Marriage Convention: An opportunity or recipe for failure?

Nationwide at most Desi conventions there are programs designed to encourage young people to meet each other with the prospects of finding marriage partners.  Following letter was sent to all the participants of Jaina Networking Forum to be held in Chicago to start a national dialogue 2 weeks before the convention.

Dear Friends, 

Jai Jinendra!

In less than three weeks from now, we shall be meeting at the Jaina Convention in Chicago. The organizers of Jaina Network Forum, under the leadership of Viken are very busy trying to make sure that we have a successful convention. However, success of our mission depends so much more on you the participants rather than the organizers. 

We, the Desi people, are big on conventions and almost every group has these kind of meetings designed to encourage the youth to meet others with similar background. Unfortunately, most of these meetings end with minimal success. 

Part of the problem is, that it may be unrealistic to get people to gather in a "meat market" situation and expect them to form any kind of meaningful bond. Name, age, appearance (which can be obvious), education (indicating the earning potential), family (hinting how big they are), religious beliefs, etc., when mentioned on the stage might give some helpful hints in choosing a mate but they fall far short of getting someone excited and motivate them to come visit you. 

Standing in front of the audience and talking about oneself without sounding too arrogant is a difficult task. So many of the participants in such marriage conventions come with a very low expectation that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. " If I can not find a soul mate among the people I spend a lot of time with how am I going to find one at the convention?" that seems to be prevailing logic. Feeling of awkwardness along with anticipated failure results in poor attitude of young people attending these conventions. 

We do not live the life in some isolated chambers but surrounded by friends and family and having a mate with matching cultural background is of immense importance. So, if one is looking for a person from the same cultural background who has shared similar experience while growing up, who is likely to enjoy the raas-garaba and dancing at a disco club equally and Hindi movie and rock concert in the same week we have no choice but to become innovative and find new ways to find the Mr. or Miss. Right. 

Traditional Indian arranged marriages relied on the ability of parents or a middle man (or woman) to locate such potential match than work with both parties and to finally get the bride and groom side to agree on the marriage and bless them. This system worked for the centuries. And most of your parents might be a testament to that system. (some of us taut the longevity of their marriage in our generation as the proof that arranged system is so much superior but that is pure hogwash!) 

As the educational level and financial independence of the youth has risen in India the arranged marriage now sounds more like deranged marriage. If the boy and girl can meet each other on their own and develop the bond by themselves, that union makes lot more sense than one arranged by some other person. So even in the land of its origin the arranged marriage is being replaced by "involved marriage" or "don't worry I will find my own marriage" The youth in India, however has a large number of people to choose from. 

The Indian youth in America on the other hand is at a disadvantage. With our small community spread all over this nation the number of people we get to know is really small. And once you finish your college education the new social contacts become almost nonexistent. At most of the youth gatherings majority of time is spent partying and level of sobriety is very low. So even though one can have good time (and may be find someone to have sex with) there, it is not conducive to find meaningful relationships. 

What is the solution? My answer to is "Change our attitude and be innovative." 

Let us agree on the fact that it is important for the youth of today to meet as many potential mates as possible. After all, larger the pool to choose from the better the odds of finding the right one! So it is logical that we use all these gatherings be it for regional or religious convention to help our youth network with each other. 

And make the purpose of these conventions much bigger than just finding a suitable mate. The fact is that these youth are likely to be the leaders in their field few years from now. And if they can bond with each other at this early stage of their career few years from now when one is talking to the president of a company he or she will realize that they all knew each other from one of these networking forums. So everyone including those who are currently not looking for a mate should participate. The goal should be make as many new friends as possible and try to find people with same philosophy or interest to make life long friends. 

The actual work should start long before convention. Let us use the technology to the fullest extent. 

All participants need to make a web page that is available to the others. Besides the generic information such as name, age, location, they should try to put information that sets them apart from other people. The fact that you make a page does not indicate that you are desperate or even trying to meet other people but that you have overcome the inhibition and willing to make new friends. Please put as much information as possible on your web page. Think of that as your biggest tool (much more important than the resume for a job). The information needs to describe you - your pictures (in Indian dress for his parents and American dress for him!) , family details, friend circle, your pets, likes, dislikes, aspiration, career plan, your beliefs and values. 

Make sure you put your contact information on that page. Phone number would be great but at least your email address. Some people are reluctant to put such information for fear of being hounded by too many unsolicited mail but my own philosophy is, you can always press the delete button. If you are still afraid of that nuisance create a new email address for this purpose and use that mail box to screen the new friends and invite the ones you like to your real email address. 

Check your email frequently and respond to them as soon as possible. Check out the web pages of as many people you can find and send them personalized messages to show your interest. Try to identify as many people as you would like to meet during convention and contact them before hand and work on a plan to spend some quality time there. If you already have some prospect do not stop at that. The convention is your chance of making a personal connection with as many people as possible. So try to get to know as many new people as possible. Once you have connected with a person it is much easier to communicate by email or phone.

At the convention there is a tendency to hang around with your old friends. This is very counter productive. Please break up in groups of two (or three only) and try to meet new people at each session. At the dinner or different session and activities find a person you never met and seat next to him/her and make an effort to get to know real person. 

Be a volunteer for my bone marrow drive and that gives you an opportunity to talk to a perfect stranger and strike a conversation. You may check out my website for details. J.

Be available. We have a bone marrow booth at the convention and if you give us your name, room number, beeper or cell number, we shall be happy help people who might be looking for you. They can at least leave you a voice mail at your room extension. Bring cell phone (but please turn off during the meeting time, specially when I am presenting!). 

I am writing you this letter with a hope of starting a dialogue (an electronic town hall meeting if you will). Let us put our collective wisdom to use. Please feel free to contact me and share your ideas as to how we can succeed. I am sure that with all your help we can make this awkward mission into a successful and enjoyable mission. You may contact me by email, or beep me or call me at home. Thank you. 

- Dr. Vijay A Mehta

The Convention 

Dear friends, 

I had most wonderful experience at the JNF. Meeting so many of you in such a short time was quite an experience. During the Sunday morning session I had planned to share with you my observations and plans for the future but it was cut short due to lack of time. So as promised I am going to share with you via this web article. 

Speech meant for Sunday morning: 

Less than forty-eight hours ago we embarked on a social experiment, actually it was not an experiment but it was a mission. The goal was to create an environment, so you the Jaina youth from all over the world will network with each other. Instead of looking at a person with a simple question "Is he or she meets my threshold? " We wanted you to meet as many people and get to know them. We successfully changed the name from MIS to Jain Networking Forum, but we have a long way to go to accomplish the change in the mission. 

While vast majority of participants viewed this experience as very positive one, for most part you moved along the labels. So many people simply spent time with their group. Born in USA with born in USA and Made in India with other made in India and so on. 

But in this 3 days I am impressed that most of you did make an honest effort to meet and get to know potential match. However we need to keep looking the most efficient way for you to be able to know each other at a deeper level than your Bio data. 

Internet friendship: while there is so much negative feelings about Internet connections, I think now that we had a chance to meet face to face we can continue to get to know each other by the Internet and the phone. I would urge to demonstrate a common courtesy to someone who sends you an email by simply clicking reply button and tell them to expect reply in x number of days. Sometime you could be very busy with your daily life and simply forget to respond, only to be misunderstood by the other party. For example if you do not get a response from me in 5 days please feel free to email me again. 

True Networking: Vatsal Doshi, a third year Harvard Medical Student actually came up with an idea of networking with other Jain students and if anyone needed a rotation at Harvard or place to stay he would be willing to help. Networking means we work as one big family on projects of common interest. And in the process you get to know each other well and hopefully that might lead to more connections. What we need to do is to look inside us and ask, what can I give to the rest of the group? or what kind of help I need from my fellow Jain brother and sisters (not literally)! 

He is like my brother or sister! As we discussed on Friday night I strongly believe that some of you are letting the most wonderful friends who could be a great soul mate go, because of the false notion of " Brother / Sister" If you do not have more than 3% gene common with the person than for practical purpose he or she is not your sibling! I am still looking for volunteers who are willing to explore this avenue. If you do not know how to figure out if you are sharing genes or not please let me know I will be happy to find that out for you. 

Birud Zaveri, the Co-chair of upcoming YJA in New Jersey next July 4th and his team is highly interested in making a strong effort of true networking at the next convention. We invite all the ideas you might have. Networking could be any thing, business, hobbies, interests, talents, academics etc. Networking is not gender specific or does not have to be along the so called labels. Please let me know if you have any ideas. And mark your calendar for next July 4th 2002! 

Bone Marrow Drive: We had most successful Jain Bone Marrow drive ever. 379 people registered which is the highest number of any Jain event to date. Please spread the word and organize a bone marrow drive in your area. In the month of February 2001, three Indian kids got a bone marrow from unrelated donor which is a record. And Alisha Sheth, who died on 4/29 actually found six matching bone marrow within one week of her death. The awareness of this issue is increasing, please tell others. 

Post convention communication: I have been involved with several of you contacting me about some person you did not quite meet at the convention but would have liked to. I will be happy to contact that person and get a feel of what is going on. I urge all of you to look around all the people and make a genuine effort to get to know the person before ruling them out based on some 

Website: Viken and Niki did a tremendous job of putting the whole thing to gather and they have told me that they will continue to update the websites. Very soon all the late registrants will be added to the list. So please visit the site frequently. 

Web page: I know that many of you feel that web page makes you look desperate and are not using this wonderful tool to the fullest potential. But I am a firm believer of using the technology. I came across a web page by Megna Jain. Click here: index URL: Please visit this page and may be you will feel as I did. It did not seem like she was trying to sell herself but more like she was sharing with rest of the world about herself. Make sure you visit her creativity page. A good page is more like autobiography listing your family & friends, childhood, schooling, college life, your core belief about religion, culture, family, your philosophy about marriage, (avoid cheesy lines), lots of pictures, and anything that separates from the rest of the crowd. Once this web page is done put the link to your JNF page. Those of you who do not have pictures or email or phone number on that page please do so. 

We are going to keep the site running and will use this as the basis for the next years YJA convention also. 

Several people would have liked some meaningful discussion of hot topics in a small group setting. I think the idea is wonderful! 

When I was emphasizing the need to marry early rather than late and the fact that biological clock is ticking.. I said something to the effect that .. "as the mother's age increases to 35 the chance of birth defects goes up, as fathers age goes up the incidence of schizophrenia in children goes up but most important reason to marry soon is simple. You want to be in good health when your teenage daughter decides to give you a heart attack!" Well, I met quite a few people in the age bracket of 30 and above and they felt as if my comments were meant to say that once you are 30 you are not fit to be a Mom. They rightly pointed out that nowadays you can prevent or detect these problems early. I felt sorry for creating this negative feelings in some of my audience members. The comments were not meant to do so. "Mitchhami Dukkadam." No age is too old to find the love of your life and produce the family (by the way, this week a 60 year old Mom gave birth to a normal kid!). 

The other issues we never touched were what about people who are divorced? Or love between two people that parents simply refuse to accept. Due to time limitation I guess we did not cover that aspect but may be in small group setting we need to explore that too. I met five wonderful people who are divorced. 
So as you move on with your daily life make sure you remember-looking for a soul mate is the most important decision you will be making. And do not let the procrastination come in your way. Create opportunities, contact people, make adjustment in your thought process, be creative and take initiative. This is not the end but the beginning. 

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