For every prospective bride in Toronto's South Asian community, there's a quarter of a bridegroom, more or less -- statistically speaking. NMarriage bureaus and individual matchmakers in the community cite figures to show there are three to four times as many women on their client lists as men.
In addition to being in short supply, men are also comparatively less educated and less successful in their careers, making choices even narrower for women.
Right match When people in the Muslim community have trouble finding the right match, they head for a cul-de-sac in Mississauga, at the very end of which lives Fazal Khan, co-owner of the Worldwide Islamic Marriage Bureau.
Modestly dressed in shalwar qameez and a white head scarf safety-pinned under her chin, the soft-spoken woman inspires confidence and trust, the very qualities her clients seek.
Her husband and part-time business associate, Akram Syed Khan, has done the calculation to arrive at what she makes per hour for her labours: about $1.50. What she's really doing, she says, is community service, and her reward is probably equivalent to that of several hajjs (pilgrimages).
Fazal Khan entertains her clients in a small sitting area decorated with bunches of fresh flowers; she says she used to paint in the old days and she only painted flowers.
The client is given a registration form to complete, requiring such information as age, height, weight, religious sect, income and family background, including the names of maternal and paternal grandfathers, uncles and brothers. Two references and a recent photo are also needed, along with a $100 initial fee.
Khan then searches her database for a suitable match.
"What happens between the two clients is their business. Sometimes the contact can break down simply because the man wants to meet the woman in a coffee shop but her parents insist on having the first meeting in the security of their own home. People have different levels of comfort in such matters."
Khan has been plying her craft for 13 years, and facilitates an average of 10 to 12 weddings a year. She could be doing much better if more eligible men were available. She says 75 per cent of all her clients at any time are women.
"Most men do not want to get involved with a marriage bureau. They have their own connections, their own circle."
As well, she says "a lot of professionals opt for late marriage. And the more successful they are, the more perfection they require in their spouse. Sometimes too much perfection. But for women, it gets more difficult with time. I have two female clients aged 35 and 36. I have been trying to find a match for them for a long time."
Many parents are willing to forgo their traditional duty to choose a son-in-law in favour of their daughter's right to make her own decision. But that gesture alone does little to redress the situation, and dating without the intention of choosing a spouse is regarded negatively.
Add to this the labyrinth of caste, sub-caste and language and religious affiliations a typical South Asian family will wade through to find the right son-in-law, and you get the measure of this dilemma.
Puru Kaushal is a well-known astrologer and a general-purpose troubleshooter in the community. The Rexdale grandfather is self-taught, and confesses to have read nothing but occult subjects in the last three decades, with a concentration on Vedic (Indian) astrology.
His specialty is compatibility-related issues. "Give me the date, place and time of birth of two people in a (heterosexual) relationship and I can tell you whether or not they are compatible, with 100-per-cent accuracy," he claims.
In addition to the paying clients who seek guidance on personal and business matters, he also gets a lot of matchmaking requests that he processes free of charge by tapping into his vast network of contacts.
"Girls are better educated than boys and more serious about their future. That's what is creating compatibility problems," Kaushal says.
When men want female company, they are more likely to turn to a dating service than a marriage bureau.
Supra International Introductions, a Mississauga company with a predominantly South Asian clientele, tries to keep a gender balance in its rosters, but at best its male-female ratio is three to two.
More aggressive "Men are more aggressive in seeking my services than women. But it's women who are more into marriage," comments Ken Paes, the firm's marketing consultant.
"What's up with the girl I fixed you with? Haven't heard from either of you in a while," he says to a client over the phone.
"I have a 26-year-old girl," he says, pausing to move the cursor on his laptop, navigating through the database of more than 700 clients, green for male, yellow for female, maroon for gays, "but I guess she'll be too young for you."
He briefly listens to the protest from the other end, and his lips curl in a suppressed smile. "I meant that from her perspective you might be too old for her. She' s from Bombay. I can give you her number, but you'll have to speak to her father first." The conversation seems to end quickly.
Paes's target market is second- and third-generation South Asians for whom "identity crisis" is a big issue. "Some have been married before. A lot of them were pushed into arranged marriages that didn't work, and for the second time around they come our way."
Paes is particularly vocal on the subject of inter-racial marriages. He says they were a fad in the 80s, when a lot of South Asian men married outside their communities. "But lately, fewer men are doing that. Some do date outside the community, but for marriage they'll likely turn to their own people."
Marry-your-own-kind thinking is espoused by younger Canadians of South Asian descent with just as much conviction. Aasma Aziz, a student of diagnostic imaging, identifies herself as a Muslim from a Pakistani family.
Dave Parray is a Ryerson business graduate and belongs to a Hindu family of Indian origin. Both were born and brought up in Toronto, both are ready to settle down, both want their spouses to share their cultural background and both would let their families find a suitable match, though the final decision rests with them.
"I'd like to think that finding a partner is something I can do on my own, but it's not going to happen that way, because there's no opportunity for Pakistani-Canadian women like me to meet men."
Golden fish For Parray, cultural compatibility is more important than anything else -- even religion, though "it'll be nice if she is Hindu. I can't see myself marrying anyone but an Indian woman."
Aziz, within the area of search she has defined for herself, is on the same quest: for a well-educated Pakistani Muslim. She realizes she is seeking a golden fish in a neighbourhood pond.
"There are some who are just wasting away their lives. There are others who'd go back to Pakistan to look for a wife. They have taken in the North American culture in that they have girlfriends, but when it comes down to marriage they want a wife who stays home and cooks. Mind you, such girls don't exist even in Pakistan any more."