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Dubai 'marriage merchant' finds love for upwardly mobile Indians

By Mark Tutton for CNN
Sumeet Merchant says he reads "minds and hearts" to provide a perfect love match.
Sumeet Merchant says he reads "minds and hearts" to provide a perfect love match.
  • Sumeet Merchant calls himself the "Merchant of Marriage"
  • He is a Dubai-based matchmaker who says he has set up 3,000 weddings
  • Most of his clients are parents looking for a husband for their daughters
  • Women are looking for a modern man who is financially secure, men want a "slim, tall" wife

(CNN) -- He is the self-styled "Merchant of Marriage" -- a Dubai matchmaker who says he has helped set up 3,000 weddings for the Emirate's Indian and Pakistani community.

Sumeet Merchant moved to Dubai from India in 1972 and has been playing Cupid for the last 17 years.

There are around one million Indians in Dubai, according to India's Embassy in the UAE, and Merchant told CNN it's common for Indian and Pakistani parents to search for a suitable spouse for their children

Most of his clients are parents searching for husbands for their daughters. But they won't accept just any suitor.

"Everybody looks for a boy who can afford to keep a wife in Dubai, which is very expensive these days. Every parent wants a professionally qualified boy, from a good family, who can keep their daughter happy," he said.

Video: 'Merchant of Marriage'

Prospective brides are usually aged between 22 and 27 and are typically educated to at least degree level "so they are not financially dependent on their husband," he said.

They are usually looking for men aged from 28 to 31, who have a Masters degree and have already climbed a few rungs of the career ladder.

"Every girl now, they are not looking for a slim, tall or handsome man; they are looking for a good-natured boy, a modern boy who allows their wife to work, and is financially secure," said Merchant.

"And the boys are always looking for slim, tall, fair and good-looking girls. They want their wife to look like in the movies."

Merchant explained that in money-centric Dubai, where career comes first, young professionals don't have the time to find their Mr. or Mrs. Right. Which is where he comes in.

For between $1,000 and $2,000 you can secure Merchant's services for three months. He places singles adverts in the national newspapers, vets the applicants to ensure compatibility, and sets up meetings between the families of the prospective spouses.

One example of an ad placed by Merchant for Dubai-based Hindu clients "inviting proposals for" their daughter includes reference to their caste -- Brahmin -- and their daughter's level of education -- BBA (Marketing).

The ad encouraged responses from "well-educated and well-settled, Gujarati, Sindhi, Bhatia, Maharashtrian or North Indian Hindu boys in UAE."

Merchant told CNN he often gets 150 men responding to a single advert, and he will typically rule out 70 percent because they don't earn enough. Those whom he deems suitable he will interview in person.

"I ask if you are [a] smoker or alcoholic, whether you are fit for marriage -- you are not impotent -- if you are a perfect man or not," he said.

"When I find the right match I arrange a meeting either in the lobby of a five-star hotel or in a beautiful shopping mall, between the two families. And after that the boy and girl talk separately."

Merchant also coaches both the potential partners before their meeting, telling them how they can to dress to impress, and what they should avoid saying so they don't scare off their would-be soul mate.

I tell them to say only the good points -- the minus points come later on.
--Sumeet Merchant, matchmaker
  • Dating
  • Dubai
  • Middle East

"I tell them to say only the good points -- the minus points come later on."

"When the boy and girl like each other, slowly you can say, 'I drink a bit much but after marriage I'll stop. I smoke too much but after the marriage I'll stop.'

"Once the boy finds the girl is beautiful, well educated, and well qualified, the boy always makes a compromise for one of the bad habits he might have."

Last year Dilip Paranjape, based in Dubai, was struggling to find a suitable husband for his 26-year-old niece Uttara, who was living in Bombay.

"She wanted to marry somebody from outside India," Paranjape told CNN.

"We tried to spread the word in our friend circle but it did not click. The main problem is that it's such an intimate subject people don't want to talk about it in public."

Paranjape came across Merchant's adverts in the classified section of his newspaper and enlisted his help in finding a good man from a good family.

"We say it is not only the relation between two people, it's the relation of two families," said Paranjape. "The bonding between the two people must be for years to come, not just for today."

Like most of Merchant's clients, Paranjape and his niece wanted a well-educated, well-off man, and Merchant provided him with five candidates.

Paranjape met them and whittled the list down to two, and Uttara decided on a 30-year-old Dubai man whose family were also from Bombay. The pair have now been happily married for seven months, said Paranjape.

But while families are often the instigators of Merchant's matchmaking, it is their children who ultimately decide if they want to marry.

Merchant told CNN, "The family background is very important in a marriage. Both girls and boys understand that, and they let the parents select the family. But the girls and boys are selecting their life partner."

For the "Merchant of Marriage," the part he plays in helping people make that decision is more than just a job -- it's sacred.

"Parents trust me," he said. "Every girl who comes to me is like my daughter. For me it's a very holy job. Marriage is always made by god in heaven".

Leone Lakhani contributed to this story.