At 57, I have had several nerve-wracking experiences, some personal and most others professional. But, this was new, rather unknown.
Arun, my only son, looked nonchalant. He was setting up the conference room we were in, on the 85th floor with a backdrop of skyscrapers. What a view! I imagined my two-story office building with files and photographs everywhere overlooking a small tea shop.
My wife Uma and I visit him every year from India. This has been our annual ritual since he moved to Toronto for college and settled here. This year, we knew, would be different.
Arun spoke, “Ready?”
I saw an animated girl on the monitor smiling at me. In my 10 years of visiting him, he has never invited me to his office. But this time, I was about to be in one of his important meetings, on a ‘top’ project, as he called it.
“Yes, let’s start”, I said.
I would have done anything to stop his nasty divorce with Pooja. I was their matchmaker, a regret I will always carry. I don’t know what went wrong but, making me the villain of their story made it easier for them to end their 3-year-long marriage.
I have not heard him call me ‘papa’ since then.
As we were joined by few other people, Arun started speaking, “Today, we will witness the future of matchmaking”.
He paused to look at me and continued, “It’s called ‘BestHalf.ai’. This girl on the monitor is a virtual robot called Anna, a personal assistant for anyone looking to find a match.”
Hi Anna! I am your competitor from the world of traditional matchmakers.
I listened as he continued.
“Let’s assume that I am looking for a potential partner for myself.” I wish you meant that.
He spoke as he showed the screen, “I go to this app and create a profile with all my personal details”
Got it, son. My intake form just made fancier.
Suddenly, Anna, came to life.
“Hi Buddy! I am Anna, the best. Are you here to hookup? Yes? Oh please, get out right away. If you are looking for a partner, put on your glasses and get ready to answer the questions that follow”, she stopped.
He handed me a glass. The moment I wore it, the skyscrapers vanished. I was in a house. There was also an angry woman in the scene. She was yelling at me for not being home early. As this went on, which was the most annoying sound I have heard after Uma’s voice when she got angry, a new screen opened with a question.
Anna asked, “What would you do to tackle this angry partner?”.
And then 4 options appeared –
Yell back [Beep…Beep…Beep]
Be silent & apologize [Show your other cheek as Bible says]
Switch on TV [Packers or Vikings?]
Get out of the house [F**K this S**T]
I must admit this was hilariously realistic, though I did not understand the American references made!
Arun said, “Remove the glasses”. I did. “As you saw, Anna will save my choice here. I can take as many scenarios as I like. The more, the better. Based on my choices, she will start finding my matches. See”.
He clicked few ‘Next’ buttons and the screen was listing down 3 names. One of them showed 90% in green. As he opened it, Anna spoke, “Arun, this girl has maximum characteristics to complement your characters.
He explained, “If I chose ‘Yell back’ as my option and my guess is this girl chose to ‘Be silent’, this can neutralize the situation, hence complementing”. Does it?
There I was, matching people for 30 years with mostly astrology, status and caste. Top things most of my customers cared about.
I miserably failed to hide the sarcasm in my tone, “Can this app also deliver your match at your doorstep? Because I heard ‘Delivery at your doorstep’ is the trend today”.
The room giggled. Someone said, “Great idea!”. Arun gave his team a stern look and they stopped.
I broke the silence with a serious question this time. “Arun, why do you need me here?”.
I was trying to hide my emotions. After successfully matching many, I was confident that I will find the best match for my son. I rejected the Christian girl he chose because marriage, in India, meant two families coming together. And my family would have never came together with theirs. Arun was a good kid. So, he finally agreed to let me choose the girl. I am not convinced yet that choice of girl was the issue. But I became the scapegoat, once things started falling apart.
I was happy to see him get out of depression. But I did not realize until now, that personal anger was fueling his motivation to create this app. This was him taking revenge. Revenge on human, traditional matchmakers. Like me.
“Yes, I want you to test this app and give your feedback, with your experience and knowledge on gauging customer requirements, atleast most of the times”, I did not like how it sounded. But hey, first time after his divorce, he is asking me for a help.
If this technology gets out, the world of matchmaking as I knew it, might never exist again. If I don’t help, he might never give me another chance to make up for what he thinks I did to him.
“Can you give me some time to decide?”, I said.
Arun showed me the extension to call him once I am ready.
This stark silence reminded me of the angry woman yelling and everything that followed. Naïve! I thought to myself. It takes much more than an Anna and some fancy technology for a successful marriage.
Yet, I was afraid to jump either way, like a cat on the fence. To announce my support for this app is as good as calling myself a traitor to my community of matchmakers.
After contemplating for a long time, I dialed the extension to Arun and told my decision.
He said, “Thanks Papa”, and hung up.