Suffering from shaadi ke side effects? You’re not alone. Most youngsters, in their twenties and thirties, find themselves trapped in the hullabaloo around the pomp and show of Indian weddings, or how adults kick up a fuss about finding the right match. In a hilarious viral video, when American TV show host Jimmy Kimmel heard about the concept of arranged marriages and the “bio-data” exchanged between families, he couldn’t believe his ears. “Is it a common thing in India?” he jokingly asked, and wondered, “What if you don’t like who they pick?” Sadly, that is, more often than not, a reality.
What if you don’t like your partner after marriage even though the pandit matched all the 36 gun (qualities) in both the kundlis (horoscope charts)? Challenging the traditional way of matchmaking, Ishdeep Sawhney – the co-founder and CEO of Banihal – is trying to find compatible life partners for people by using artificial intelligence and neuroscience research. Unbelievable, right? Wondering how neuroscience can help a person find the right match?
It all started when Sawhney turned 30 and was ready to get married in 2009. Back then, he was working for Microsoft in Seattle, USA and like most people, he did have many good connections, but was yet to meet the perfect match. And he had to resort to old methods and matrimonial websites.
It was this difficult search that sparked a powerful realisation. “When I thought of getting married and settling down, there were several profiles that matrimonial websites suggested and my friends recommended. But every time, I met somebody I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend my next 50-60 years with this same person. I was looking for a compatible partner with whom I would want to start a conversation, someone who would understand me so well that she could finish my sentences and I would finish hers,” he revealed.
To help improve his chances of finding the “perfect one”, he turned to neuroscience to learn about the way people make decisions. From his research, he created a series of questions to ask potential spouses — with each question designed to identify the shared values between them. After the introduction, he would ask this fixed set of questions to every potential partner. Soon, he flew to Delhi to meet Binu Kohli on a Saturday and they were married the following Sunday. They now have two children and a relationship built on a foundation of shared values.
His struggle inspired Banihal and soon it became a part of director R Balki’s Ki and Ka, in which Kareena Kapoor Khan and Arjun Kapoor played the role of partners, who swap their responsibilities just the way they like. While talking to indianexpress.com, Sawhney said, “In India, when people wish to settle down and marry someone they make profiles on almost every kind of dating app or matrimonial website, their parents look for a match, their friends suggest people but they still find it difficult to narrow down to that one person with whom they would like to spend next 50 to 60 years.”
Shedding light on how his site is different, he added, “Through our portal, we suggest matches based on the results of the questionnaire made by neuroscience experts. It analyses their behaviour according to the answers that they give. We don’t want them to spend time on the website, but to actually go out and meet their matches. Due to undesirable matches, people tend to marry late as they don’t find someone right for them on all these grounds.”
To draw more clarity about the intricacies of neuroscience that the site uses he explained saying, “Looking at how the brain makes decisions, we see that it is hard to make it a simple equation but it is more like having a large combination of independent emotions voting on every decision and they don’t always vote the same way. To get a sense of how the individual elements work and how they collaborate, we can get a good sense by looking at a lot of situations where a decision was made and we know the situation and the possible decisions and the final decision made. This effect may be due to a concept called social homophily, or the idea that individuals form bonds based on shared characteristics, many of which can be traced back to genetics. Banihal aligns people with similar frameworks”.
Here is one such sample questionnaire:
But, are people open to this concept of finding the right match through artificial intelligence and not through match-making aunts or relatives? “Initially when we told people how we use neuroscience, they found it difficult to understand what Banihal did. At that point, it was hard for them to understand that through our five matches, we were showing them the most compatible person.” Sawhney hopes he can soon rope in more people, who realise its importance in today’s times.
When asked if their concept was inspired by the popular sitcom The Big Bang theory, where Sheldon and Amy go through a questionnaire, he said, “What is being shown in art as science fiction is already a reality which customers can use today. More recently, Black Mirror also had an episode about what the future of matchmaking would be and it’s simulations with different individuals to find compatibility for the long term. At Banihal, we believe the approach of finding the most compatible 5-10 matches at a time gives enough understanding for people to trust and have confidence in making their decision”.
With a team of 10 people, Banihal is focusing more on Indian audience and NRIs living in the USA as the co-founder is himself based there. With the help of various neuroscientists, the website is breaking the stereotypes of finding life partners as he feels marriage is all about compatibility and completing each others sentences.