A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
Over dinner, Ibrahim Saeed told his wife and daughters about the phone call from Akram Ali. They had formally asked for Humna’s hand in marriage and Zahra was ecstatic. She had often wondered why it was Akram Ali who always called Ibrahim rather than his wife calling her. But she hadn’t let this little thought bother her too much; there were some families where the men liked to handle these things. As long as Ibrahim was satisfied, Humna was happy, and the family references were solid, she wasn’t going to let such trivial details spoil a good thing.
As her husband gave her and the girls this ‘Breaking News’, Zahra was elated to see radiance on her daughter’s face. Then she thought of something.
“This means they’ll finally be visiting us for the engagement?” she asked Ibrahim. “And then we’ll have to go to their house too?”
“Awesome, awesome!” Huma jumped. “A wedding in our very own house! Ah, the food, the music, the dresses, the flowers…What will I wear??” She waved her arms around dramatically.
“The wedding will come later my dear,” Ibrahim smiled at his younger daughter’s enthusiasm. “Your mother said ‘engagement’, not wedding!”
“So, are they coming? And when?” Zahra was suddenly fretful. “They’d better give us at least two weeks’ notice.”
“Actually,” Ibrahim cleared his throat, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” It was time to let the cat out of the bag. Humna knew what was coming. With a thudding heart, she concentrated entirely on her food, pretending not to hear.
“You mean it’s going to be a direct wedding and no engagement?” Huma’s needle was stuck on the wedding.
“What’s not going to happen?” Zahra asked sharply, suddenly very cautious. “They have to come here. These matters cannot be finalized on the phone and you know that very well.”
“They can’t come because they live very far away…,” Ibrahim said quickly. Zahra was taken aback.
“How ‘far away’ is this ‘far away’ that they can’t come?” she frowned. “Even Hawaii isn’t too ‘far away’ for this purpose…”
“They are actually…in Pakistan…,” Ibrahim said with a sigh. Zahra and Huma looked at him in utter amazement.
“Pakistan??” Zahra asked in confusion. “What are they doing in Pakistan? Are they on vacation?”
“They’re not on vacation. They live there,” Ibrahim replied patiently. “That’s what they’re doing in Pakistan.” Zahra was agape.
“Oh my God!” she gasped in shock.
“Oh my God!” Huma’s amused exclamation followed. She then erupted in a peal of laughter, “Humna’s going to marry a Pakistani paindu!”
“Shut up!” Humna glared at her younger sister. Ibrahim sighed. Zahra was having a hard time finding the right words to react.
“Are you telling me this family is in Pakistan and you’ve actually let this farce continue far enough to reach an engagement stage?” she sputtered. This was beyond her craziest dreams. “And when were you planning to tell me? When we were on our way to Pakistan for the wedding?” She glowered at him sarcastically.
“Will we be going to Pakistan for the wedding?” Huma jumped, a fresh bout of excitement overcoming her. An over-zealous younger daughter netting her every sentence to echo her own views was now getting unbearable for an already exasperated Zahra.
“Huma leave the table right now!” she ordered her.
“But Ammi…,” Huma whined. She didn’t want to be ejected from this action-packed family discussion. “Ok promise, I won’t say a word now,” she made a zipping motion on her lips and assumed a serious expression. Zahra turned her attention back to her husband.
“This is unbelievable, Ibrahim. How could you do this?” she started to grill him. “You should have told us. Humna had the right to know. This is her life.” The situation was probably the worst anticlimax she had ever had to face in her entire life.
“I knew about this Ammi,” Humna spoke up. Zahra turned to her daughter in amazement.
“You already know!?” she asked, her tone laced with sarcasm. “And since when? May I ask?”
“I’ve known from the start Ammi,” Humna informed her calmly. “Daddy and I mutually decided to first see if I liked Umair before we told you about the Pakistan part. We knew you wouldn’t like the idea of an ‘imported’ son-in-law.” Ibrahim didn’t interrupt her. His daughter had taken a good charge. Huma was looking from one face to the other, having a hard time controlling herself from blurting out another one of her quips.
“It’s only because not all boys from Pakistan are sincere. Many are only looking for a way out of the country by marrying foreign citizen girls,” Zahra tried to respond as reasonably as she could, not realizing how unreasonable her words actually were.
“But wouldn’t you agree that Umair and his family are not among the ‘opportunists’”? Humna asked calmly. “Plus, Daddy has done his part with the background check. Also, Umair happens to be an old friend of Ruby’s husband, Ahmed. Their families personally know each other too.” Zahra didn’t know what to say. The father and daughter seemed to have prepared an airtight case.
“It seems like both of you have done your homework pretty well,” she responded sardonically.
“It’s only because of your blind bias against boys from Pakistan that I didn’t tell you earlier Zahra,” Ibrahim Saeed told her. “You would have shot this thing down at the very first step.” Zahra admitted to herself that he was right.
“But we could have found a Pakistani family in the US Ibrahim,” she presented a weak argument.
“Forget for a moment that Umair is from Pakistan and tell me honestly if he is in any way less than a boy you could have found for Humna here?” he asked.
“We could have tried,” Zahra stuck to her argument.
“Let’s just say that were both trying in our own way,” Ibrahim asked her rationally. “The fact that we found one from Pakistan shouldn’t make any difference. I know it’s hard to let go of such habitual prejudices but it’s not impossible. It’s only because we’re ashamed of our own identities that gives others the reason to ridicule us.”
“Stop lecturing me, Ibrahim,” Zahra snapped at him.
“Stop moping over where the boy is from and be happy that we’ve found a good family for our daughter,” he responded firmly.
“Yes, Ammi,” Huma couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Let’s not mope about where the boy is from, let’s just rejoice that there IS finally A boy,” she raised her hands to the sky in a gesture of thankfulness. Ibrahim and Humna burst out laughing. Even Zahra couldn’t help a slight smile.
“So, when’s the engagement, Daddy?” Huma asked excitedly, back to her favorite subject again.
“Ask your mother,” Ibrahim pointed at Zahra. “I am tired of running this show now. It’s time she took over.”
“Show indeed!” Zahra snorted. “More like a drama.” Huma erupted in laughter again.
Ibrahim knew his wife quite well. Given how excited she was about the rishta from the start, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of days for her to digest the news fully.
The next thought on Zahra’s mind was what shewould tell Khalida. She’d be the laughing stock of the group for a long time, for sure. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Ruby was discussing Saira’s situation with Ahmed. Ahmed agreed that finding matches in different countries was a sensitive issue. The third parties were just good for introducing but the final decisions were best left to the candidates and their parents.
“I understand Saira’s father’s apprehensions,” he told Ruby. “People are always on their best behavior when they are meeting another party for their son or daughter. But a father, especially a girl’s father, has the right to his apprehensions.”
“I know but I feel so bad for Saira,” Ruby sounded a little dejected.
“What I can’t figure out is why he even started talking to these people,” Ahmed wondered out loud. “I mean…they were always strangers.”
“He came well recommended from the match-making lady. She’s quite respected in our area,” Ruby told him. “Initially, he was just curious to see how it went. I think even he didn’t expect things to get this far.”
“Now, he’s having cold feet, but that’s normal,” Ahmed said. “But you shouldn’t advise Saira against what her parents think is right.”
“I’ve told her not to be disappointed. And that if this doesn’t work out, I’ll set her up with one of your friends.” Ahmed burst out in uncontrollable laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Ruby asked him indignantly.
“You are what’s funny, dear wife,” he sobered up to reply. “Are you trying to get me kicked out of my friends’ group?”
“Kicked out? I’m actually increasing your worth, dear husband,” she replied merrily. “When word of this gets out, boys left and right will be ready to give an arm and a leg to be your friend. Imagine, all of my friends married to your friends.”
Ahmed burst out laughing again. Ruby was really too much.
“Seriously Ahmed,” she told him. “Do you have any objection to making another match like Humna and Umair? We will actually be doing the Pakistani-American society here, as well the boys back in Pakistan, a great societal good…”
“And what societal good would that be?” Ahmed asked in amusement.
“Dispelling ingrained prejudices for Pakistani boys as being self-serving, green-card seeking, opportunists and those of the boys in Pakistan for American-born Pakistani girls as being spoilt, snobbish brats.”
“Ha, ha…,” Ahmed laughed out again. “Indeed, that would be great societal good which will be recorded in history in golden letters!” He teased her.
“Ok, forget the societal good part but I am serious about one of your friends for Saira,” Ruby got back to the discussion on hand.
“Are you serious??” Ahmed spluttered.
“Is there any harm?” Ruby demanded. “Just humor me will you.” Ahmed thought for a moment before replying. There was nothing to lose.
“How should we do it?”
“Just like we did for Humna. Only this time it will be easier,” Ruby already had a plan in mind. “Humna needed convincing to even talk to a guy from Pakistan. Saira has already ‘been there, done that’.”
“So, what do you want from me?” Ahmed was confused.
“Let’s start with a picture… I want a good picture of one of your eligible bachelor friends...which I will show to Saira…,” Ruby was explaining the details.
“Oh my God,” Jabeen nearly jumped. “The boy is from Karachi?”
“Really?” Tahira jolted upright from her relaxed position on the touch.
Khalida didn’t respond. She thought she was hearing things. Here she was fretting over how everyone, especially Zahra, was going to rub this little piece of information in her face when she found out and here was Zahra herself telling them that the boy she had found for Humna was from Karachi too. It was surreal.
“How did this happen?” Jabeen couldn’t digest it. “How did you agree? Where did you find him??”
“Didn’t you hear her?” Khalida replied calmly. “She ‘found’ him exactly where I found our boy.” The three turned to Khalida, stupefied.
“Oh my God!” Jabeen exclaimed, staring at Khalida with wide eyes. “Your boy is from Karachi too??”
“Oh my God!!!” This time it was Zahra who thought she was hearing things. “Are you serious?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” Tahira had a bewildered expression on her face. “Are you two pulling our leg?” she pointed to herself and Jabeen suspiciously.
“What is the matter with you two?” Khalida laughed at their expressions. “You guys are acting like we’ve abducted two aliens off a UFO.”
“Given your attitudes towards Pakistani boys, this is nothing short of an alien abduction!” Jabeen roared with laughter.
“Serves us right,” Khalida said sheepishly.
“If these are good boys, this little piece of information changes nothing for us,” Tahira said firmly, smiling. “We continue to feel genuinely blessed to look forward to not one but two weddings very soon!” She and Jabeen gleefully high-fived one another.
“Your two hubbies need a little taking to hand, I’d say,” Jabeen teased them both after they heard all the details. “Such intricate little webs of deceit.” They all laughed.
“We’ve run into a little issue with our rishta though,” Khalida decided to share her little predicament with her buddies.
“That’s too bad,” Jabeen exclaimed after hearing the problem. “Isn’t there anyone in your family in Karachi who could go and meet them?”
“That’s never any use,” Tahira said. “No one shows their negative side to someone who has specifically come to see if you are suited for their son or daughter.”
“That’s true,” Khalida agreed. “I could have sent my brother or one of my cousins to meet them but again, that doesn’t quite serve the purpose.”
“The best people to talk to in these cases are the family friends, people at work, and the kids who go to school with that boy or girl. Actually, boys or girls behave most naturally in a school setting.” Hearing all this, Zahra felt very lucky that she had a number of people confirming Umair and his family’s background.
“If you like the family and the kids think they’re compatible, don’t you think you can perhaps take a blind leap of faith?” Jabeen asked her dubiously.
“Do you think you could do that with your daughter?” Khalida questioned in response. Jabeen sighed.
“To be honest, I couldn’t,” she shrugged her shoulders.
“Have you refused them already?” Zahra asked Khalida. She felt bad for her friend.
“We will by the end of the week,” Khalida replied, managing a weak smile.
“Yes, that would be the right thing to do,” Tahira nodded. “No use dragging it out uselessly. It’s just going to create stress for Saira.”
“Look, these things happen,” Zahra put her hand kindly on Khalida’s arm. “Now that we’ve come to terms with finding good boys in Pakistan, it just opens up a whole new world of matchmaking for our children.” Khalida nodded glumly.
“So, you’re going to find a boy from Pakistan for Huma too?” Jabeen teased her.
“I’m keeping my options open,” Zahra replied loftily.
“My, my, my…talk about a total revamp of ideas…” Jabeen said.
Tahira laughed at her dramatic tone.
There were only two days left before the end of the week. Saira was mentally preparing herself to back out of her nearly two months of communication with Meer. Not to mention talking to his sister and mother a couple of times too. Sometimes she felt like telling her parents she wanted to take a chance on this guy. He was decent, polite, and very mature. Not to mention good looking. The best part of it was, she already felt so accepted and loved by his family. They seemed excited and keen to make her a part of the family too. They were fun to talk to and they were simple in conversation and ideas.
And now…to refuse? But then, she wasn’t old enough to weigh the pros and cons of such a situation. She couldn’t contest her parent’s instinct and experience in such matters. In this situation specifically, she was flying blind and she needed them to guide her. And their opinion was that it was best to back out now. She knew it was a hard decision for them too but she was hopeful she would find someone else just like she had found Meer. She had decided to tell Meer that night. Her father would talk to Afridi Sahib on the weekend.
It was almost five o’clock. She was stopping for a snack with Ruby and Humna right after work. She knew they were doing this just to cheer her up and she appreciated the effort. (Continued next week)