Ramzan is usually not the time for weddings in the Valley, but Fayaz Ahmad Khan says he has “no off-season”. So every afternoon, the 45-year-old, armed with three tattered notebooks, its droopy, well-thumbed pages holding photographs of young men and women, sets out to see if he can make a match of those.
A resident of Shalimar on the outskirts of Srinagar city, Khan is a matchmaker, or manzimyore as they are called in Kashmiri. This year, as families rush to wrap up weddings ahead of the July 8 anniversary of the killing of Hizb militant commander Burhan Wani, as many of them are anxious about what may happen in the days before and after, Khan has had an especially busy season.
Traditionally, Kashmir has two distinct wedding seasons — April and May and then August to November. The summer months of June and July are considered off-season because the wedding feast, wazwan, is usually relished in the colder months. However, with the uncertainty in the political situation, over the last several years, the Valley’s wedding calendar has been changing and, except for three freezing months in winter, marriages happen round the year.
Around 4 pm on a Thursday afternoon, Khan arrives at Sonawar in Srinagar, a black bag slung over his shoulder, and knocks on the door of a two-storeyed house. “They are a business family,” he says. As the door opens, he is directed to the guest room, where he sits on the carpet. Soon, the patriarch of the family and three women sit around him. “So, what have you brought for us today,” asks the mother of the prospective groom. Khan spreads out his notebooks. “This is my data bank,” he says to laughs all around. “My books hold all the details —phone numbers, educational qualifications of not just the bride and groom, but even of their parents and siblings. Why, even of their uncles and aunts.”
Khan carefully turns the pages of one of his notebooks. “Where is Maharaz (the groom),” asks Khan, turning around. “He is at our showroom,” says the father.
Khan gets back to his notebook. Every time he talks of of a prospective bride, he hands over the notebook that has her profile and photograph. It gets passed around — from the boy’s sister to his mother and aunt and finally to the father. Every now and then, the sister pulls out her phone to click a picture — “so you like this girl,” asks Khan, handing her the girl’s photograph.
Khan continues, “Look at this girl. She is an M.Sc in Physics; this one has an MA, B.Ed… Look at her. She is from a well-to-do family. Her father is a doctor and they are all well-educated. You will be lucky if this relationship works out.”
After about an hour spent with the family, Khan prepares to leave. The family now has a short-list ready and asks Khan for a few of the photographs. They jot down a few addresses from his notebook and ask him to return next week, thrusting a few currency notes in his pocket as he reaches for the door.
The manzimyores of the Valley were traditionally transgenders, which usually gave them easy access into homes. But over the years, more men have taken to the job, says Khan, who also works as a gardener in public parks and homes.
In the early days, says Khan, manzimyores went from house to house to ask if there were young men and women of marriageable age. Not any more. “Mobile phones have changed everything. Earlier, when you visited families, they would sometimes tell you the men were away and ask you to come later. But now, all this can be done on the phone.”
Outside the Sonawar home, Khan flips through his notebook to decide where to go next. He looks at his watch and says, “I will have to go for a while. I have to arrange a meeting of a boy and a girl. I have asked them to come to a park. Meet me after an hour”.
On his return, he says, “Before their families agree on the match, it is important that the boy and girl meet and talk. But such meetings are becoming infrequent; most of them have already met each other and come to us only so that we can approach their families and formalise the relationship.”
Khan’s notebooks holds many such stories. “Once, the father of a girl called me and asked me to find her a groom. The next day, I went to their house with details of a few prospective grooms. As I was leaving the house, the girl handed me an address without saying anything. I understood what I had to do. These boys and girls have made my job easier,” he says, laughing.
Sometimes, he says, they land him in tricky situations. “There was this boy from a middle-class family who worked as a clerk at a court. He gave me the address of a girl and asked me to talk to her family. When I went to her house, I realised they were extremely rich. I came back to the boy and told him the match wouldn’t work. But when he persisted, I went again. It was tough convincing the girl’s family, but they finally agreed.” The match fetched him Rs 30,000, he says.
“I usually don’t ask for anything and they (families) pay whatever they want. On an average, we get around Rs 20,000 for each match, besides Rs 300-500 for every visit. There are some matchmakers who are paid between Rs 50,000 and 1 lakh for every match,” he says, adding that some months he fixes three marriages, and some months none.
“That’s not good when you have three young children to bring up. I have two daughters and a son, all of them in school. My children are good at studies but only my middle daughter goes to a private school. I can’t afford to send all of them to private schools,” he says.
He says the unrest following Burhan Wani’s killing was the “worst time” for his business. “I was home most of the time. I had nothing to do. There was no transport and even phones were not working. There was no business for those six months.”
It’s now 6 pm and Khan prepares to leave for another house, his second of the day. He usually visits about three homes a day. “They too are businessmen. They want a businessman groom for their daughter. That’s unusual because most people want government employees. Lecturers are in demand too.”
Talking of preferences, he says, “Families usually ask for well-to-do grooms, a government employee or a businessman. Very few settle for employees of private firms. Men looking for brides almost always insist on good looks, followed by the family background. These days, men are happy with working wives, but they don’t want girls working in banks because they have long working hours.”