A Suitable Match
Seema Akram had given the idea a lot of thought and finally decided there was no harm in it. If her nephew could somehow find a good Pakistani girl in any country, UK, USA, Australia or anywhere else, it would give him a chance to leave Pakistan for good. The question was how to go about the business.
She decided to consult her neighbor and friend Sabiha who was very sharp in these affairs. As soon as she was done with her chores the next day, she dropped in to see her. Sabiha lived four houses down in the same street and the two had been friends for many years. They consulted each other about everything. Sabiha thought about Seema’s idea for a minute. She knew her nephew well and thought it wasn’t a bad proposition at all.
“There are two ways you can do this; you either know someone with a daughter in a foreign country who would be willing to marry Meer or you could talk to a marriage bureau lady. They have rishtas from all over the world.”
“If I knew someone with a daughter in the US, would I come to you asking for advice?” Seema snorted. “The marriage bureau lady sounds like a good way to go but they charge so much. Plus, not all of these marriage bureaus are legit and I have no experience with them. I don’t even know how they operate.”
“My sister-in-law’s friend does this from her house. I hear she is quite popular in the area. I’ll ask my sister-in-law, Tahira, to put in a word for us. But is your nephew even willing to go outside after marriage?”
“Leave that to me. If I can convince his parents, my Bhai and Bhabi, consider the job half done. The boy is very obedient and will agree if they agree. Though he will have a say in this, he won’t do anything without their consent.”
“Some boys in my family aren’t keen at all in leaving their families and immigrating to another country. They’re very attached to the family and home. What if Meer is like them?”
“Only a fool would want to stay in a country that has no water, electricity, gas or jobs. Even if Meer doesn’t want to leave but his parents insist, I know he’ll see sense.”
“Even if the girl lives in Australia or Germany?”
“Even if she’s on the moon!” They both laughed.
“Let me call my sister-in-law and see if she can arrange us a meeting with her friend free of charge. I’m sure she’ll be able to.”
Seema was elated. She hadn’t realized putting her idea in motion would be so easy. Half of her worry had been to find a way to get to a girl. Now that this milestone was covered, she hoped that the rest of the process would go just as smoothly.
Ahmed communicated his conversation with Umair to Ruby the very next day. Ruby was pleasantly surprised, not to mention greatly relieved, to hear that Umair wasn’t interested in a green card and wanted to initiate a ‘compatibility check’ just for the sake of finding a nice girl. Though she had not told Ahmed initially, she had inwardly feared that Umair would jump at the opportunity of marrying a US citizen girl. She told Ahmed now and he was offended.
“You thought I was lying to you when I told you I know my friends very well?” he raised his eyebrows.
“I was sure you weren’t lying but sometimes even we don’t know our friends as well as we think we do.”
“As it turns out, I do know Umair as well as I boast I do.”
“I’m very glad. Plus, if I didn’t trust you, why would I even move this thing forward? It’s just that it is not uncommon for people to react differently when they find themselves in a real life situation. Human behavior is often confusing. So when will he have an answer?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve just put the idea in his head. We have to give him some time. Again, I suggest you don’t get your hopes too high. There is a high probability of him refusing.”
“I hope you’ve told him to keep it strictly to himself at this point…” Ruby was anxious that no one, especially Umair’s parents, should know anything at this very sensitive early time. Ahmed agreed that it was best to let two people judge each other’s merits without any societal or family pressures.
“Why don’t we just make the next move and see how it goes?” Ruby suddenly suggested, thinking ahead. Ahmed was surprised.
“Who’s ‘we’? If you mean the two of us, how do you propose we do this if the guy isn’t even ready?”
“Let’s just move our pawn forward and jumpstart this little game,” she suggested. “Let’s take a chance. Send me his email address.” Ahmed was taken aback.
“I don’t think we….” He tried to get a word in.
“Oh, stop being such a scaredy-cat,” Ruby brushed aside his dubiet. “What’s life without risks?”
“You better not risk my good name on your little jumpstart idea,” he warned.
“I promise I won’t,” Ruby replied gleefully. “I’ll risk mine!”
Sabiha called Seema two days later. She told her to meet her at her place at around noon so that they could both go to see the marriage bureau lady who lived about half an hour’s commute away from their neighborhood.
“That’s peak rush time. Do you think we’ll be able to get home by two-thirty?” Seema asked anxiously. “The kids get home from school then.”
“Come to my house at eleven then and we’ll go early, just to be on the safe side.”
On the agreed day, Seema met Sabiha at her house at precisely eleven. The two friends hurried to the nearest stop on their street to catch a rickshaw. It was a hot and humid day and the sun was already blazing. The street was dusty and the sidewalk was broken in several places. As they approached the stop, the traffic increased. There were loud blares of public buses that drove as if they were in a death race. The fruit and vegetable carts were lined at the side of the road creating temporary shops that sold their produce at their own fixed rates during the day and were gone in the evening. There were two or three rickshaws standing there waiting for rides. After haggling with one over the fare, they set off.
After a good twenty minutes in the traffic, they got off in front of a yellow colored, two-storey house with a deeper yellow colored boundary wall. The street was as broken and dusty as all the streets of Karachi were prone to be. A young maidwas sweeping the concrete area outside the black gate. They asked her if Fatima apa was home. She told them to follow her. They stepped inside the gate and followed the maid across the small lawn in front of the house. The grass was more of a brown shade than green bordered with vinca bushes in violet and white. There were tall, bright pink colored bougainvillea at the far end of the small garden. With a severe water crisis in the entire city, this was the typical type of landscaping found in mostly all the middle class homes; small patches of grass and a few hardy flowers.
The maid told them to wait on the small front porch in front of a closed door and hurried to open it from the inside. A minute later they were in a medium sized sitting room. Noticing the wall-to-wall beige carpet, they left their shoes outside. The room was decorated simply with a pair of sofa and loveseat, couple of small, traditional Sindhi chairs and a landscape painting on a wall. There were two mirror work floor cushions lying on the floor. Though the curtains were drawn in an attempt to keep the sunlight and the heat out, the room was still very bright. The maid turned on the ceiling fan on high speed and left the room. Sabiha stood right under the fan to dry her sweat-drenched neck and shirt. Because the two wore traditional chadarswhenever they left the house, they felt the heat even more.
Five minutes later a pleasant faced lady in a simple shalwarkameez entered the room and introduced herself as Zarinaapa. She was in her late forties with a kind expression and quick, intelligent black eyes concealed behind thick glasses. They could see the grey at her temples and sprinkled sporadically throughout her hair. Obviously, the lady wasn’t too much into vanity. After chatting for a few minutes, Sabiha told her why they were there.
“Yes, Tahira told me that you are looking for a citizen or green card holder girl for a nephew,” she said, referring to Sabiha’s sister-in-law. She had assessed them in a single glance. The two women were dressed in well-stitched shalwarkameez and their chadars, neatly folded and put aside, indicated them to be from respectable, semi-conservative middle class backgrounds. Zarina wasn’t surprised at their request since people like them approached her with similar petitions every other day.
She was well aware that the middle class was the one most suffocated in present day Pakistan. The boys from this class neither had the money to go abroad for higher education nor heavy-duty references to get high paying jobs in good offices and institutions. The entire system was riddled with wrongdoing, bribery and corruption. The cost of living was soaring and in times like this any chance to go abroad meant a better life for the entire family back home.
“Yes,” Seema answered hurriedly. “It is actually for my nephew and though he doesn’t really want to leave his family and move to another country, I think he will agree if there is a good girl somewhere.”
“If he doesn’t want to go outside, why are you wasting your time looking for a girl for him? Are you thinking that the girl will move back here to live with him and his family?” Zarinaapa was surprised. This was a new case; the boy was not interested in moving abroad but the aunt, let alone the parents, was keen to send him out.
“Oh, no, no…,” Seema said hurriedly. “I’m not expecting any girl to move back here. Though his father, my brother, is well settled here, I think my nephew has an opportunity to make a better life for himself if he can be matched up with a family looking for a respectable, educated boy for their daughter. I hear Pakistanis settled in foreign countries are keen on finding educated boys of good families for their daughters.”
“No doubt they are keen, but they are also scared of the fact that many boys marry only for gaining immigration and then leave the girls afterwards,” Zarinaapa explained. “No parent is willing to take a chance with strange boys nowadays. If these families do choose a boy from here, he is either someone from their own family or through someone they know very well.”
Seema was immensely disappointed. She had come to Zarinaapa eagerly, expecting that there would be no dearth of girls for her handsome, educated nephew from a good background. But then a completely strange family from another country wouldn’t know that.
“So, you’re saying that there’s no chance of my nephew finding a girl in another country?” she tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“I don’t know what to tell you. And another thing about middle-class boys looking for these types of matches, and please don’t take it personally, is that they are neither so well educated nor well-groomed enough to be able to attract a girl living abroad. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. This is a major reason why I’m unable to find a girl for them,” Zarinaapa told Seema very clearly.
“Oh, but my nephew has a Master’s degree and we’re Pathan, so my entire family is very good looking,” Seema’s face lit up as she spoke; her nephew clearly defied the two reasons why a girl from the US or anywhere else would reject him. Zarina had noticed that Seema was quite pretty but who knew what her nephew was like.
“Do you have a picture of him?” Sabiha turned to Seema and asked quickly.
“Yes, in my phone,” Seema hastily took out a Chinese manufactured Smartphone from her purse and started scanning her picture folder. Meanwhile, the maidhad brought out two glasses of RoohAfza for them, the most common drink offered to guests in Pakistani homes.
“See this is my nephew,” she handed the phone to Zarinaapa. Zarina took the phone, expecting to see a typical, middle class Pakistani boy in blue jeans and t-shirt with a dark complexion and hair styled like one of the latest Bollywood stars. However, she was quite pleasantly surprised. Indeed, Seema was right about her Pathan family being good looking. The boy in the picture was standing with a lady who was most probably his mother, judging by the resemblance. He was tall with a fair complexion, sharp features and colored eyes, either very dark green or grey, she couldn’t tell in the picture. He was dressed in a navy blue shalwarkameez and was smiling. The boy was handsome and both the son and mother appeared to be well groomed. Also, the fact that he had a Master’s degree reflected his interest in education. However, Zarina refrained from expressing any positivity in her attitude as she didn’t want to raise Seema’s hopes prematurely.
“Yes, your nephew is quite good looking,” she said mildly, handing the phone back to Seema. “But is he ambitious enough to work hard to get somewhere? I mean, I don’t personally know you so I can’t be sure if he’s just looking to marry an educated girl in order to have an easy life with a wife who will be the primary breadwinner.” Zarina’s candid remark offended Seema immensely.
“I can assure you that he is not a free loader,” she said sharply. “Pathans are known for their hard work and honesty. The last thing you can expect a Pathan to do is sit at home and eat his wife’s earnings.”
“Why are you so keen to send him outside if your brother is well settled here?”
“My brother is retired and has a large family who lives in a joint family system. Though they are managing well, life is getting very hard in Pakistan, especially for people who want to earn honestly and move ahead. Two of his sons and a daughter are already married. Only Meer and a younger sister are still unmarried. I don’t see any harm for his third son to try to settle down abroad if he gets the opportunity. The boy is motivated, enthusiastic, and young and he would only be stuck in a rut in Karachi. No other reason.”
“I can’t promise anything but I’ll let you know if there is a potential match. Send three or four of his pictures and his full name and parent’s names to me.”
Seema immediately texted Meer’s pictures and the other information to ZarinaApa. Seema’s family had moved to Karachi from northern Pakistan when Seema was very young. Her father was a member of an important tribe there and Seema and her much older brother were his only children. He had chosen to move to Karachi due to the growing security concerns at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Now that Meer’s education was almost over, his parents were thinking of finding a girl for him very soon. Attempting to relocate her nephew to another country was purely Seema’s idea and neither Meer nor his parents were aware of her plans. Zarina wrote everything down in her thick notebook.
As the two friends were putting on their chadars to leave, Sabiha hesitatingly asked Zarinaapa about the charges.
“I won’t charge anything because not only did Tahira put in a special word for you but because, frankly, I’m not even sure there is a girl for your nephew out there. Consider this a favor but please don’t mention this to anyone else. The reason I charge a fee is because I don’t want a crowd outside my door. People are so worried about finding matches that I’ll be flooded with calls and unsolicited visitors if I start working for free.”
That made sense. They both thanked her and walked out, scanning the road for any empty rickshaws driving by. (Continued next week)