Monday 24 April 2017 News Updated at 09:04 AM IST
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Matchmaking of a different kind - Deccan Herald
Matchmaking of a different kind
Sunil Raghu in Ahmedabad, April 9, 2017, DHNS
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Three elderly couples get married.
Tragedies over centuries have brought out not just the worst but at times the best in humanity and humans. The killer temblor of January 26, 2001 in Kutch district of Gujarat was one such tragedy that had thrown up innumerable stories of death, destruction, trauma as well as those of resilience, grit and optimism.

The life of 69-year-old Natubhai Patel is one such story that emerged out of ashes of the quake that saw over 18,000 deaths in the region. He was working as a superintendent with the ministry of planning and living in Kutch during those times.

He was primarily a weekend family man, with his family living in Ahmedabad and he being in Kutch from Monday to Friday to carry out his professional duties. So when the temblor shook the earth, he was on leave back home in Ahmedabad with family. Though he survived the quake, he saw his place of stay in Kutch crumble to ground.

"Like thousands of volunteers who participated in the global rescue and relief operations in Kutch, I saw that there were people aiding homeless, orphans, elderly with physical and emotional aid. However, not many could see the pain in the eyes of lonely middle-aged people,” Natubhai Patel says.

There were so many people around who had lost their partners in the natural catastrophe and the family man in Natubhai took upon himself to help these partnerless people. "The tragedy gave me an idea of bringing two such single people together in times of pain. I felt it would be a great service in times of loneliness. I lived through it every week of my professional life as I had to live without my family. So, as soon as I got an opportunity, I started a marriage bureau,” he says.

In the beginning years, he got 150 resumes from such people and now after having operated his organisation for over 15 years, he has been able to get 228 men and women to tie the knot and become couples. "Today, youngsters are too busy with their personal and professional lives. They find it difficult to squeeze in time for themselves, leave alone their elderly in the family. So helping bring these middle-aged couples together serves to benefit society from becoming a lonely one,” he adds.

Today, his marriage bureau Vina Mulye Amulya Seva (Priceless Service at No Cost) has presence pan-India, with database of over 8,000 men and women in the age group of 40 years and above. All this is done in physical format.

Natubhai is not a big believer of using social media for his work as he thinks that people can cheat and misinform using online database. The only e-link to his world is email ID or contact number being made available on the online platform of his foundation - Anubandh Foundation.

"We have to have physical database of state-wise prospective candidates. I retired from government service in 2009 and since then me and my family do all this painstaking work in the late afternoon on weekends and as we do it without financial consideration, at times it is worth seeing the queues of people coming to meet us from all over,” he adds.

Natubhai has presence across the country, be it Indore, Bhopal, Kolkata, Raipur, Chennai, Kochi, Bengaluru, Kashmir, Punjab or Mumbai. The only states, that Natubhai is yet to register his presence in are Bihar and Assam. "Among all the states in India, the most forward looking states where elderly are more open to start second innings are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka,” Natubhai said.

"The other thing that we find from our experience is that this is more of an urban phenomena as people are lonely amidst massive population and swanky infrastructure. In rural India, society supports the elderly even today. It may not be a perfect system but somehow elderly are looked after by the entire village. They have place to gather and talk about many things, unlike big cities which have high number of waiting lists for getting parents admitted to old-age homes,” he says.

The other thing that he rues about is that despite multiple efforts, not many women are still coming forward due to societal stigma. Of the 8,000 resumes that his organisation has, only 10% of them are women. "We hold get togethers for these wannabe couples and pay for travel and stay of women to encourage them to leave their past behind and move forward. During last summit we had 22 women participate and five of them are now talking to their prospective grooms. Hope things work out,” he adds.

In fact, Natubhai is not known just for being one of its kind marriage bureau for elderly but for holding the distinction of being the unique one in the country to hold pre-marital tours for wannabe couples to meet and know each other better. "When we have 50-60 elderly, we have taken them for an eight-day tour to some place in the country. All of them travel together, live under one roof and get to know each other’s habits, health condition and even behavourial nuances about each other. Long stay together brings out the best and the worst, helping soul mates eventually meet,” he says.

And most of the tours organised by Natubhai have generally been to locales that are known more as honeymoon destinations, be it Kulu Manali, Kashmir or in exotic South India. During the last such tour held in February, the couples travelled to the Queen of Arabian Sea - Kochi - to experience the backwaters, walked through the Fort Kochi area and other locales. "We choose only exotic locales to help soothe the nerves of couples who join the tour with lot of expectations and excitement,” Natubhai says.

And to the big question what do really women at this age want? Natubhai lets in the secret, "man with good stable economic condition!” He says the women do not have qualms about marrying a male who may be much older if he can provide them financial security. And what about men? Well, all they seek is a loving and caring woman.

"All I can say is that despite age and experience, matchmaking at this ripe age is still a difficult task. We have seen three failures and couples have divorced. The family has to welcome as in the case of newly-weds. I would have great satisfaction when children begin bringing their elderly for marriages. They must know that if their parents get a right partner, their lifespan would increase by 5 to 10 years. I hope to see this social change in my lifetime,” he adds.