A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
“They are from WHERE?” Humna sputtered her milkshake and stared at Ruby in amazement. Then she turned to Saira.
“Is this true?” Saira meekly nodded. She was ready to face a barrage of questions from Humna.
“Tell her where your proposal is from?” Ruby then coaxed Humna. She was enjoying this immensely. She was no longer the ‘outcast’ in her group of friends who had taken the ‘serious, blind leap of faith’ when she married Ahmed. The number of members in the club was now up to three.
“Umair’s from Karachi too!” Humna said sheepishly. Saira stared at her, agape.
“Are you serious?” she exclaimed. “That’s so great! Wow! I mean what a coincidence!”
“Yes, indeed it is,” Ruby interjected, pretending to be hugely relaxed. “Now the two of you can start ‘comparing your notes’ and release me from the task of counselor.”
The three of them laughed. This was intriguing, especially the fact that Umair was Ahmed’s friend and that Ruby had played a major role in the rishta.
“How did Zahra Aunti feel about a son-in-law from Pakistan?” Saira asked Humna.
“She hasn’t ‘felt’ anything yet,” Humna replied good-humouredly.
“Meaning?” Ruby was surprised.
“She’ll ‘feel’ when she ‘finds out’,” Humna laughed. The others joined her.
“What about Khalida Aunti? I know she and Ammi share sentiments regarding paindu Pakistani boys…,” Humna asked Saira.
“She too will ‘feel’ when she ‘knows’,” Saira replied promptly. The three broke up in giggles again.
“And who is going to open these cans of worms in your homes?” Ruby was very curious.
“Our fathers,” Saira replied comically. “The two of them are conspiring about this together.”
“But I’m confused as to how this very critical point didn’t come up when the boys’ mothers talked to each other,” Ruby was confused.
“I don’t know about Ibrahim uncle but on my end Abbu makes sure that he handles most of the conversation. He hasn’t encouraged Ammi to have long discussions with the mother yet. He’s told her that the men in Pathan homes run the show. He’s told her to let me make up my mind before the parents get into serious discussions,” said Saira.
“More or less the same story at my end,” said Humna. “Both fathers deserve a medal for their strategic planning! Ammi is actually relieved that for once Daddy has taken the helm of the rishta boat. Interestingly, not only is Umair Ahmed’s school friend but Salman Uncle and his family have also known Umair’s family for years.”
“I’m suspecting that after your fathers break the news, they’ll also be eligible for Medals of Honor for their valor and bravery!!” Ruby said, giggling. She was having a grand time with this little game.
“I guess that takes care of the background check issue for you guys?” Saira asked Humna who nodded. She looked relaxed and happy. She had never imagined how much of a relief it was to finally find the right guy.
“Why? Is that an issue with you?” Ruby asked Saira. Saira told them about her father’s reservations about saying yes because there was no one to vouch for the Afridi family. The thousands of miles between the two countries further reduced the chances of finding anyone who knew the family personally.
“This is one point on which we have to trust our parents’ judgment,” Ruby told Saira. She wasn’t going to tell her anything else; this really was elders’ territory. “Ahmed and I only introduced Umair and Humna but we weren’t going to force them if their parents decided against it.” Humna nodded.
“Don’t feel so bad,” Ruby patted Saira’s hand. She could see that her friend was trying hard not to appear totally dejected. “Look at the bright side; now that you are open to the idea of finding someone from Pakistan, maybe I could match you with one of Ahmed’s other friends.” Saira laughed.
“Why don’t you formally open a matrimonial office?” she slapped Ruby’s shoulder jokingly.
“But you haven’t yet refused the Afridis, have you?” Humna asked her. Saira sighed and shook her head.
“I will by the end of the week,” she said. “I don’t see the point of dragging this on if this isn’t meant to go anywhere.”
“Don’t be so depressed,” Humna consoled her. Then she turned to Ruby.
“Why don’t you ask Ahmed to send a picture of one of his eligible friends? But make sure it’s as close a friend as Umair. Actually, it would be even better if Umair knows the guy too. That would be perfect.”
“Hey, hey…hold your horses, both of you!” Saira put up her hands laughing. “I haven’t said no to the other party yet, you know! You guys are already matching me up with someone else?”
“Yes, let’s hold our horses Ruby,” Humna said comically. “She’s still in a relationship!!”
“I am not!” Saira laughed, embarrassed.
“But Salman how could we refuse such a good proposal simply because they are strangers? Any other rishta could be a stranger too,” Khalida said, aghast.
“Because I’m not comfortable with it. I’ve been unable to find any references for them. And I think we should tell Saira to back out before she gets too involved,” Salman replied firmly.
“But Mrs Ali’s cousin knows the family quite well. She’s a very reliable lady.”
“I’m not saying that she’s not reliable. But her cousin is as much of a stranger to us as the Afridis. I’m sorry but I’m not comfortable making such a rash decision.”
“But surely you know someone on the East Coast who knows them? I mean we could talk to the scholars at the local Islamic centers there and see what people have to say about them.”
“That is not the right way to do a background check on anyone as important as your future in-laws. Plus, you said yourself that the boy’s mother sounded too much of a simpleton,” Salman replied.
Khalida had talked once to Meher Afridi and had told Salman that she couldn’t believe how much of a simpleton the lady was. Saira had shown her a family picture that Meer had sent her. She was a graceful, regal looking lady in her mid-fifties. Khalida figured it was understandable given that she was from a conservative Pathan family and a housewife. Inwardly, Khalida was glad. If anything at all, Meher Afridi was a pleasant change from the numerous, arrogant boys’ mothers she had encountered since actively starting Saira’s rishta hunt. Now Salman was making it sound like she had meant it in a bad way.
“I didn’t mean it like it was the lady’s negative quality Salman, and you know that.” The thought of having to back out now was most distressing. Especially since Saira had informed her earlier in the week that Meer’s family was ready to formally propose as soon as Saira gave her answer.
“Give me the name of the city where they live,” she decided to try and see if she could find an acquaintance there. “I’ll see if I can find some friend of a friend or someone who can do a background check.” Salman sighed. It was time to tackle the bull by the horns.
“They live very far from us Khalida.”
“They can’t be on the moon, Salman,” Khalida was losing patience with her husband. “Why do you harp on about the distance? I know that the East Coast means the other side of the country.”
“Actually, they’re not on the other side of this country….”
“They’re actually in a different continent and country…Pakistan to be exact.”
“They are from WHERE….?????? Khalida stared at Salman as if she had seen a ghost.
“Pakistan,” Salman answered calmly. Khalida was speechless for a moment.
“How is that possible?” she slapped her forehead, “I mean…we thought they were in the US. I mean…did you just find out?” Khalida didn’t know what to say.
“No… I haven’t just found out. I’ve known all along.” Khalida was stunned at his words; he had known all along and never bothered to tell her?
“And when were you planning to tell me, Salman? After two of our grandkids were in school?” she said sarcastically. Salman was most amused.
“Of course not, darling, I would have told you long before then.”
“Don’t be funny, Salman,” she snapped, still trying to get over the shock. “This whole thing is off and I mean it. I’m not going to marry my daughter off to a Pakistani paindu.”
“But you married one yourself…not to mention the fact that, being a Pakistani, you yourself are a ‘paindu’ too.”
“We’re not paindus,” she said indignantly. “And don’t try to change the subject.”
“I’m not trying to change the subject,” Salman assumed a reasonable tone. “If we’re not paindus, neither is Meer and neither will be the other boys that we might consider for our daughter who happen to be in Pakistan.”
Khalida was silent. This was not something she had anticipated. The Afridi family and their son who had been in rosy light all this time suddenly started looking like sinister aliens.
“Khalida, you have to get this notion of Pakistani boys being paindu, uneducated, gold-diggers, out of your head. This is a very respectable family, judging by the way they have been communicating. The mother and sister are soft spoken and simple. The boy is not only good looking but educated and ambitious…”
“But he lives in Pakistan…!”
“And that’s supposed to chuck all their good qualities down the drain?”
“But he could be marrying Saira just to get a green card…”
“Then Saira can go and settle with him in Karachi and live there,” Salman replied obstinately. “I’d rather see my daughter happy in Karachi than miserable in the US.”
“Are you crazy Salman?” she stared at him incredulously. “She’s our only daughter.”
“I’m not crazy and neither should you be,” he said firmly. “We’re all from Pakistan. We were born and raised in that country. So why all the hoopla finding a boy from there?”
“So why are you hesitant about them being strangers if you like them so much?” she snapped.
“Them being strangers has nothing to do with them being Pakistani. Even the families in Pakistan hesitate to say yes to proposals from totally strange families. And you know that very well.”
“They deceived us from the start…” Khalida said resentfully. “If they’d told us they were in Pakistan, this thing wouldn’t have gone this far.”
“They didn’t deceive us,” Salman answered calmly. “I deceived you. Afridi Sahib had told me on the very first phone call where they were from.” This was a night of surprises for Khalida.
“And you let this get this far?” she asked disbelievingly.
“You answered your own question, my dear. Would you have bothered to consider all the good points in this proposal had you known?” Khalida had to confess, even if only in her heart, that she wouldn’t have.
“Mrs Ali deceived us,” she was blaming everyone left and right.
“I think Mrs Ali is a wise woman,” Salman said with a twinkle in his eye. “She knows the mentality of ABCD women like yourself. Hence she dealt with you accordingly.”
“Don’t call me an ABCD woman Salman…,” she said haughtily. He laughed. No Pakistani liked being called an American Born Confused Desi.
“Well, you’re certainly acting like one.”
“Poor Saira,” Khalida exclaimed, suddenly thinking of her daughter. “She’s going to be so disappointed. She had even talked to Meer’s sister and mother and found them so sweet.”
“’Poor Saira’ is not going to be as disappointed as you think,” Salman told her. “Because ‘poor Saira’ has known this all along. You think I would take such a major decision without asking her?” Khalida was speechless. An entire father-daughter conspiracy right under her nose in her own house and she had never known.
“So, you think she’s not going to be disappointed now when you tell her you are unable to find references for the family and are thinking of backing out?” It was a snide remark but also heavily laced with a mother’s concern for her daughter’s feelings.
“I’ve talked to her already and told her I’m not comfortable,” Salman replied. “She’s left the decision to me. She feels she cannot take the chance if I’m not fully comfortable either.” Despite her disagreement over the boy being in Pakistan, Khalida couldn’t help feeling a pang of regret. Such a good looking boy and nice family. What a shame!
“She’ll be so disappointed Salman. You shouldn’t have dragged her into this.”
“She won’t be disappointed. She’s sensible and mature and knows the consequences of everything. You should be happy she’s respectful and obedient enough to listen to us. Would you rather she brought home a non-Muslim Russian boy and insisted on marrying him? Be reasonable Khalida.” Khalida sighed. Salman was right.
“If you want to back out of this thing, we have to tell her immediately. Before her communication goes further. Plus, you’ll have to tell Afridi sahib too,” she told him.
“Talk to Saira tomorrow and tell her how we feel. We’ll give it till the end of the week and then call it off I guess.”
Khalida had no intention of fretting the entire night waiting to talk to Saira. This had to be done right away.
Saira was nearly asleep when she heard the knock on the door. A moment later, Khalida opened the door a little, trying to see if she was asleep.
“Is everything alright Ammi?” she sat up instantly and turned on the bedside lamp. This was unusual. Khalida came inside and sat on the bed.
“Everything is not quite alright. Your Abbu just told me that Meer is from Karachi. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Yes, Ammi,” Saira said, feeling a little guilty now. “I didn’t tell you because Abbu said you wouldn’t let this thing get this far if you had known. Plus, he wanted me to see if this was even worth pursuing.”
“Both of you were right,” Khalida admitted to her daughter. “I don’t think I would have considered this rishta had I known.”
“So, you don’t like this thing anymore now simply because you’ve found out the Afridis are from Karachi?”
“I know for sure that I wouldn’t have considered them had I known at the beginning. But at this moment, I’m not sure how I feel. I think it will take a little time for this to sink in.”
“I think you let the opinions of people around you rule your emotions blindly Ammi,” Saira wasn’t a child not to notice these things. “If you stop worrying about what people will say or will not say, you’ll probably feel differently.” Sitting upright in her bed against her pillows with a soft smile on her face, her daughter looked like a wise, young woman and not an immature little girl.
“Maybe you are right,” Khalida sighed. “But the issue right now is that your father is not confident in saying yes to a completely strange family. There is no way to verify their background or that of the son. Do you feel this way too?”
“I trust Abbu’s decision. I started communicating with Meer and took a chance on an out-of-country boy. But that’s because Abbu was behind me. But marriage is a serious decision and I don’t think I want to take that chance if my parents are hesitant.”
“But won’t you be disappointed?”
“Will you be?” Saira asked with a smile.
“To be very honest, I will be…”
“I’m happy to hear that Ammi because it means that you’re willing to accept the Afridis despite their location. This may be a small step for you but it’s a huge leap for all the first generation immigrant mothers in the US!” Khalida laughed as she stood up.
“Your Abbu says we should take till the end of the week to think a little more about this before he calls Afridi Sahib to say no.”
Saira only nodded as she turned off the lamp. She felt that just when everyone in her house was finally onboard the same train, someone had pulled the emergency lever and brought the entire train, merrily chugging towards its destination, to a screeching halt. (Continued next week)