On a fall Sunday morning in San Francisco last year, I received a WhatsApp call from India. It was my dad’s friend Uday Kaku from Kolkata. “I didn’t mean to startle you, beta, but I needed a favour.”
I was at a loss to imagine what, but I was intrigued. He continued, “I have an acquaintance with a daughter they’re trying to arrange a marriage for. They’ve found a boy who’s based in New York and is doing really well. He claims to have an MBA from Stanford, to work at Goldman Sachs and says he makes $500k a year.”
I was puzzled. I was not in NYC or in finance, nor did I possess an MBA. What on Earth did this have to do with me?
“Well, the matchmaking agency is putting pressure on them to pay up for the match. The boy’s mother wants an answer right away. However, I advised them to do some research. Can you help? Just use, you know, the internet thing to figure out if this rishtaa is for real?” Kaku asked.
Interesting. I had quit the arranged marriage scene in my early twenties and never looked back, so I had zero knowledge about how all of this works. But without thinking, I replied, “Sure, Uday Kaku.”
Thus began my short-lived career as The Rishtaa Detective™.
Shortly thereafter, I received a PDF via WhatsApp. It looked just like what I’d expect from a biodata composed jointly by enthusiastic Indian parents and a matrimonial agency – some awkwardly posed photos, outrageously effusive praise for the guy in official Indian English, incomprehensible notes about caste, clan and astrology.
Looking up the agency on the web was both entertaining and uncomfortable. The site looked like it was created in the mid-90s and hadn’t been updated since. There were lots of mismatched colours on a bright white background, with way too many animated GIFs.
Their business model set off some red flags. They charged tens of thousands of rupees in “packages”, each promising X number of NRI matches a month. There was no mention of match quality, or how they verified those matches. From my perspective, they had all the incentive they needed to be, well, less than honest.
Next stop, social media. Facebook or Twitter didn’t get me anywhere, but I found the potential groom-to-be on LinkedIn. His career path on LinkedIn actually matched his biodata. However, the summaries of each of his roles was just a bunch of jargon, as if he had simply copied and pasted random snippets of job descriptions. There were a couple of images of certificates that looked hastily photoshopped, spelling errors and all.
Suspicious, but who among us isn’t guilty of being lazy with our LinkedIn profile?
I needed some expert opinion. I sent the profile to my friend Sara.
Sara is a bubbly Indian-American wunderkind in her mid-20s with degrees from MIT and Harvard, obsessed with boba tea, Bollywood and venture capital. She’s also the world’s most (and perhaps only) enthusiastic user of LinkedIn, with a network that’s the envy of Silicon Valley.
Within seconds, I heard back, “Raj, this profile is fake.”
“Tell me more.”
“First, no Stanford MBA would write like this. Second, the career path doesn’t make sense for the industry. Third, he simply can’t be a Stanford MBA if he’s not a first or second connection to me on LinkedIn.”
“Maybe he fell through the cracks in your network. Is there anything else you could do to check?”
I could practically feel her eyes roll at me through the phone, “If you really insist, but you know I’m right.”
“You are, but a young woman’s entire life is at stake here!”, I shamelessly appealed to her dramatic Bollywood sensibilities.
It worked. Sara went all out and sent the profile to three of her Stanford MBA contacts who had graduated in the same year as the groom-to-be claimed to. She also asked them to check the alumni databases.
They all came back with unanimous NOs. Our dear groom-to-be had never gone to Stanford.
I called Uday Kaku that evening to deliver the verdict. He asked, “So, do you think it’s the agency that’s lying, the boy, or the boy’s parents?”
I didn’t have a clear answer. The evidence suggested a degree of collusion.
He thanked me and said he’d do the needful.
In January, I got together with him for lunch at a Mughlai restaurant in Kolkata and asked what came of this incident. He replied somewhat quietly, “Well, I conveyed what you found to the parents. I hope they did the right thing.”
“I hope so too,” I replied fervently.
We stared at each other in silence for a second before diving back into our butter chicken and naan.
Raj Bandyopadhyay is a recovering techie from Mumbai turned artist/photographer in San Francisco.
Featured image credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões /Flickr