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Join the married club
For India's swish set, the ideal mate has an Ivy League education, a successful career, a six-figure salary, and an exclusive club membership.
Ihave a very old friend, who is a member of the Bombay Gym, and she always wanted to marry somebody who was a member of the Delhi Gym, " says Gina Vaid (name changed), who works for a Mumbai magazine. In a serendipitous twist, Vaid's friend married a Delhi man, who didn't just have the desired membership but had always wanted to wed a Bombay Gym member. "It was like a marriage made in heaven, " says Vaid. "They wanted to get married to people who were members of each others' clubs and they are very happy with each other. "
Not everyone gets that lucky but the fact that club memberships matter when people decide to tie the knot is sheepishly acknowledged by people in the know. "It gives an idea about the family background and the status, " says marriage consultant Falguni Mehta. "Social contacts, business contacts, everything comes through the club. "
Mehta, who caters exclusively to wealthy Kutchis, Marwaris and Gujaratis, says club memberships play a dual role in the marriage market - they create a kinship with members of the same club and are attractive for the upwardly mobile. "There are people who would like to (marry into) a higher class, move in 'good' circles and want a glamorous life, " says Mehta.
The appeal doesn't lie simply in the facilities on offer but in the exclusivity. It wouldn't be a stretch to claim that the thousands of people clamouring to be admitted is a result of the clubs' 25-year-long waiting lists, its astronomical fees and the stuffy traditions and arcane policies that bar nouveau riche actors and politicians.
"There is a stage in life when money is no longer enough, " explains Pavan Malhotra, author of 'Elite Clubs of India'. "People want social recognition and the club is something which gives them that. " Malhotra hasn't ever researched whether memberships play a role in matrimonial alliances but agrees that the elite regard them as an "asset".
Since club memberships are largely a preoccupation of the wealthy, they aren't significant for the thousands of people who sign up on Shaadi. com everyday. But according to a company spokesperson, they do carry weight with clients who opt for the portal's boutique matchmaking service. "When you are getting married in India, everybody wants to make connections with the family through two or three degrees of separation, " says Gourav Rakshit, Shaadi. com's chief operating officer. "Clubs form a very good way for people to do that kind of networking. "
In the past, marrying a club member was especially important for women because they couldn't become members of elite clubs in their own right. Until 2007, Willingdon Sports Club membership was passed on from father to son. So marrying a member was the only way a woman could ensure that her social life wouldn't be drastically affected after marriage. "You use it from childhood under your father's membership and then suddenly you are told when you get married that you don't have access to these facilities, which are not easy or cheap in a city, " says a female member, who lobbied for the rules to be changed. She admits that some people in her social circle do regard club memberships as significant when choosing a life partner.
But memberships don't just matter when you are ready to tie the knot. Twenty-three-year-old Nikkita Johal, for instance, recalls a conversation with a friend who was contemplating a future relationship. "She was like, 'So he has Willingdon Club membership and I have Bombay Gym and so now I have access to both clubs. '"
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