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April 16, 2017

A Scientific Guide To Selecting A Suitable Partner

Text by Nittal Chandarana. Illustration by Charbak Dipta

Beyond horoscopes and religious jargon lies a more scientific method for selecting your significant other

Staring at a board generously littered with Polaroids of smiling men, I thought to myself — this is how a detective deduces the identity of the perpetrator. With my pictures and Post-its, I could be building the character graph for a forthcoming novel. But neither was I waiting for a Watson, nor was there any intention to write a book. My purpose was far less noble. It was a modest attempt at making groom-scouting an enjoyable project. I had created my own off-screen Tinder from the headshots my aunt had handed to me. Vikram Seth would be highly unimpressed, but to me this was an adequate way to look for a suitable boy.

As I am constantly reminded these days, I’m not getting any younger. All sorts of clocks are ticking, reason enough to rush from the altar to the maternity ward. The freezing-eggs business was vetoed by the family. They were all about arranging the marriage, dashing any dreams of romantic trysts. “Let’s just have a swayamvara if we’re doing things the old-fashioned way,” I giggled. The laughter halted in my throat as I encountered one stone-faced glare after another.

Advice came in the form of a Koffee With Karan episode where Twinkle Khanna revealed that she agreed to marry Akshay Kumar only after conducting thorough research on illnesses and deaths in his family. This seemed like the most practical way to pick a partner, but clever as it may be, it must have involved a good deal of effort at the time; these days all you have to do is sign up for a service like The Gene Box. What if you could walk into their office and demand a test to uncover the secrets locked in your betrothed’s DNA, rather than the usual health and fitness reports they render? Who knows, it might even be added on to their website as a premium (read secret) service.

Consider this. In this part of the world, marriage is a license for sex, and by extension, it would be safe to assume that the purpose of holy matrimony is the popping of a child. It would only be pragmatic to conceive the best possible version from this exchange. I don’t mean producing a designer baby — the stuff of sci-fi movies which involves selecting traits pertaining to beauty, intelligence or aptitude to create the perfect offspring you desire. Scientists have been tinkering with DNA long enough that it may be possible some day.

Every few years the talk of designing a baby resurfaces and each time it is challenged for being unethical. Gene testing, on the other hand, firmly sits on the right side of the ethics debate. It promotes eliminating the risk of passing on heart disease, obesity, blood pressure, mental illness, and so on instead of forcing desirable qualities on to a child. Ensuring that it will not suffer the trials and tribulations of generations past can only be a good thing.

But this was beautiful. No peacocking around. No courting rituals required. Although I wouldn’t mind being a part of the African tribe Wodaabe’s ritual of Gerewol, a beauty pageant where men adorn themselves, paint their faces, and strut their stuff in a bid to win the heart of a ‘new’ wife.

It is decided. I remove the pictures from my wall, stacking them into a folder for the family’s perusal. Convincing them won’t be easy, but they do share my DNA, so I’m hopeful for a change of heart. If not, I’ll hand them copies of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene. Nothing like some scientific reading to do the trick.

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