None of these people thought there was a wedding in their future. Until a website flew them past their weighty issues, says Aastha Atray Banan
NARESH SIDHU’S parents had been looking for a bride for their “slightly” healthy son since he turned 27, four years ago. They contacted marriage bureaus and put up his profile on matrimonial sites. Nothing worked out. Naresh and his family knew the reason behind this embarrassment — Naresh is what we term “overweight”.
“At the time, I weighed around 90 kg. It was always the same routine — parents of girls looked uncomfortable as soon as they saw me. Later they would call up and say ‘this rishta (match) won’t work out.’ They wouldn’t even let me meet their daughter,” says the 31-year-old businessman from Delhi with a wry smile. Without telling anyone he registered on the website conspicuously named overweightshaadi. com. A few weeks later, to his astonishment, he found a girl online who shared his interest in music. “I found someone who saw my inner beauty, and I saw hers. She is less heavy than me though. But we clicked. I told the whole world, and everyone was happy. We got married last year and it’s been the happiest time of my life.”
Sidhu’s happiness has Gurgaon-based sisters Aditi Gupta and Megha Singhal to thank. They started overweightshaadi. com in 2008 after they witnessed the similar plight of a cousin. “All our relatives were after her to lose weight. But she had a sensible argument — what if she lost weight, found someone, but then put it back on? Would the guy love her then?” Today, the website gets 10 to 12 new registrations a day, and has around 60 members active at any given time.
In our country with its severe malnutrition issues, it’s difficult to process statistics that show that some Indians are getting fatter by the day. But According to the Nutrition Foundation of India, half the women and more than a third of the men in New Delhi’s high-income group were overweight. And a 2009 BBC report says around 70 million Indians are classified as overweight. Our society, already obsessed with body image, has certainly not figured how to deal with this new phenomenon.
The distaste for obesity in the context of marriage is highly visible in popular culture. In the recent Shoaib Malik-Ayesha Siddiqui-Sania Mirza nikah triangle, two ‘facts’ emerged — that Ayesha refused to leave her home because she was obese; Shoiab left her because his teammates said she was too fat. Pop culture peddles the idea that fat people are losers who can’t find love. The popular Zee TV soap, 12/24 Karol Bagh, for instance, features a worried mother who so bemoans her fat, 30-year-old daughter’s fate and thus agrees to get her married to a yellow-toothed sleazeball in gold silk shirts. The latest Gurinder Chaddha movie, It’s A Wonderful Afterlife, also chronicles the fat, dark heroine’s search for a husband.
POP CULTURE is darkly echoed when Naresh remembers life before marriage, “I couldn’t take the rejection any more. The atmosphere in my family had become unbearable. I registered because on this website my weight wouldn’t be an issue. And once a person accepts you are fat, they will look at your other qualities to decide if they want to be with you.” To ensure this openmindedness, overweightshaadi. com prides itself on its screening process. “I personally screen every registration. We don’t allow 18-year-olds looking for a date or pranksters on the site as this is serious business,” says Aditi.
Gitanjali Singh, is one of the many parents who also wondered about the seriousness of the website. She had spent five years looking for a match for her 75-kg daughter. She says, “I was totally against it. But when I saw my daughter’s profile getting reactions, it gave me hope.” Another mother came to Aditi anxiously with a 35- year-old daughter who weighed 105 kg and was close to a nervous breakdown. Aditi says, “Two months after registering, she found a match.
‘I found someone who saw my inner beauty, and I saw hers. She is less heavy than me though,’ says Naresh Sidhu, a Delhi businessman
Ask Aditi whether people who are genuinely attracted to the overweight — register, and she equivocates. “Thin people who are okay with marrying heavy people do register.” Certainly not everyone on the site is fat. Sanjana is a quiet 23-year-old who works at an MNC in Mumbai. She is mildly plump and has grappled with fluctuating weight problem since she was a teenager and is now fed up. “I want a grown up man who will look beyond my weight,” says Sanjana. “My parents were apprehensive when I registered but I was adamant.” In retrospect, she was right. Sanjana is now dating 27- year-old Angad Sood. Sood weighs over 90 kg and Sanjana rejoices that they are both passionate photographers. Sood, who works as a chartered accountant, says he had got used to people making fun of his weight, but had told himself it was “all okay”. “Like all Punjabi mothers, my mother also used to get really hyper, and so I registered on a site where I am not judged by my weight.” Angad feels lucky to have found Sanjana. He will not allow janampatris and caste to come between them now. He says. “I am a Punjabi, while she is a Jat, but imagine allowing that to come between us”
But caste and religion still plays an important role, even among those who feel matrimonially persecuted. Aditi says, “Parents call us personally. A Tamilian will want a Tamilian and a Gujarati a Gujarati. They have caste and religion requirements, and that’s a sad truth.
Even on overweightshaadi. com, a little difference in weight could make or break a relationship. Rajesh Singh, a cheerful 25-year-old diction trainer. He weighs 85 kg. He registered after many rejections from prospective brides. Without any qualms he says that given the choice of two girls, all other things being equal, he would choose the thinner one. “You may think I am being hypocritical, but I am just honest. It’s natural to think like this,” says the Delhi boy. He plays tennis for fun but doesn’t worry about losing weight himself. He wants to live the good life and eat well. “I have seen people living on lettuce leaves. Nothing is worth that.
The now happily married Naresh recognises the irony of his own search — after all despite being overweight himself, when his parents had put out an advertisement looking for a bride, they had listed the old clichéd requirements: “Wanted: a thin, tall, extremely beautiful bride.” It is just that he had not expected he would be judged as well. He had found it difficult to attract girls since school but had not thought the same rules would prevail in the marriage market.
All paradoxes apart, overweightshaadi. com could be credited for making “overweight” or healthy (as the site refers to them as) people feel less alienated in a world where a person’s worth is figured on a weighing scale. As the fat comedienne Dawn French once said, “If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? She would have been the paintbrush!”