The Engagement Party
As many can attest, it’s hard enough to meet someone nice, let alone someone special when you’re able-bodied. You can only imagine what it’s like for people with disabilities. For them, often the best option is to turn to Prabha Panse, a former teacher of the hearing impaired. Eighty-year-old Panse runs the JeevanSathi Marriage Bureau that has been arranging matches for people with disabilities for over 20 years.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, Panse receives families with matrimonial prospects at her home-office at Shivaji Park. The prospective brides and grooms are classified and registered according to their disability. “I have many registers where I keep a record of all of them along with a photograph,” Panse says. Each book is filled with handwritten bios written out in Marathi, Hindi, and sometimes English. “Look at this girl, so pretty”, Panse says after opening a page in the register for physically challenged women. “But she had polio. She has a good job but because of her legs, could not find a husband”.
Panse is, in a sense, a grandmother-figure scheming to matchmake off a community of her single children. “I love my work,” says Panse who started the bureau in 1989 after she retired from her position of headmistress. Soon after her former students began visiting her, she realised that a lot of them were steadily growing older and remaining single. She asked around, and realised that while most marriage bureaus do list some handicapped clients, there was no dedicated service for them.
Thirty-six-year-old Shailesh Kulkarni, who was born with cerebral palsy and walks with two canes, signed up with Panse in 2006 after having gone through many traditional matchmaking services. “As my father was getting old, the thought of marriage came to our minds”, he says. “We had enrolled ourselves in various marriage bureaus but we were not getting a proper match”. The problem, he says, was that the families were unsuited to each other. The traditional bureaus were matching only the disability, not backgrounds and attitudes. “Normal marriage bureaus had an attitude of business”, he says. “Prabha Panse has comprehensive details of every family. When you approach the other family, you know how to do it”.
As a general rule, Panse also matches disabilities but since she insists on meeting all her clients, her intuition will guide her to match someone with a cleft palate to someone with polio. In the case of Kulkarni, Panse suggested a handful of girls also with cerebral palsy. The very first family the Kulkarnis called turned out to be the one. Thirty-seven-year-old Vinita had been registered with JeevanSathi for four years with nary a call until 2007. Shailesh first spoke to her parents. “Her mother told me she (Vinita) has a speech problem”, he says.“But it’s ok, na? I mean, I’m also handicapped”. The two agreed to get married after two meetings and are just shy of their second anniversary. Panse said that she has thus far successfully closed the files on 500 couples, some of whom bring their kids to visit her on holidays and birthdays.
Appointments are available every Monday and Wednesday and every first Sunday of the month, 4.30-6.30pm. Call 2444 9380 for more details.Tags: Chhavi Sachdev, Jeevan Sathi Marriage Bureau, Prabha Panse, Special Top Story