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 2

One of the greatest sins in the normal relationship process is tw0-timing. If your statistically significant other figures out that there is yet another other who might also be statistically significant, she is not going to take things lying down. The most likely scenario will be that the yet another other will indeed become statistically siginficant – since the original SSO puts ditch. It might be a stretch but I’ll anyway say that tw0-timing is probably the worst mistake you can commit in the course of a relationship.

The arranged marriage market puts no such constraints. Even if you are ten-timing, people won’t mind. Especially if you are an NRI. The typical NRI process goes like this. Boy lands and is given a “shortlist” – a sheaf of CVs and photos. During the drive home, the shortlist is made shorter. The next day, “interviews” are arranged with each girl in the shorter list, typically at her house. End of the day, after sampling data from various sources, boy picks the one that he thinks will be likely to be most statistically significant in the long term.He takes her out for lunch the next day, puts a ring on her finger the following day and flies off, promising to return in a few months for the wedding. Occasionally, he claims he can’t get leave from his employers for another year and so puts off thaaLi also before he returns to vilayat. Girl can follow him later. For now she’ll follow him on Twitter (sorry, bad PJ).

Local boys don’t have it that lucky. At least, it is unlikely that they ten-time. There are two quirks of the arranged marriage market which pull in opposite directions when it comes to two-timing. On one hand is discretion. You don’t announce that you are “seeing someone” until it’s all fixed and proposal has been made and accepted. Discretion also means that you don’t want to be caught together in public. It also means that you can’t write funny things on each other’s facebook walls. And it obviously rules out PDA – in fact, all forms of DA are strongly discouraged until the contract has been signed. Heck, my cousin was putting DA during her engagement and that led to much gossip and condemnation. So no DA till marriage.

So yeah – one of the “advantages” of this discretion is that it allows you to two-time. What tugs from the other side is the time to decision. Due diligence in the whole process is outsourced, to the bankers. Typically it is finished even before the parties concerned get a chance to  explore each other – and in this, this process differs from the typical M&A process. So now that the due diligence has already been done, bankers prefer that the parties reach a decision quickly.

I don’t know how this happened, but the time to decision is fairly short. In olden days, I’m told that the due diligence was the beginning and end of the deal process. All that the parties had to do was sign. Things slowly improved – to showing photos, to being shown glimpses, to being allowed to talk for two minutes. I don’t know where things stand in terms of the general market, but I’ve been trying to insist on a proper blading process to allow enough time for tiki-taka.

Ok here is the grand unification for this post. The time to decision is a function of discretion and ability to two-time. Given the discretion that has normally been practised (i suppose this came about because societies were tightly knit and small and things would become awkward for all parties involved if each expression of interest were made public), the cost of two-timing became quite low. Thus, in order to make sure that the counterparty is not two-timing their kid, parents started demanding that decisions be made early. This cut both ways – the counterparty’s parents also wanted to make sure their kid wasn’t being two-timed. From the point of view of bankers, the short time-to-deal was an absolute win.

From the point of views of the interested parties, all it did was to increase the incentive for Common Minimum Programmes. Time allotted is generally too short to properly check out the counterparty, and you need to prioritise. You want to check for obvious mistakes. In the short time, you want to make sure that the counterparty is not an obvious misfit. Realizing that you will never have that time to figure out propely if a prospective counterparty has those “spikes”, you settle for someone who “clears the basic cutoffs”.

You thus get yourself a common minimum programme spouse.

Earlier in the series:

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme