enough to have found someone better than CMP in the market) start talking about how one needs “to adjust”, “to compromise” etc. Definitely not the kind of stuff that the young person fresh into the market would love to hear. In fact, I think these CMP people are what gives arranged marriage a bad name.

Thinking about it, I think the CMP nature of the market doesn’t have much to do with the people who ended up choosing CMPs, or who ended up as CMPs (note that one can be both). It has structural origins. The problem, I think, lies with the structure of the market, and that all the CMP people have simply adapted to this particular market structure.

When you don’t like a set of rules, there are two ways to deal with it, or maybe three (depending upon whether you count like a mathematician or like a social scientist). First is to adapt yourself to the rules, basically to compromise. Then, you can allow the rules to stay in place, and you can work around them. Find loopholes and exploit them. This is what lawyers excel at. The final option is to bend the rules.

In my next post on this topic, I will talk about the structure of the arranged marriage market, and try to explain why it differs from the normal blading model.