A Suitable Match
“Of course,” replied Ahmed. “Khala and Ammi had left the entire decision to us and I had reassured Ruby that she was free to say no without any hard feelings from our side. I wanted an open relationship built on trust.”
“But you see my dear friend, this happened because she was related to you and knew your background,” Sameer said.
“I’m sure a lot of common relatives in the family must have told her all good things about you and same to you about her,” Azhar added. “But on a general note, the Pakistani girls in the US do throw away the entire barrel of apples because those who marry only for the green cards have ruined everyone’s reputation.”
“I’m not going to say you’re wrong because you’re not,” Ahmed admitted, shrugging his shoulders. “I realized this very clearly after talking to Ruby. She told me outright that the overwhelming number of Pakistani boys who took this ‘short cut’ to get to the US over the past few decades have seriously scared off both the parents and their daughters. So much, in fact, that many are apprehensive of trusting even their own blood relatives in Pakistan.”
“I wonder on what grounds they are trusting you?” Sameer teased him again with an innocent expression. He and Azhar snickered. Ahmed gave him an exasperated look.
“That is so bad,” Umair shook his head in disgust. “I can’t imagine what kind of guy would marry on such shallow grounds and ruin a girl’s life, and possibly the children’s too, in the process. That’s utter deception.”
“I’d rather eat daal roti and have a loving relationship with my wife in Karachi than to even think of doing something like this,” Sameer added
Listening to them, Ahmed needed no convincing that his friends weren’t lying. He knew the three of them very well. They weren’t overly rich or drove expensive cars but they certainly had strong ethics.
After Ruby left for the US, she and Ahmed made it a point to talk every night even if for a little while. Given the time difference, it was Ahmed’s night and her morning. Because he had early morning classes, this was the only way they could coordinate their phone calls. Talking to Ruby one night, he casually mentioned the conversation he had had with his three friends. She knew quite a bit about them even before going to Pakistan for the wedding and then she had met them in person in Karachi. Being Ahmed’s closest friends, their names often came into his conversation when he casually recounted the events of his day to her.
“They aren’t wrong, you know,” she agreed with him. “There are so many horror stories of green card seekers here that the girls have outright refused to even consider any one from Pakistan who is not already a citizen or a green card holder.” Ahmed couldn’t help feeling slightly offended. He too was a guy from Pakistan who would be getting his immigration through his wife after marriage.
“You cannot judge everyone on the basis of what a few people choose to do,” he told her. Ruby laughed. She sensed his offence even though he had tried to keep his tone normal.
“Of course you can’t. That wouldn’t be fair,” she explained. “I’m just saying that these immigration seekers who divorce the girls afterwards have ruined it for everyone.” Ahmed didn’t say anything.
“Take myself for example,” she added. “I had similar apprehensions about you. If you hadn’t been my cousin, I don’t think I would have been willing to even explore this option.” Ahmed had to admit she was right. You really couldn’t blame the girls for their fears.
“I don’t know about any such people, but I can say for sure that none of my friends would even consider something like that.” There was conviction in his voice.
“I believe you Ahmed,” Ruby replied carefully. She realized she had ventured in the sensitive area of self-respect and dignity. “Like they say, a man is judged by his friends.” She wasn’t saying that just to make him feel good; she really had liked all three of her husband’s friends.
She then changed the subject. It was best not to tread on shaky ground. They both had their reasons for feeling the way they did. Though Ruby trusted Ahmed and had full faith in her decision to marry him, it didn’t mean all green-card seekers had magically disappeared somewhere. Whether it offended Ahmed or not, the fact was that they still constituted a huge chunk of the reason why the Pakistani American girls were unwilling to consider a guy from back home. But there was no point in pursuing a useless argument. They had already crossed that bridge.
It had been nearly two months since Zahra had called Mrs. Ali. For the first couple of weeks, she had eagerly jumped at every ring of her phone, expecting a boy’s mother to enquire about Humna. But so far, she hadn’t heard from anyone. She constantly kept wondering about the possible reasons for this delay.
Khalida on the other hand had been contacted by a lady looking for a girl for her 27-year-old brother. But the initial questions the lady asked were enough to incense the no-nonsense Khalida. The lady had told her breezily that since they were a very ‘beautiful’ family and her brother was very handsome, they were looking for an ‘extremely lovely’ girl for him.
“The woman actually had the audacity to tell me they wanted this type of girl ’so that she would fit in with the rest of the family’,” Khalida disgustedly told Zahra, Jabeen and Tahira later. They couldn’t believe their ears. “No kidding!” Tahira’s tone was incredulous. “She then asked me to email Saira’s picture and details to her.”“Don’t tell me!” Jabeen laughed. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her to expect something in the mail but it wasn’t going to be my daughter’s picture,” Khalida replied haughtily. The three burst out laughing. “You didn’t…” Tahira slapped her shoulder.
“Frankly, it took supreme self-control not to tell her that,” Khalida sighed. “But the thing is, we can’t jeopardize our daughters’ chances by being labeled rude mothers. Word travels fast you know. I just told her I wasn’t interested in pursuing it any further with her.”
“That was the only thing to do you know,” Zahra consoled her friend. “The last thing I too would want to do is to exchange pictures or pursue any such options further with people with such shallow values.”
Though it was easy to laugh over this later, the incident brought to light the reality that when it came to finding a match in the US, it was the boys’ side that had the upper hand; not the girls.
“Are you saying no one has called you at all?” Mrs Ali asked Zahra in surprise. Unable to contain her patience any longer, Zahra had finally decided to call her. “I gave your number to at least four or five people since I registered Humna.”
When Zahra told her that she had not received a single phone call, Mrs Ali explained that whenever a boy’s mother contacted her for potential candidates, she always gave them the number of six or seven suitable girls. If Zahra hadn’t been contacted at all, it only meant that these families had found their match before they moved down the list to contact Zahra for Humna. Zahra couldn’t help feeling a pang of disappointment; four or five people and not a single one had contacted her.
“So, Anti, how many boys do you have in your register?” Zahra was curious. She was weighing Humna’s chances of finding a boy through Mrs Ali at all.
“Honestly speaking Zahra, at this moment I only have about ten boys whose mothers have registered with me.” Zahra couldn’t believe her ears.
“Ten boys?” she blurted out, aghast. “And how many girls are registered with you?”
“I have two files full of girls,” Mrs Ali sighed. Zahra was stunned.
“That is more than a huge difference Anti!” she blurted out. “Is this disparity only with you or is this how it is in every Pakistani marriage bureau?” Now was the opportunity to get the inside story straight from the proverbial ‘horse’s mouth’.
“By what I know, every Pakistani lady who’s running a matchmaking service has way more girls than boys,” Mrs Ali explained. “The main reason is that practically all Pakistani immigrant households, who are balancing a Pakistani culture along with the American, want to do everything the ‘traditional way’. Since the traditional way is to wait for the boys’ families to bring the proposal, the girls end up waiting and the boys have a grand time playing the choosing game.”
“But how are the boys playing the choosing game if they’re not getting registered with you?” Zahra was confused.
“They don’t need the hassle of getting registered with services like ours,” replied Mrs Ali. “They often find their partners in school or in their social circles. If the parents, mainly the mom, don’t have a problem, they take the proposal to the girl’s side and the deal is done. Another reason is that the girls who are outgoing and unburdened by cultural values are literally out there with nets looking for good boys to snare.”
“So, the boys never get a chance to get to you at all,” Zahra sighed. The picture was clear in her head now. “But still that doesn’t mean we tell our daughters to get out there in the field with nets too.”
“Oh no,” Mrs Ali laughed. “I know full well how parents like you raise your children. That’s how my son and daughter-in-law have raised their three daughters, my three granddaughters. The eldest was a valedictorian in high school and majored in psychology last year. But the last thing we expected from her, or I should say we would have tolerated, was her bringing home a boy one day, even a Pakistani Muslim, announcing her intention to marry him.”
“So, is she also a candidate in one of your registers?” Zahra couldn’t help asking.
“She was a candidate there until recently,” Mrs Ali replied with a hint of amusement. “A few months back a mother called from Pakistan. She was looking for a girl for her son who had come for his Master’s in Civil Engineering and was now working in Seattle. He wanted to marry a citizen girl. We did background checks here and in Pakistan and had the boy visit us several times. Finally satisfied, we decided to say yes and now the wedding is at the end of the year.”
“I’m surprised you trusted a boy who said he was specifically looking for a citizen girl Anti,” Zahra’s reaction was instinctive.
“Well he was honest and if we had refused, he could have found twelve other girls. The loss would have been ours. We couldn’t let a good looking, educated boy from a good family go simply because he wanted to settle in the US and hence wanted to marry a citizen girl.”
“Was your granddaughter ok with this?” Zahra was curious. Anti laughed.
“I won’t lie to you; it was an uphill battle at the beginning. She cried for a whole week and refused to even talk to him or meet him. But we all talked to her and eventually she came around. Now she’s very happy and busy with the preparations and planning.”
Mrs Ali’s little story further cemented her credibility in Zahra’s mind. If the lady was giving other parents hints on how to approach this match-making business sensibly, it was obvious she was also practicing the same advice in her own house.
“So, that’s one less girl in your register,” Zahra joked. “What are the all the others supposed to do?” She couldn’t help wondering if there was something wrong with the way Mrs Ali was handling the whole process.
“Beta, the girls need to be realistic too and come down from seventh heaven,” she told Zahra. “The majority of the girls in my register have very high and often unrealistic demands. They refuse to consider boys who are not very handsome, they want six figure salaries, they refuse to live close to their in-laws, even if in separate homes, and they refuse to consider anyone who is not born and raised in the US. Unfortunately, by the time their senses return, they’ve crossed the prime marriageable age. When we were considering that boy I told you about my granddaughter, many of her friends started feeding her this same rubbish. It took an effort for us to clear her head before she saw the good in the boy. I’m glad my son and daughter-in-law were on the same page with me about approaching this matter, otherwise things might not have been so easy.”
Zahra didn’t know what to say. Her own daughter was no different. Though she didn’t have demands like high salaries and not wanting to live close to her in-laws, she was still influenced by all the horror stories going around about green card seekers. It was primarily because of these stories that she wanted a US born and raised boy. Perhaps it was a good thing that neither her nor her husband had an eligible boy in the family for Humna otherwise they would have quite a dilemma on their hands; a perfectly eligible boy they had to refuse because they or their daughter couldn’t trust him to stay married after getting his hands on the green card.
The conversation with Mrs Ali was thought provoking. As always, Zahra called Khalida right after she hung up and updated her. Out of the four friends, they were the two facing the boy crisis immediately. Not only were both Humna and Saira 25, but both Khalida’s and her own husband had deemed it their wives’ responsibility to pursue links to good boys.
Obviously, the boy producing Aladdin’s lamp they thought they had so gleefully rubbed two months ago was not producing the desired result.
Sumbal Khan had thrown a party for her close friends to celebrate the marriage of her daughter Ruby. A grand reception was planned for later after the groom’s arrival in the US. This informal dinner at her house just had all of Ruby’s close friends and their families. Although Humna and Saira were both slightly older than Ruby, they were good friends, having gone to the same high school and grown up together in the same city. Their common cultural background further contributed to their friendship.
After dinner, the tea and dessert were laid out on the counter in the spacious kitchen. The men were in the living room and all the women and girls were in the family room. Saira, Humna, Ruby, and three of their other common friends were sitting on the carpet clustered around Ruby’s wedding albums. The mothers had gone through them first and the girls were now poring over them most excitedly. There was a separate album for each of the four events; the mayun, mehndi, nikah ceremony and valima.
The mayun and mehndi were purely cultural, pre-wedding celebrations that mostly included the close members of the family and mainly focused on the exchange of gifts between the two families. There was singing and dancing amidst the women at these functions too. The photography was obviously professionally done and captured superbly and with utmost clarity all the brilliant colors of the dresses, the dazzling decorations, the eye-catching fresh flower arrangements, and the glistening, joyous faces of the guests and the couple. Looking at the pictures, the girls could almost hear the music on the dhol, smell the roses and jasmine garlands, and taste the mithai. Ruby’s makeup, professional done, and dresses on all four occasions were truly to gawk at.
Seated on the sofa, Sumbal was discussing the details of her daughter’s wedding with her friends. Tahira couldn’t help but ask the question that was probably on everyone’s mind.
“Sumbal,” she started somewhat hesitatingly. “Weren’t you afraid that this boy was only marrying for the sake of immigration? I mean didn’t you have second thoughts trusting someone from Pakistan even if he is your bhanja?” Sumbal laughed. The expectant look in everyone’s eyes was enough to tell her that Tahira had bravely spoken on behalf of them all.
“To be very honest, initially I was dead afraid to venture into this potential quicksand of a situation,” she explained. “However, it was one incident that convinced me to at least check out Ahmed without saying no to my sister outright when she asked for Ruby’s hand.” Sumbal had everyone’s attention. She was discussing something of a million-dollar issue at that moment.
“I ran into a very old friend Warda last year at the Pakistan Day fair. Her Amna is three years older than Ruby. Very nice kid, I remember. I had heard that she was married so I asked Warda how she was doing. I was shocked when Warda told me that she had gotten divorced only a year after the marriage.”
“That’s too bad,” exclaimed Jabeen. She knew Warda too. “What happened? If I’m not mistaken, wasn't the boy Warda’s good friend’s son?”
“Yes,” Sumbal nodded. “The boy was not only a good friend’s son, but had literally grown up in front of Warda. The girl and boy seemed quite compatible. Though she’s not overly religious, Amna wears a hijab. The boy had a similar type of an upbringing. A few months after the marriage, Amna discovered that he drank on occasions and also saw nothing wrong with gambling or keeping in regular touch with friends of the opposite gender.”
“Really!” another one of their friends couldn’t help but interject.
“They weren’t his girl friends in the conventional sense of the word,” Sumbal explained, “but this sort of free mixing with girls, especially after marriage, and late night weekend partying was not acceptable to Amna. That’s how we raised our kids. And gambling and drinking? Out of the question.” Everyone present agreed.
“So, she didn’t confront him?” Khalida was curious. “How about marriage counseling and taking it up with the in-laws?”
“Amna tried everything but he told her that since he was raised in the American society, this was part of the culture and that she shouldn’t expect him to behave like a Pakistani.”
Everyone gasped, eyes shocked.
“So, the idiot just said goodbye to his Islamic moral values just because he was raised in the US?” Zahra was quite disgusted.
“But wasn’t this boy from a quite, more or less, conservative family?” interrupted another one of their friends who knew the boy’s family. “I mean, the dad has a beard and the mom wears hijab and all…”
“That’s what fooled Warda,” said Sumbal. “To cut the story short, Amna tried to make things right but nothing worked. She even consulted an Islamic scholar and asked him to intervene. He tried for a while and then advised her to leave him if she desired. By that time, the boy had also hit her occasionally. I suppose this was in a state of drunkenness.”
The story was shocking to the ladies present. A few weren’t very surprised since they had heard similar horror stories about the incompatibility of US born and raised boys with Pakistani American girls who were steeped with cultural and religious moral and ethical values.
(To be continued)