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The brokers who click
The multi-crore shaadi industry now has a new player: the ‘relationship manager’ who sifts through thousands of matrimonial profiles to help prospective brides and grooms zero in on the right match
Besides the eligible men and women who stare dreamily from under the glare of consistently unflattering light, matrimonial websites are also populated by a third staid breed that Ramesh Manocha likes to call "jokers". Some of them say things like "She should not wear jeans outside, as it means disrespecting the caste", while some others, he has heard women complain, are entertainment-starved married men who are just seeking an escape from their wives. Somehow, these people seemed to have all the time in the world, something which Manocha, a 38-year-old businessman from Delhi, didn't.
After the demise of his mother and just a while before the cancer operation of his father, two years ago, when life offered this bachelor a breather from responsibilities, he had put up his profile on various matrimonial sites. But since then, he has constantly stumbled upon either only such 'jokers' or women who mistook the reasonable Manocha for one. With age, the desperation of this 38-year-old for some serious external force that would help in his search for The One also began to grow. Three months ago, after an endless wait, the force beckoned. Manocha got a call from someone who called herself a relationship manager.
She belonged to one of the leading websites he had registered on and said that she was calling on behalf of a client, whose partner preferences matched his. Though that particular alliance didn't work out, Manocha decided to sign up for the website's premium service called Select himself. At a cost of Rs 17,000, the service promised to absolve him of all his bride-hunting trauma by assuring him a personal relationship manager who would help him filter the hefty website database for the next three months. She could also tell the genuine ones from the jokers. "I did not have time to invest, so this service was a boon. She was mature and understood my preferences. Through her, I met many girls and the process is still on," says Manocha referring to Smita Shetty, the cheerful relationship manager he has never met but only conversed with over the phone.
Seated in the training room of her office in Worli, a smiling Shetty reveals that people of her designation, though deliberately invisible, are becoming increasingly crucial in the elite world which lacks the time, patience and sometimes, even inclination to sift through hundreds of profiles to determine their dream spouse. For the qualified inhabitants of this world, mostly MBA graduates and IT professionals, people like Shetty are angelic apparitions who not only glean multiple profiles for preferences that seem to match their client's, but also help "enhance the profile of the members by ensuring that the text is well-written, authenticity confirmed with a seal and photos impressive". In one particular instance, Shetty asked a male client, who was dejected at not being able to find a bride, to put up photos that showed him indulging in activities like trekking and surfing. "We do everything that the member has to do, on his behalf," says Shetty, who handles 20 customers a week.
These new online equivalents of marriage brokers, however, consciously avoid being physically present at the client's meetings. Their role is to shortlist, call, coordinate and follow up for feedback. They are expected to follow a set of pre-determined privacy norms and are careful not to divulge too much to the other party. "Also, while they potentially have access to client information and access profiles on their behalf, they should be careful not to overslip," says Gourav Rakshit, business head, shaadi. com. "They should not only have good listening skills but also a sensitive probing capability." Unspoken concerns like a woman's reluctance to move out of the city after marriage or a man's divorce are confided in the relationship manager. "They become a part of the extended family of the customer, hence this requires a lot of enthusiasm and responsibility in their job," says Rohit Tilokani, business head for premium services, BharatMatrimony.com, whose relationship managers cater to various niche communities. Every relationship manager undergoes intensive training along with soft skills and personality development programs.
Also, by default, most of the relationship managers are married, and the experience subconsciously helps, as they also have to play part counsellors. Especially, since some client interactions tend to throw them off their seats. "A girl once asked for someone who looks exactly like Karan Singh Grover," remembers Shetty, who, after a series of confused searches for a look-alike of the brawny model-cum-television star, shortlisted a few seemingly good-looking candidates. But eventually, Shetty had to ask her to broaden the search. "Marriage is not about looks," she tried to explain in vain. This is probably the reason why when it comes to girls, it's mostly parents who coordinate with the relationship manager. Of course, parents' expectations can be very specific, like the mother who said she wanted a manglik for her daughter or another one who said they wanted "a Muslim boy from Pakistan only".
"Boys, however, are more realistic in their expectations," says Nenisha Dave, who has been working as a relationship manager for a year now. The designation has become her standard introduction in the family. "She's a matchmaker," her mother beams at social functions, as Dave glows at what she considers an almost noble occupation. After all, it involves involuntary charity. Even in the natural course of interaction over three months, sometimes with girls whose partner expectation is a "dude", relationship managers invariably befriend customers. So, "even after the three-month period expired, I continued looking for a boy for a client girl, as we're in touch," says Dave, who is currently basking in the glory of having facilitated a success story. She set up her client, an Austrian boy from UAE with a Muslim girl of Indian origin, who are getting married on July 20.
Besides some relentless keyboard-assisted behind-the-scenes matchmaking, relationship managers also have the onus of coming up with creative alternatives or features to help their cause. A leading matrimonial website, for instance, has come up with the option of applying a purple background to the profiles of members who've opted for their premium service. "I wish there was some sort of physical verification of the candidates and their details too," says Ramesh Manocha. This would help keep the jokers at bay.
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