A Suitable Match
Humna was propped up in bed ready to switch off the light and call it a day. Just before she did, she checked her email on her phone and was surprised to see one from Ruby.
‘Umair is ready to move forward just to gauge compatibility. It took some serious coaxing before he agreed. That’s a big point for him. Interestingly, he is as scared of US-born and -raised girls as you are of him. I haven’t shared any pictures of you, so don’t worry on that part. Have told him not to discuss this with anyone until you two think it is going somewhere. You have to take a chance somewhere Humna. Let’s just start here. Start with emails first. Give my reference. Good luck.’
Ruby had sent Umair’s email address with the email. Humna read the mail again, more carefully this time, weighing every sentence. There really was no harm in taking a chance. In the worst possible scenario, it wouldn’t work out. If nothing else, Ruby would at least be proven wrong in trusting anyone blindly, even if it was one of her hubby’s best friends. Out of curiosity, Humna shot off a few lines before turning off her bedside lamp.
It was almost ten in the morning and Umair was about to leave for the University. Just before he powered off his computer, he checked his email. An email from a Humna Saeed caught his eye. He assumed it was one of those random request mails for donations. He clicked it quite absent mindedly, intending to delete it, his mind on his classes for the day.
‘AssalamAlaikumUmair. My name is Humna Saeed. I got your email address from my friend Ruby who is married to your friend Ahmed. She suggested we communicate a little as pen pals to see if our interests match. I have never done this with a guy from Pakistan before and I really don’t know how I should proceed. More later. Take care.’
Incredulously Umair read the email two or three times. He then shook his head, a frown creasing his forehead. That idiot Ahmed had obviously jumped the gun and given his email address to the girl he had mentioned without even waiting for his reply. He had no intention to reply to the email right away. First, he had to talk with Ahmed. He logged out and shut down the computer.
After Seema and Sabiha had left, Zarina went over the pictures of the boy carefully. He was quite good looking and if the family really was as respectable as Seema asserted, then there was a pretty good chance of him finding a match from an equally respectable family in the US. Zarina only dealt with matches in the US because her cousin ran a wedding bureau of sorts there and the two of them consulted on potential matches. She had no contacts in Europe or Australia. But before she sent Meer’s information to her cousin, she decided to have a quick talk with her friend Tahira, Sabiha’s sister-in-law, who had referred Seema to her. Zarina was extremely cautious about who she was dealing with and always tried to do a little background investigation about the people who came to her before she attempted to match them with someone else. She was wary of scams and though no one could hold her liable if things went wrong, she still took her match making seriously.
She called Tahira right after lunch and got a good report on Seema. The family was indeed of Pathanorigin. Meer’s father had a good reputation in the neighborhood and Tahira had also met the mother and sisters a couple of times at events at Seema’s house. That was all Zarina was likely to find out. The rest of the investigation was up to the girl’s side if they were interested in the boy.
Zarina turned on her Viber late that evening and messaged her cousin in the US that she had a very good boy looking for a citizen girl. She then texted her Meer’s pictures with name, education, parents’ names and number of siblings. She got a reply right back from her cousin that she had a potential girl but was she, Zarina, sure that the boy and the family were reliable? Zarina replied that they were very reliable as far as she knew and that the rest was up to the girl’s side. However, she told her cousin to wait for her message before she sent the boy’s information to the girl’s side. She first had to get in touch with Seema to ask her if she should proceed since there was a chance that the boy wouldn’t want to marry a girl from the US. In case the boy or his parents refused to consider such a match at all, Zarina would merely be wasting her own time as well as her cousin’s.
The four friends were gathered at Jabeen’s house for their regular tea party. One of Jabeen’s friends had a dress boutique in Karachi and often sent her party-wear shalwarkameez for sale. As soon as a package arrived, Jabeen was quick to call her three cronies first so that they could have the first pick from the lot before she told anyone else in the community. Khalida, Zahra and Tahira got good deals on the latest fashion clothes from Jabeen’s friend since her prices were not hiked up as exorbitantly as other people selling the same type of shalwarkameez in the area.
The batch this time was embroidered light linens and cottons for summer. The long flowing shirts had matching cotton pants and chiffon duppattaswhich were also embroidered lightly to match the shirts. With all the socializing they did, everyone wanted to be well stocked with the latest styles and these were perfect for lunches and brunches. They all picked out the ones they wanted and Jabeen was left with only eleven more to sell after they were done with their selection.
During tea, the conversation turned to Mrs Ali and her total failure so far in sending any good boys’ references for Saira or Humna.
“I think you two are expecting too much from the poor lady,” said Jabeen. “Why don’t you spread the search circle a little wider? I hear there are people in other states who are doing the same thing. Why don’t you get the girls registered there too?”
“I’ve never been in favor of these match-making ladies,” Zahra replied, shaking her head. “The only reason I’m comfortable with Mrs Ali is because she is also a distant relative.”
“Distant relative?” Tahira stared at her blankly. She didn’t know Mrs.Ali was also Zahra’s cousin’s wife’s aunt.
“She’s so fraught with desperation now that whoever agrees to help her with finding a match becomes her instant-distant relative,” Khalida said, laughing out loud. Tahira and Jabeen joined in. Zahra slapped Khalida’s shoulder. Khalida was aware of this family connection but was just jesting her in good fun.
“If I’m not mistaken, you also have Saira registered with her,” Zahra pointed out.
“That’s only because she’s your relative,” Khalida teased her again.
“Well she is my sister-in-law’s aunt,” she shrugged her shoulders.
“And hence your distant relative too,” Tahira said and the three broke out in laughter again.
“Jokes aside, she is my only lifeline at the moment,” said Zahra, giving in. “I’m still hopeful from Mrs Ali and certainly not in any mood to spread the circle to start experimenting with online marriage bureaus.”
“All we can do is sit and wait then,” Khalida said glumly, agreeing with her.
Hearing her two friends talk like this never failed to alarm Tahira. Maheen was going to graduate that year. Though she had full intentions to go on to grad school for her Master’s in Public Health, Tahira knew that she had to find a match at the right age. Maheen could continue her studies after marriage too but her chances of finding a good match after grad school would be greatly reduced given the age factor. The Pakistani mindset worked in a weird way. The guys still had an open field even when they were no longer eligible to be referred to as ‘boys’ but were decidedly ‘men’. It was different with girls like theirs. Very attractive and well groomed but not strikingly beautiful, from stable financial backgrounds but not overly rich, and educated but not doctors, engineers or lawyers. Tahira had every reason to be worried.
Umair thought about Humna’s email the entire day. Ahmed hadn’t come to the University that day so he didn’t get a chance to talk to him about his going forward like this without his consent. He thought about calling him but decided against it; the arrow had already left the bow and couldn’t be retrieved. After coming home, he read the email again and then decided to reply. Worst comes to worst, his assumptions about the vanity of US- born and -raised Pakistani girls would be proven correct. This would be a good way to prove Ahmed and his young wife Ruby wrong. He finally started to draft a formal reply.
‘WalaikumAssalam Miss Saeed. You email was a surprise for me. Just to let you know, I’m not in the habit of communicating informally or casually with any girl. The only emails with girls are those that I exchange with my fellow university classmates for study and professional purposes. I am treating this communication similarly. Ahmed is a very good friend and I respect him and his wife. Being her good friend, I respect you equally. I’m sure you are aware of the reason why we have been introduced to each other. I suggest we start by talking a little about our education and our family background. Wassalam. UmairAkram. ‘
Umair grabbed Ahmed by the arm and literally dragged him to an isolated spot in the University lawn as soon as he saw him.
“Couldn’t you just wait for my reply before you started giving my email address to every girl you want me to marry?” he said in a loud whisper. Although Umair was frustrated with Ahmed, part of this frustration was with himself for having responded to Humna so promptly. “Why don’t you just give a matrimonial ad on my behalf in the local paper so we can start screening multiple prospects simultaneously?” Ahmed freed his arm from his grasp and suppressed the urge to smile.
“Did she email you already?” he asked, pretending to be both crossed and extremely surprised at the same time. It took him an instant to figure out what had happened.
“Of course, she did! What did you expect after giving her my email address, you gadhay.”
“Yaar,” Ahmed shook his head with a mixture of pretend disbelief and exasperation. “I had given Ruby your email address but I didn’t know she had already passed it on to her friend. I had told her to wait till you had given me your reply. But she must have misunderstood me.” Ahmed was glad that at least most of this statement was true; he had given Ruby the email address and he had told her to wait because Umair was still mulling over the idea. However, the decision to give the email address to Humna anyway was entirely Ruby’s. Although he had suspected she would do this, he didn’t tell Umair.
Umair just glared at him very suspiciously.
“Why do I still feel that you were very much involved in this little plan?”
“Look, Bhai meray, what’s done is done,” Ahmed tried to cool him down in a conciliatory tone. “Just handle it like a getting-to-know phase in any other match. Forget the fact that the girl is in the US. There’s nothing wrong with communicating with a girl on serious issues. Just pretend I’m your mother and I’m suggesting this girl for you!”
“And I’ve told you before, stop trying to become my mother!” Umair glared at him.
“Ok, just forget the mother part. But the girl is from a similar family background like ours except that she doesn’t live in Pakistan. Plus, there is no compulsion. You’re free to walk away if you sense anything that is not proper or according to your liking. Stop reacting as if I drugged you and left you in a nightclub for the entire night!”
He got a big slap on the shoulder for that remark. (Continued next week)