You would expect Spoorthi Gadde, 25, of Bangalore, who has a master’s degree from a top-notch engineering school, to be out and about on social networks — more so since she is single, tech-savvy and employed by a leading outsourcing company.
Ms. Gadde is indeed on social networks like Facebook, but she has never posted a status update. She sparingly uploads photos and seldom clicks on the “like” button. She does not list “favorite” books, movies or restaurants impetuously. If she did update her status, it might say, “Waiting for an arranged marriage.” There lies the reason for her restraint.
When social networks intersect with India’s hoary arranged marriage system, what you get is a generation of jumpy social networkers.
Ms. Gadde and thousands of eligible, young middle-class Indians are chary for a good reason: Social networks in particular, and the Web in general, have become the new snooping grounds for arranged marriages, marriages that are typically orchestrated by parents or older relatives.
Poking about on social networks is now the preliminary investigation tool, used on behalf of every client consulting for an arranged marriage, said Puneet Kumar, the Bangalore-based director of Globe Detective Agency. “It tells you so much about a person, their friends and their lifestyle,” Mr. Kumar said.
Ms. Gadde is all too aware of the scrutiny. “On the Web, you don’t know who is watching,” said the bespectacled, pleasant-mannered woman.
As her parents, who live in the smaller, more conventional Vijayawada city, hunt for a suitable mate for her, Ms. Gadde tempers her social networking activity. Frequent and impulsive status updates, she thinks, could be misconstrued as some character flaw. “People so casually say ‘I’m feeling low today,’ or ‘I bought an expensive dress,’ or ‘I was partying till 4 a.m.,’ but all this could reflect on one’s personality,” she said.
She looks for “respectable” photos to post, like one of herself holding a teddy bear, which she currently has in her meager gallery.
Her single friends too strive to create a good impression for the benefit of potential partners, their parents and relatives.
Half a billion Indians are 25 or under, and their usage of social networks is booming. In fact, by 2015 India is expected to have more Facebook users than any other country including the United States.
Just like everything else in urban India, there is a dichotomy, said Ashok Lalla, a Mumbai-based digital marketer who refers to social networking as young India’s “Five-to-Nine” preoccupation.
Many urban teenagers and 20-somethings display “inadvertent” social networking behavior, said Mr. Lalla, author of “The Future of Digital for Brands.” “They go with the flow, unthinkingly copying their friends, and exhibiting an unguarded, sometimes inappropriate side to themselves.”
At the same time, many others suffer from social networking anxiety.
Erring on the side of caution is Murugesh, 29, a Bangalore-based software engineer who did not want his last name revealed.
Mr. Murugesh, the protagonist in his family’s bride hunt, is ultra-careful on social networks. “For example, if I post a picture holding a beer glass, traditional-minded people will immediately conclude ‘this guy is a drunk.’”
He posts tame pictures like the one where he is posing in front of the Statue of Liberty while on a work trip to New York. He refrains from using popular acronyms like “WTF.”
“Trivial things on your social networking page can get magnified,” he said.
Another cagey social networks user is Mahesh K.S., who goes by only a first name, as is common in southern India. Mr. Mahesh, 24 and single, logs in at least once daily to catch up with friends.
But the only personal details on his profile page are generic mentions of his engineering education and his programming job. The photos on his page are outdated ones from his college days.
His friends load only “decent” photos on the Web because “they could be posing for future in-laws,” he said.
On the professional front, Ms. Gadde and her peers are global professionals, interacting with overseas customers, meeting tough deadlines and traveling overseas for work. On the personal plane, they are rooted in their families’ Indian-ness.
Ms. Gadde, for instance, wakes up to an unfailing morning routine of a bath, puja (the Indian prayer ritual) and then breakfast. Her family frowns on Western dressing.
An occasional social drinker, Mr. Murugesh said his parents, retired government employees who live close to the smaller city of Coimbatore, would bar him from entering the house if they ever discovered that he drinks.
Interestingly, Ms. Gadde does not hesitate to turn the tables on nosy relatives and prying prospective mates. As her parents tally horoscopes and consult the family astrologer while zeroing in on potential partners, she fans out on the Web to ferret out details on the men.
Mr. Murugesh too said he has wised up to several tricks that marriageable-age girls employ.
One family sent him a photo of their daughter dressed conservatively in a sari. When he checked out her social networking profile, the girl was wearing a short skirt, leading his parents to immediately turn down the match. Another prospective bride sent a dated picture to his family, but her Facebook page revealed she was much older.
Mr. Murugesh openly admits that he is judgmental. He rejected a proposal from a family after he found out the girl proclaimed her relationship status as “it’s complicated.”
He also looks at the numbers and types of friends prospective brides have. “Less than a 100 signals an introvert, but over 500 friends, mostly male, is bad news,” he said.
Saritha Rai sometimes feels she is the only person living in Bangalore who was actually raised here. There’s never a dull moment in her mercurial metropolis. Reach her on Twitter @SarithaRai.