A Suitable Match
“After I heard this, I had a serious talk with Ruby. I told her that even though we couldn’t trust anyone blindly, we also couldn’t reject anyone without checking them out,” Sumbal continued.
“Hadn’t you tried to go through the rishta ladies here?” asked Jabeen.
“Oh yes,” replied Sumbal. “I not only got Warda registered with a couple of them here in California but also with two in Texas and one in Chicago. But you know what? The boys here just reject pictures without even bothering to talk to the girl, thinking no one is good enough for them. They seek movie actress-like-girls who are also doctors, engineers or lawyers.”
Khalida and Zahra exchanged looks. The analysis was similar to Mrs Ali’s.
“Ahmed is my nephew. He is good looking, ambitious and responsible,” Sumbal said. “It seemed nonsensical to reject him just because he wasn’t born in the US. When my sister indicated her intention for Ruby, I didn’t take her seriously. But after hearing stories like Amna’s, I talked to Ruby and convinced her that we should at least consider Ahmed as a candidate. Plus, I told her it was entirely her decision and that she could take all the time she wanted.”
“Is she happy? I hope she doesn’t feel forced or pressured?” asked Khalida.
“Oh, she’s very happy,” Sumbal smiled at her. “She feels she and Ahmed can build a good life together and that he is genuine and sincere. Isn’t that what counts in the end? If all of you take my advice, you’ll talk to your girls seriously about the ground reality.”
“But not everyone is lucky enough to have a nephew they could consider for their daughter,” said Tahira. Sumbal laughed.
“The world doesn’t end on nephews. There are other good boys too. You just have to put on your serious boy-search glasses…,” she answered good humoredly.
“...and take a chance on them? A blind leap of faith?” asked Naureen doubtfully. She was another one of their friends. “I don’t think it’s a wise idea to gamble with your daughter’s future like that.” Sumbal shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t need to convince them. It was everyone’s personal decision.
Half of the women present agreed with Sumbal while the other half couldn’t help feeling like Naureen. However, none of them changed the topic since finding a good boy was a priority on almost everyone’s mind. It was customary for such dinner parties to end around midnight. There had been another round of tea both for the men and the women. Loud talk and heated discussion between the husbands on the current state of Pakistani politics could be heard from the living room.
“Just listen to them,” Jabeen nudged Tahira. “It’s like Pakistani politicians can make no decision regarding the country or advance any further unless they are given advice by our politically savvy husbands.” The two had gotten up to get another helping of home-made rasmalai . “Here we poor wives are tortured with the thoughts of figuring out how to get their daughters married off as soon as possible into good families.”
“They want us to bring the horse home,” replied Tahira. “They have the easy job of then inspecting its teeth and tail to make sure it’s a thoroughbred.” Jabeen threw back her head and laughed. Tahira dragged her back to the family room. Jabeen had to be told to laugh less loudly at parties. She had a very loud laugh and it was considered impolite for the women to laugh so loudly that they could be heard all the way to the men’s side. It was ok when they were alone.
Meanwhile, the girls had all gone up to Ruby’s room and were interrogating her with more or less the same type of questions. Ruby well understood the background of many of their questions; she had had the same mindset less than a year ago, and it had taken her considerable time to come to the point where she was. It had indeed been a journey in understanding and trust.
“I don’t understand how you could possibly trust guys from Pakistan,” said Saira, Khalida’s daughter’s. She vehemently opposed any ‘imported’ boy for herself. “I feel that their personalities and thought process are very shallow.”
“What is the ‘personality’ guarantee for a US-born and raised guy?’ Ruby asked her. She wasn’t the least perturbed by Saira’s analysis. Saira didn’t know what to say.
“So, you don’t mind a paindu guy who dresses and speaks like he was from Area 51 ?” Saima, another one of their friends, asked this time. The girls snickered. Ruby was not amused but she knew that getting irritated wouldn’t be a good way to hold her ground.
“Do you really think Ahmed looks like a guy from Area 51?” she asked Saima with an amused smile.
“Where’s Area 51?” Shireen, the most bookworm of them all, asked with a blank stare. She had been engrossed with her phone and had raised her head only at the mention of Area 51, suddenly curious. She had no idea what the girls were talking about at all. Same age as Humna and Saira, she was planning to start grad school later that year. Though her mother was just as actively looking for a boy as everyone else, Shireen didn’t want to waste her time sitting around waiting for Mr Right.
“That’s where we’re planning to get a boy for you,” replied Saira with a sober face. Shireen couldn’t figure out if she was serious or joking.
“What’s so special about the boys from that area?” she asked.
“They’re highly educated, exceptionally handsome, rich and well-groomed,” Saira said, still with a serious expression. “That’s where Ruby found her guy and that’s where we’re all planning to get our boys too.” There were snickers from the others. Shireen suspected from the giggling that they were pulling her leg.
“You can all get your ‘men’ there,” she said haughtily. “Leave me out of this crazy boy-search business. I’m more interested in getting my Master's degree than a ‘catch’ from Area whatever.” She settled back in the rattan chair with her phone. The others laughed.
“Don’t take me wrong Ruby,” Saima picked up the conversation from where it had been left off. “I’m not saying that Ahmed is a paindu. I’m just saying that guys from Pakistan generally do talk, look and behave like paindus.”
“So don’t marry the ones who look like paindus,” Ruby shrugged as she fixed the floor cushions under her. “Marry the ones like Ahmed.”
There was an awkward pause.
“I see Ahmed looks quite spick and span, well-educated and groomed but that’s because he belongs to a well-off, well-educated family but the majority of the ‘imports’ aren’t like that,” Humna gave her input.
“I agree,” said Ruby. “But you just have to find the right one. I met some of Ahmed’s friends when I was in Pakistan and they seemed to be very decent guys too.”
“Whatever your argument, I would still find it very hard to accept a guy from Pakistan,” Saima remained obstinate in her opinion.
“Oh?” asked Ruby, somewhat amused. “And how many boys have proposed to you here so far? By that I mean educated boys from good families that you could seriously consider?” Saima fell silent.
None of the four girls present had any proposals in line which could be considered potentially serious. Humna looked at Ruby thoughtfully.
“If there aren’t any at the moment doesn’t mean there won’t ever be,” she said.
“Agreed,” Ruby replied. “My point is just that the boys from Pakistan should not be blacklisted simply because they’re coming from another country. Apart from that one ‘bad’ quality, they really are everything that our parents are looking for in a match for us.”
There was no denying that Ruby was right. Shireen, finally fed up of the boy-search arguments and counterarguments, turned off her phone and changed the topic to something else.
The conversation that she had had with Ruby occupied Humna’s thoughts during the coming days too. Though she and her friends were all charming, attractive girls, the fact was they were not outstandingly pretty. She was smart enough to know that not only was the world she lived in extremely superficial but that this superficiality had biased the spouse selection criteria of Pakistani immigrant families as well. With all the emphasis on outward appearances, marriage options for girls like herself were greatly reduced, if not altogether diminished.
Frankly she hadn’t expected Ruby’s husband to be so good looking. The wedding pictures were gorgeous and it was quite obvious that this was no paindu family. And by what Ruby had told them about Ahmed, there was nothing unacceptable about the guy, even from her standard. But there was still no way she could imagine herself in Ruby’s shoes; there was no eligible boy on her mother’s or father’s side of the family in Pakistan. And even if there was, she reasoned with herself, she wasn’t so desperate as to take a chance on a complete stranger from Pakistan, even if he was her cousin.
Her mother had told her she had signed her up with the rishta lady Mrs Ali. Although she wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, she still couldn’t help feeling a little hopeful. However, despite the passage of four months, there had still been no progress. She was almost twenty-five and with no plans for further study and already working, she felt she was ready to settle down with a good guy. The only problem was that a good guy was yet to be found.
A lot of her Muslim college friends were getting engaged and married and Ruby wasn’t the only one who had an ‘imported’ groom. The troubling thing about these imported guys was that no one had statistics to prove that the ratio of doomed marriages was greater or less for girls who imported their husbands as opposed to those marrying the ‘home grown’ variety. It was like shooting in the dark; hit or miss, it was simply one’s luck.
The after-dinner conversation at Sumbal Khan’s home had set the wheels rolling in the heads of some of the worried mothers present there that day. Even for many of the second or third generation diehard Pakistanis who had completely assimilated into the Western culture, the notion of intercultural marriage was indigestible. As for the first-generation families, it was nothing short of an abomination to even consider such a scenario. Though no one admitted it, it was more because of the ingrained question in their psyche ‘what will others say?’ than anything else. Some families were forced to relent because their children refused to understand why marrying a Muslim girl or boy was such a big deal simply because they belonged to another country.
It was an even more of a bitter pill to swallow if the potential girl or boy belonged to another faith and was accepting Islam simply for the sake of getting married; Islam was more than just a one-line proclamation of faith. Hence when it came to religion, even the diehards drew the line and were adamant that the candidate should at least be a Muslim. A family in the community had already tried this experiment with an Italian boy who was not only a non-Muslim but also a non-resident. The results were as disastrous as most people had expected. Despite the boy’s conversion to Islam, he stayed in the marriage as a devout Muslim for two years, got his green card, and then handed his prayer cap, beads, and rug to the young wife and said thank you and goodbye, leaving behind a four-month-old son in the process.
Converts aside, a new breed of American Pakistani girls was arguing why they couldn’t marry Christians and Jews without conversion since Islam permitted marrying people of the book. So, if the Muslim boys could marry these girls, why weren’t the girls allowed to do the same?
Parents were having a roller-coaster ride attempting to explain the complexities of Islam to children who were raised in a society that was rejecting the very idea of conventional religion vs. ‘love of humanity’. While the women present at Sumbal Khan’s that day considered themselves lucky to have children who at least understood their roots, the marriage related stories circulating around worried them nonetheless.
This time the four friends were meeting at Jabeen’s house. Though they talked about other things too, it seemed as if find-a-match was always the hot topic at their get-togethers. This was more so since Zahra and Khalida had gotten in touch with Mrs Ali. Not only had they started to fret more over what to do and how to do it, they also shared stories they were only now hearing because their ears were recently fine tuned to the specific ‘matrimonial’ frequency. Even when talking to friends outside their group of four, they were now keen to find out how others were handling similar situations. Much to their worry, it seemed as if they were among the last to wake up and smell the proverbial roses.
“You know I spoke to Rehana the other day,” Jabeen told them about another lady in the community. “She said she and her husband were already looking and were open to the idea of getting her at least engaged and then have the marriage after she completed her education.”
“Are you serious?” Tahira was amazed. “Her daughter is only a high school senior.”
“Shows how bad the situation is,” Jabeen said jokingly. The others could only manage weak smiles. Zahra and Khalida were especially getting a pretty good idea of the ground reality after they had started talking to Mrs Ali. They had also discovered, contrary to their earlier assumption, that Mrs Ali’s mode of operation wasn’t wrong. She worked along the same lines as all the other desi marriage bureaus.
“Though I had never thought about this too much before, I’m starting to get panicky because of SarmadAkram’s daughter….” Jabeen said.
This was a story that had recently surfaced. Mr and MrsSarmadAkram’s 28-year-old daughter had a Master's in Public Health. The girl had married a Hindu after converting him to Islam. The marriage had taken place quietly without the usual opulence seen at Pakistani weddings. Everyone could understand why. The story was that the Akrams weren’t at all happy with their daughter’s choice and wanted to give people as few details to discuss as they could. Only the very close friends and family had been invited. It was a situation none of the four friends ever wanted to face with their own daughters.
“Do you really think we should turn our binoculars towards Pakistan?” Tahira asked dubiously, trying to dispel the sobriety hanging in the air.
“Even if there is a good boy in Pakistan, he has to at least match our social status,” Zahra said wearily. “I mean, I don’t think I could consider a boy from North Karachi .”
“Yes, boys do tend to reflect the mentality of the areas they grow up in,” Khalida agreed. “But regardless of the area, I think ninety percent of the boys in Pakistan would be willing to give an arm and a leg for US immigration.”
“Arm and a leg?” Jabeen laughed out loud. “They’d marry a mare if you told him he could get a green card in return.” The other three laughed too.
“Frankly, I’d be embarrassed to death if a ‘paindu production’ landed in my home as a son-in-law, wearing weird clothes and talking in a weird accent…” said Zahra.
“Better a horse than a weird guy, right?” Jabeen teased Zahra. “At least the horse won’t be wearing clothes and no question of weird accent.” The three of guffawed again at Zahra’s expressions.
“Make all the fun you want,” Zahra glared at Jabeen in good humor. “You’ll be joining the ranks pretty soon.”
“Oh, I still have some time left before I join your little fret club,” Jabeen said without a moment’s pause. “There’s a good chance one of your three future sons-in-law has a younger brother that I could consider for my Lubna. I’ll just grab him.”
“You have it all figured out, haven’t you?” Zahra teased her.
“Of course,” Jabeen replied airily. “What’s the use of hanging around with old maids like yourselves if I can’t get anything out of it, even if it is later down the lane.”
“Who’re you calling old maids?” Khalida glared at her. Zahra gave her a sharp slap on her shoulder. Jabeen loved to tease her friends. She was not yet forty and often teased the other three as being her ‘older sisters’. The sensitivity to age transcended all boundaries. Tahira, Khalida and Zahra were in their early forties but no one wanted to be reminded of their ages, even if jokingly.
Ahmed, Umair and Sameer were sitting on the University lawn, enjoying the warm sunshine of the mild and short Karachi winter. Azhar hadn’t come that day. Sameer was telling them about his mother’s plan to start looking for a girl for him. Though he wanted to get a job first, his mother, as all Pakistani mothers who had sons, saw no harm in at least starting the search for that ‘gem’ for her son. The wedding could happen later.
“I can’t understand why you’re so miserable,” Ahmed was seriously confused. “Most guys have to force their mothers to start looking.” Sameer seemed very irritated. He had his own reasons for wanting to wait at least a couple of years after graduation before settling down.
“I want to get a good job first and start pulling my weight before adding to the ‘population’ in the house. There are too many complications in a joint family system as it is.”
“But your brothers live in a separate portion and you live with your parents,” Umair reasoned with him. “If your family thinks they can manage your wife too, I’m sure they can. Why are you so hesitant?”
“What they feel right now is different than what they’ll feel after a new girl arrives in their midst,” Sameer said thoughtfully. “Adjustments are difficult after marriage as it is. Let alone attempting to do this when you’re not even making enough money of your own.”
Ahmed looked at him thoughtfully. He couldn’t deny that Sameer was being very realistic even though his family was not too bad off financially. However, this was a decision between Sameer and his family. Their trying to convince him wasn’t likely to help matters. He turned to Umair.
“When is Anti going to start looking for a girl for you?” he asked him. He was sure she was going to start very soon if she hadn’t done so already.
“I’ve told her clearly that it cannot be done before I start working,” Umair replied. “It is out of the question to even think about my marriage right now. There is also the possible expense of Amna’s wedding if a good match for her suddenly comes around the corner.”
“Not everyone has the option of becoming a gharjawai like yourself,” Sameer said, slapping Ahmed jokingly on the shoulder.
“I’ll be in their house only for as long as it is necessary,” Ahmed said indignantly. “I’ll be out as soon as I find a job even if it is in a one-bedroom apartment.” Umair patted him on the head as one does a kid.
“Now, now,” he said soothingly, “no need to get defensive. You know we’re just teasing you!” They all laughed. (Continued next week)