They were supposed to be the pick of the bunch, the boys who studied hardest, got the highest grades and went on to bag bumper salaries from the West’s most prestigious companies.
Now, however, those young Indian men face an unexpected pitfall: nobody back home wants to marry them.
For decades, India’s most eligible bachelors came from the IAS (Indian Administrative Service). For prudent Indian mothers, the attractions of these prospective sons-in-law were clear: they were civil servants who commanded respect and, more importantly, were guaranteed jobs for life.
That changed in the 1990s, when only an NRI (non-resident Indian), preferably one lured to London by an investment banking salary or to Silicon Valley by a stack of stock options, would do for parents who wanted the very best for their daughters.
Amid the global economic melt-down, however, the attractions of male NRI singletons have sunk.
“How can I give my sister in marriage to an NRI?” said Nitu Verma, 32, an accountant from Mumbai, who is searching for a husband for Ritu, her 25-year-old sibling. “Previously we were looking for an NRI, but the job situation abroad is so bad an NRI can offer no security,” she added. “Because of the global recession, I’m looking for an Indian groom from a good family.”
Those who work in India’s arranged marriage business say that Mrs Verma is far from alone. “Interest in NRIs has fallen by a quarter in just the past few months,” said Vivek Khare, of Jeevan-saathi.com, a website that helps to arrange up to 6,000 weddings a month.
Last year, an NRI with a decent career in Britain could easily arrange to meet 15 possible brides during one trip to India, according to Mr Khare. Now he would struggle to see five.
The demise of the NRIs’ status owes much to India’s economic renaissance and a new sense of national pride, experts say. “The opportunities to do well in India have increased hugely,” said Vibhas Mehta, of Shaadi.com, another matrimonial website. He added that India’s present brides-to-be are more independent than their predecessors and less taken with the idea of travelling overseas, leaving their own careers and families behind.
The point has been made on the silver screen. When it comes to the most hopeless romancers, few can compare with Mr Collins, the clergyman who attempts to woo Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. When Gurinder Chadha, the British director, chose to film a “Bollywoodised” version set in India, she replaced Mr Collins with Mr Kholi, a brash, boring, money-obsessed NRI accountant from California. In Bride & Prejudice he makes a tilt at Lalita, a modern-minded girl who turns him down flat.
It is not only the NRIs who stand to miss out. In India, scores of private detective agencies do little else but check up on prospective brides, to ensure Indians overseas have received accurate pictures. Hundreds of businesses cater to the NRI diaspora, a global workforce numbering at least six million who sent a combined $30 billion (£21 billion) home to Indian last year, according to the World Bank.
Overall, however, the economic malaise has not dented India’s arranged marriage market. The number of people searching for partners at Shaadi.com rose by nearly a fifth in October compared with September. The site’s executives say the figures prove the business is recession-proof.
“During economic gloom people look for emotional support,” Mr Mehta said. “For that they need a good life partner.”