By Daniel Pepper, Fortune
(FORTUNE Magazine) -- Every day in the congested northern Indian city of Allahabad, mothers amble nervously through the entrance of Shaadi Point to talk to Kiran Chowla. They come clutching studio portraits of their sons and daughters in suits and saris, and with pages of profiles listing religion, caste, star sign, skin color, and income level.
"Love?" asks Chowla, 54, removing her spectacles and raising her eyebrows. "It is a feeling of the heart, and it comes with association."
Association - the web-based kind - is what Chowla offers her clients. Her shop, one of 130 such franchises in India, is a storefront version of the country's top matrimony Web site, Shaadi.com.
Log on to the computer inside and a database of 400,000 verified candidates pops up. A global audience of nine million registered users is waiting to respond. And for a premium fee of about $200, Chowla will also publish a notice in newspapers and magazines and rank the matrimonial candidate higher online.
Romance is big business in India. The country’s marriages have traditionally been arranged. Nowadays, they are arranged matches or love matches (meaning not arranged). Even the rules surrounding arranged matches have relaxed slightly, with the prospective couple typically having veto power over the match. Indian marriage sites are not that vastly different from American dating sites. The Indians are just cutting to the chase (where as we cowboys care for a bit more horseplay first), and moving quickly toward the ultimate goal. Since Elton John walked Elizabeth Hurley down the aisle, you have to wonder if he set this whole thing up with her hubbie, Arun Nayar’s, folks.