Matching horoscopes? It certainly gets everyone going.

The age-old practice of seeking divine validation for marriage proposals still dominates the run-up to the wedding, in southern India more than anywhere else.

In Delhi, where we lived for a long while, a Punjabi neighbour told my mother, “You know, if we get a suitable boy as a match, we sometimes fudge the girl’s age, even if she is older. How does it matter? No one knows the exact time of birth, and who looks at the watch to note when a child is born?”

Precisely. The exact time of birth, more often than not, remains a mystery but astrologers always pretend otherwise. And even if we get the time exactly according to the clock, who can say the hospital or home clocks, wherever the child is born, show the exact time? And what do they mean by the exact time, anyway? But I have noticed that no one bothers to ask these questions.

Recently, a widowed friend started girl-hunting for her son. In her case the horoscope had matched perfectly with that of her late husband’s, but her marriage ran into serious trouble and ended in divorce. But she dismissed it as a freak incident and started looking for a bride. She found a nice girl, pretty, not very ambitious, with a decent job, who wanted a work-life balance, just the kind, in fact, mothers-in-law dream about.

But Shyamala was not satisfied with what she had. Would the horoscopes match? Unlike the practical Punjabi, she wanted the stars to endorse the union. When she asked me, I said be practical.

After all, I reasoned, the caveman just took a “wife” to perpetuate the species. He had a simpler life in a hostile environment. He needed stability in domestic life. The arrangement worked, he and his partner produced heirs, the lady of the house was well-fed and did not have to go hunting.

Of course, she didn’t listen. The reflex of tradition was too strong to ignore, so she went to an astrologer who is even more sold on the stars. He only reads horoscopes on certain days at specific auspicious times. The verdict of such a paragon has to be final, so when he said the horoscopes did not match I saw a good thing slipping away. Ignore him, I said, to no avail.

The girl, who waited for a nod from Shyamala, as her parents were less strict, finally married her neighbour’s son, whom the family had known for years. As for my friend, she has resumed the hunt. Maybe the stars will be kinder next time.

(C. Jayanthi worked in The Times of India, New Delhi, and other English dailies in India and abroad for two decades. She is adjunct professor at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.)

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