A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
On a special request from her few close friends, including her three cronies, Tahira had invited them all for her special Nihari at her place. The three other families had gone home after dessert and tea while Jabeen, Zahra, and Khalida had hung back. Their husbands had suddenly planned to catch a late night movie in the theater. It wasn’t unusual for them to plan fishing trips, cricket matches, or movie outings.
The topic was Jabeen’s upcoming trip to Karachi. The three who weren’t going were giving her ideas on where to buy dresses and where to shop for what. What was a trip to Karachi without shopping to stock up the latest dresses and jewelry to last at least a year? The advantage of buying from there was the considerably less cost of the same item than if it was bought from a Pakistani boutique in the US or online.
“Make sure you don’t go crazy over the food,” Tahira reminded her. “Last time you got back from one of your trips, you were ten pounds overweight.” The others laughed and agreed.
“I remember too Jabeen,” Khalida teased. “You could barely fit into the dresses you had bought!”
“She was so fat, even her shoes didn’t fit!” Zahra joined the tease-party. The other roared.
“I was not!” replied Jabeen indignantly. “It was just a pound or two but definitely not ten pounds. Are you crazy? I’d never eat like that.”
“It’s not a question of whether you would or not but that you DID!” quipped Zahra. They all laughed again. When the four came down to ragging each other, they made sure they did it well.
“You never admit anything Jabeen,” said Khalida still in a teasing mood. “I really feel sorry for your in-laws sometimes. You must be a horribly obstinate daughter-in-law!”
“Don’t worry about my in-laws,” Jabeen replied loftily. “Every single one of my in-laws is extremely happy with me.”
“That’s because they don’t have to live with you, day in and day out,” Zahra quipped again.
“Oh, shut up will you!” replied Jabeen, taking it all in good stride. “They’d have no issues with me even if they were living with me.”
“That’s because of all the gifts, ‘bribes’, you keep sending them and are probably taking for them this time too,” Khalida added.
“This reminds me, save some space in your suitcases for a little bit of my stuff too,” Zahra suddenly remembered. “I need to send some vitamins and calcium for my mother.” This reminded the others that they had something or the other to send to their families too.
“Yes of course,” said Jabeen. “But don’t wait till the last moment to give me things. If my bags are weighed and shut, I will not open them again. Consider this a serious warning.”
“I wish I was going to Karachi too,” sighed Khalida glumly. “It’s been almost four years since I was last there.”
“You usually go every other year. Why the long break this time?” Jabeen asked.
“I wanted to go last year but Salman said he wanted to come too, so I delayed my trip. Then Saira’s friend’s wedding came up in LA last summer, which took up most of her vacation days. Since I wanted her to come with me, I postponed my trip for her. In the end, I ended up not going at all. My brothers’ children have asked me to come specifically during summers so that they can spend time more with me during their summer vacation. I just keep getting stuck for one reason or another.”
“Why don’t you come this year?” Jabeen asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Khalida thoughtfully. “I haven’t really thought about it. Actually, for the past few months, I’ve been so preoccupied with finding a match for Saira that Karachi is the last thing on my mind.” For a moment, she wanted to share the new boy’s info with them but decided against it. Who knew how it would turn out? Could be another shot in the dark. Better to just wait and find out first.
“Bring back a couple of good boys from Karachi for these two on your way back,” Tahira joked with Jabeen, pointing to Khalida and Zahra.
“No thank you very much,” Zahra replied haughtily. “Better to wait a couple more years here than to take a chance on a paindu from Pakistan.”
“I suggest the two of you order two boys for Myra and Lubna,” Zahra said. She and Khalida then laughed at Jabeen and Tahira. “Won’t be long before they join the ranks too.” There were peals of laughter at Jabeen’s expression.
“Are you guys crazy? She’s only in fifth grade!” Jabeen’s tone was most exasperated.
“So?” Khalida asked innocently. “Get a sixth grader from Karachi and raise him as you like. When the two are grown, marry them off. Problem solved….”
“Excellent idea,” Tahira joined in the joke. “Then you won’t have to suffer the agony of trying finding a boy like these two.” She pointed at Zahra and Khalida.
“We better not let Sumbal hear this sort of conversation,” Tahira cautioned, “her son-in-law is an ‘imported’ piece too.” They all snickered.
“That’s a different story,yaar,” Zahra said. “He’s her nephew and also looks educated and well groomed.”
“There are other well-groomed boys in Karachi too, you know,” Tahira pointed out.
“Possibly,” Zahra sighed. “But that’s like betting on a blind horse.”
“A blind horse?” Jabeen looked bewildered. “Who’d bet on a blind horse?”
“Exactly my point, my dear Watson!” Zahra said comically.
The four broke out in laughter again.
Khalida was now inwardly glad she hadn’t mentioned the Pathan family to them yet. Zahra would surely feel that Mrs Ali had shown favoritism referring this family to Khalida first rather than to her.
Ruby looked at Saira closely. The two were having coffee on a Saturday afternoon.
“Why the sudden curiosity in boys from Pakistan?” she asked.
“Why do you think?” Saira answered.
“You mean…?” she jumped up excitedly.” Is there a boy…? I mean are you considering someone from Pakistan?”
“I wouldn’t actually call it ‘considering’ yet.”
Saira sighed and gave her the entire story.
“Wow!” Ruby was gleeful, a huge smile lighting up her face. “So, your mother doesn’t know. I was kind of wondering how you got Khalida Auntieto agree. She has very inflexible sort of ideas on this subject. “
“Yes, she does.” Saira agreed. “But tell me honestly, should the geographical location of the boy matter if the family is good?”
“Frankly, it doesn’t matter at all. You may think this is a biased response coming from someone already married to a boy from Karachi. But the fact is, I gave this question a lot of thought too before agreeing to marry Ahmed. All I can say is, you cannot reject anyone without giving them a chance.” Talking to Saira for the next hour, Ruby felt like a broken record; she was harping on the same issues as with Humna just a few months ago.
“Do you think I should go ahead?” Saira asked dubiously.
“You’re not marrying the guy tomorrow, for heaven’s sake,” Ruby laughed. “What’s the harm in talking to him? Good thing is, your father knows all about it and has already talked to the boy’s dad.”
“I guess you’re right. I’ll tell Abbu to move the process along.”
“When are you going to tell Khalida Auntie?” Ruby was immensely tickled by this little father-daughter secret. “I mean about the Karachi part?” Saira shrugged her shoulders.
“Not sure yet. If I don’t like the boy, there’s no need to tell her at all,” she replied. “But right now, she’s very excited about this family. I’m actually surprised at how the mere place of residence affects her entire outlook. I mean, had she known this proposal was from Karachi, she would have dropped the whole idea like a hot potato.”
“And given Mrs Ali a piece of her mind too…,” they both giggled.
“Oh the eccentricities of our immigrant moms…!” Ruby said.
Before they left the restaurant, Saira told Ruby strictly not the mention her secret to anyone yet. Ruby was immeasurably amused that not one but two of her friends were now in communication with boys from Karachi!
Meher Afridi had made her husband’s favorite green tea for him after dinner and asked Gul to take it in to him. She then settled down to catch the latest episode of an ongoing Urdu drama on TV. Gul came back a moment later and informed her excitedly that Abba was on the phone and she was quite sure it was with the girl’s father.
“What girl’s father?” Meher looked at her blankly.
“Amma, that girl Phuppo showed us for Meer Bhai,” Gul’s tone was impatient. “Remember?”
Meher Afridi’s heart sank a little. Of course, she remembered. But now that nearly two weeks had elapsed since Farid Afridi had talked to Salman Zia, Meher Afridi had started to feel a little relieved that the girl’s parents were probably not interested in pursuing the proposal. She wondered why they were calling now. She fervently hoped it was to excuse themselves. She got up hurriedly. This was one conversation she was very interested in.
“Not watching the drama Amma?” Seated on the loveseat, Gul looked at her mother in surprise. Meher Afridi hurriedly left the room without answering her.
Afridi Sahib was sipping his tea and was no longer on the phone when she entered her room. He looked at her when she walked in.
“Is Meer at home?” he asked his wife. He appeared to be in a deep thought. “I need to talk to him about something. Could you ask him to come see me please?”
Meher Afridi nodded and left the room. She went to the family room and asked Gul to send Meer to her room. Then she returned to her room.
“Were you talking to someone just now?” she asked her husband, trying not to reveal her impatience in finding out more.
“It was Salman Zia from California,” he said. “You remember? The father of the girl that Seema recommended for Meer?” Meher Afridi nodded, her curiosity was turning to annoyance now. Just when she thought the little tempest stirred up by Seema had blown over, it had reared its head up again.
“Yes Abba, you wanted to see me?” Meer walked in the door. He was dressed in a dark gray shalwar kameez. The color complemented his good height and coloring.
“Yes, sit down,” Farid Afridi looked at his son. “Salman Sabib just called. He has consulted his family and they are now interested in moving the process along.”
“Who’s Salman Sahib?” Meer looked at his father blankly. Farid Afridi felt a pang of irritation. Meher Afridi was pleased. Her son didn’t even recall the family. It showed how much interest he had in the whole affair. There was still a good chance this thing wouldn’t go too far.
“Salman Zia is Saira’s father, the girl in the US rishta your Phuppo brought for you. Remember? Or do you want more details?” Farid Afridi replied in an irate tone.
“Sorry Abba,” Meer looked embarrassed. “Yes, I remember but I seriously didn’t think the family was willing to pursue this further.”
“As it turns out, they are interested,” Farid Afridi told his son. “I’ve suggested to Salman Sahib that since this decision rests primarily on the girl and the boy, the two of you should start communicating by email.”
“Me? Talk to the girl?” Meer asked, totally bewildered now. “I don’t know…”
“What is the matter with you mother and son?” Farid Afridi was totally exasperated at his reaction. “First your Amma acts like this is a family of sharks who will eat her through the phone. Now you’re acting like you’ve never seen a girl in your life before. If you’re not interested in talking to the girl, I’ll make this decision myself and tell you if you should marry her or not and decide when it will be. Then don’t complain later that your interests and personalities don’t match.”
“That’s not what I meant, Abba,” Meer said hurriedly, embarrassed at appearing so stupid. “I have no problems in talking to the girl. Amma wouldn’t you rather talk to the girl or her mother before I do?” Meer turned to his mother, trying to soothe his father’s irritation. The fact of the matter was it was Farid Sahib’s unusual ‘liberalism’ in his approach to the whole situation that had bewildered Meer. Otherwise, he had no trouble talking to girls when necessary.
“Since your Abba has already talked to the girl’s father, I don’t think it is necessary right now,” Meher Afridi said hurriedly. Then, on second thought, she added, “Afridi Sahib, are you sure we should jump into this so quickly? I mean, I’m still having a hard time trying to adjust to the idea of a girl from America.” Meer didn’t say anything. This was not his doing. His Seema Phuppo had come up with this wildly innovative idea and now his father could deal with it. This included handling his mother.
“I think we’ve already had this discussion,” Farid Afridi hated unnecessary and repetitive arguments after he had made his decision on something. He had liked talking to Salman Zia and, in a way, was curious to see where this whole thing would lead. “I see no harm in letting the children decide now. If they are fated to be married, they will be, no matter what we do or say. Times have changed. Even the girls over here talk and meet the boy in question, although chaperoned, before their parents say yes or no. How can we expect anything less of a girl who was born and raised in the US?”
Meher Afridi sighed. Farid Afridi was right. Times certainly had changed.
“Here is the email address Salman Sahib gave me,” he handed Meer a small piece of paper with Saira’s email address on it. “And remember, there is no compulsion on you of any kind. But still I suggest you keep your decision free of prejudices about Pakistani girls in the US.”
Meer took the piece of paper and smiled at his father.
“And one more thing,” Farid Afridi added a little sternly. “Please don’t chat or email for too long a period of time. I am allowing this communication to happen only for a necessary purpose. I wouldn’t like it to turn into a random, fun sort of socializing with no end in sight. I also hope you will stick to the important issues and not divulge in irrelevant discussions. I hope you know what I mean.”
“Of course, I do Abba,” Meer assured him. “I won’t let that happen.” (Continued next week)