A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
Ruby debated for a long time and concluded that although she had promised not to divulge Saira’s little secret to any of the Aunties in the community or their common friends, it did not include her husband Ahmed. Initially, Ahmed was very surprised. Then he got suspicious.
“Are you sure you don’t have anything to do with this?” He knew how excited she was about Umair and Humna. There was a chance she was trying to match up her other friends with Pakistani boys too.
“Of course I don’t have anything to do with this,” she replied indignantly. “I told you, this whole thing happened first and I found out later. Saira’s father is supervising the whole affair. My hands are clean.” Ahmed laughed at her tone.
“You’re talking as if this was a crime.”
“You’re questioning me as if it was.”
“The reason I’m asking is because you need to understand how risky it is to go around matching up people you don’t know,” he advised seriously. Ruby was young and didn’t realize the complications associated with matchmaking. “You may know your friend very well but who’s taking the guarantee for the boy? It’s different with Umair. My family and I have known them for many years. For every sincere boy in Pakistan, there are six or seven who may be fortune-seeking opportunists. Getting your friends hooked up with the wrong people could land you in a lot of trouble.”
“I understand that and I would never attempt to do this with people I don’t know,” she replied. “This reminds me; don’t you still have two very eligible friends left in your little group? What do you say I match them with two of my friends here?”
“Hold your horses Mrs!” Ahmed laughed. “Why don’t we first wait for the testimonial from the ongoing project first?”
“That’s a done deal,” Ruby replied airily.
“By what I know, Umair is still waiting for the green signal from Humna so that his parents could call her family.”
“After Ibrahim Uncle found out the background information about Umair’s dad and family, he was very happy. Salman Uncle gave him a lot of info on them and also got him in touch with other people in Karachi who know the family. I think Umair will get the green signal any day now.”
“Zahra, come take a look at these pictures,” Ibrahim Saeed turned his laptop towards his wife who was slumped low in her side of the bed, engrossed in her book. She found it impossible to sleep until she read for at least half an hour before calling it a night. Zahra peered over her glasses at the pictures in the computer. It was a smart looking boy with neat hair, intelligent eyes, and an engaging smile. He was dressed in a suit and a tie. In the other picture, he was in a kurta shalwar. No doubt, he had a very appealing personality.
“Who is he?” she asked offhandedly.
“It’s a boy one of my friends has recommended for Humna,” Ibrahim Saeed said, watching his wife’s expressions carefully. As expected, the statement had the desired effect; Zahra shut her book with a snap and sat up straight. She slid the lap top closer to her and then put it on her lap.
“Which friend?” she was keenly scrolling over and peering closely at the five or six pictures of Umair. “What does he do? Where does he live? He looks like he’s from a good family. Where are they from?” She bombarded him with questions. Ibrahim Saeed laughed.
“One question at a time, please,” he told his wife. “One of my class fellows who lives in southern California knows the family. He has commended us highly to the boy’s side and they are interested in talking to us further. I figured I should talk to you before I answered them.” This wasn’t all a lie; Salman Zia had been his class fellow in the US and he did know the family. The only little fib was that he lived in Southern, not Northern, California. But it was ok to fib a little to smooth out the groundwork at the beginning.
“Really? That sounds great!” Zahra was excited now, her eyes shining. “Tell them to call us right away. If your friend knows them, I’m sure it’s a good family. What does the boy do?”
“He has a Master’s in Economics and is looking for a job nowadays. But he is planning to study further too, possibly a PhD.” Zahra was now fully awake, sleep and book entirely forgotten.
“This is sounding better and better…,” she was gleeful.
“I shouldn’t have told you this at this time,” he teased his wife, pretending to be regretful. “Now you won’t be able to sleep all night!”
“Never mind my sleep,” she said. “Call your friend right now and tell him the boy’s side can contact us right away.” Then she suddenly thought of something. “But how can they be interested in talking to us if they haven’t even seen Humna yet? Shouldn’t we at least send a picture to them first?”
“They’ve seen Humna’s picture on her LinkedIn. That’s why they want to proceed,” Ibrahim concocted another ‘necessary fib’ at the spur of the moment.
“That’s excellent! Tell you friend we want to move ahead!”
“I can’t call him at this hour. And also, shouldn’t we ask Humna first before we say anything to the boy’s parents?” Ibrahim Saeed asked, feigning surprise.
“We can ask Humna later,” Zahra brushed aside the idea carelessly. She had no intention of letting a good proposal slip away by delaying their communication with the boy’s parents. “Let’s see what the boy’s side has to say first.”
“As you wish,” Ibrahim replied. “Now go to sleep.”
Sleep was the last thing on Zahra’s mind at the moment.
The fact that this boy could possibly be in Karachi was also the last thing on her mind. When Ibrahim had said Southern California, she had assumed the boy’s family was in Southern California too. How else would Ibrahim’s friend know the family?
Before he turned off his bedside lamp, Ibrahim texted Humna to let Umair know that his father was now welcome to call him anytime on his cell number. It was important he talked to the father at least a couple of times before letting Zahra talk to the mother.
“Daddy! What did you tell Ammi!” Humna called him excitedly at work the next day. “How did you get her to agree?” Knowing her mother, Humna had expected major resistance from her on the issue. To the contrary, she was astonished to see her in very exuberant spirits in the morning.
“Simple. I told her everything…except the Karachi part.” Humna’s mouth fell open.
“You didn’t tell her?” she asked incredulously. “But Daddy, the Karachi part is THE most critical part in this entire deal???”
“I told you to leave it to me, so just leave it to me,” Ibrahim seemed unruffled by her panicked tone.
“If leaving it to you means that you’ll be leaving out the most important part of it then what’s the use dear Daddy,” she sighed. Ibrahim smiled.
“All I can say is dear daughter, that you need to put a little faith in your dear daddy,” he replied good-humouredly. “Let’s first see how much your mother likes the boy without the geographical tail pulling the wind out of the kite. If I tell her right now, she won’t let this thing go one mile in the right direction.”
“What if Salman Uncle tells Khalida Auntie and she tells Ammi?” Humna asked dubiously.
“He won’t,” Ibrahim Saeed assured his daughter. “I’ve told him strictly not to mention it to anyone. Plus, he doesn’t know I’m getting all the information for you. I’ve told him it’s for someone else.”
“Wow daddy!” exclaimed Humna admiringly. “You’re getting pretty crafty at this sort of thing!”
“The depths our children reduce us to,” he replied, pretending to be woeful. Humna knew he was pulling her leg.
“So, what’s the next phase of the plan?” she asked him.
“We’ll plan that after I talk to Umair’s father. But remember, we have to keep the Karachi part out of the details until your mother is convinced for Umair. Just tag along behind me. Don’t tell her anything about your communication with Umair, Ruby’s involvement, or any other details. Got it?”
As soon as she got off the phone with her father, she emailed Umair. She gave him her father’s cell phone number.
“Abbu, ammi,” Umair addressed both his parents during dinner the next day. “Remember the girl in America that I told you about? Ahmed’s wife’s friend? Well her family is interested in talking to you.”
Since the first time he had talked to his parents about Humna, they had had other discussions on the topic too. Akram and Farida had also discussed the matter with Ahmed’s parents, not to mention getting input from their other close family members, on the feasibility of the match. Ahmed’s parents were especially of the opinion that since Umair had plans to go to the US in a couple of years for his PhD, finding a good family in the US would actually be a good thing for him. He had to marry someone anyway. They also assured them, as Ruby had assured them in turn, that Humna belonged to a respectable, educated family. Given all the groundwork that had so far been laid, Umair’s suggestion for them to finally make the first formal move was taken in stride.
“So, are they going to call us or are we going to call them?” Akram asked his son. Umair looked a little confused; the girl’s side never called the boy’s side first. Farida gave her husband a weary look.
“Akram Sahib!” she said. “We’re the boy’s parents. Have you forgotten how rishtas are done? Of course we’re going to call them.” Over the past few weeks Farida had mellowed considerably to the idea of marrying her son into a good family in the US. This was a good opportunity for him to get out of Karachi. The entire potential possibility was further complemented by Umair’s assurances that Humna wasn’t the typical, scary type of American-born Pakistani his parents had in mind nor did he have any intention of marrying anyone like that.
“Call the girl’s mother and talk to her,” Akram told his wife. “These initial conversations always happen between the mothers first.”
“Me?” Farida looked at him in surprise. “Oh, no! I think you should talk to the father.”
“Why? Are you afraid to talk to her? What’s the big deal?” It was Akram’s turn to be surprised now.
Something suddenly struck Umair. Humna had specifically asked that his father call Ibrahim Saeed first. He hurriedly interjected before his father succeeded in convincing his mother.
“Actually Abbu, I think you should call Saeed Sahib. Humna actually said it is considered more proper in their families that the men talk. I also have his number for you.”
Amna was unable to contain herself and laughed out loud.
“Ammi, it seems like Humna’s mother is as scared of talking to you as you are of her!” she teased her mother. Farida gave her a stern look. Umair gave his sister a playful smack on the head.
“Where’s the number Umair?” Akram asked Umair. Then he turned to his wife.
“Farida Begum,” he addressed her in a teasing tone, “I see you are ready in awe of your American in-laws!” Amna and Umair exchanged amused looks.
“Do you want to call them now, Abbu?” Umair asked.
“What time is it over there?”
“It’s ten a.m. on Saturday morning.”
“Isn’t it too early to be calling on a weekend?” Farida asked. “People like to rest on weekends.”
“In the US, ten p.m. means half the morning has already gone by Ammi,” Umair told his mother, he was going through his cell phone contacts for Ibrahim Saeed’s number.
“Yes Ammi, the good thing about America is that everyone gets up very early and goes to bed very early too,” Amna informed her promptly. “By ten in the morning, people are already done with half their morning chores.”
“We’ll find out who’s doing what when we call them,” Akram told his daughter. “Dial the number Umair.”
Ibrahim Saeed was washing his car in the driveway. He had left his phone on the kitchen table and it was now ringing. Zahra ignored it the first time; she never bothered picking up his calls. But when it started ringing again, she got irked and picked it up.
“Assalam Alaikum,” said a polite, deep voice. “May I speak to Ibrahim Saeed Sahib?”
“Walaikum Assalam, may I know who’s calling?” Zahra asked. She wanted to get the name before she told him that Ibrahim couldn’t come to the phone at the moment.
“Yes… this is Akram Ali, Umair’s Ali’s father…,” the phone nearly fell out of Zahra’s hand. Telling Akram Ali that her husband couldn’t come to the phone was the last thing she wanted to do now.
“How are you Bhai Sahib,” she replied warmly. “Please hold on. I’ll get Ibrahim.”
She put the phone on the table and dashed out of the front door. Ibrahim was merrily hosing away soap suds from the roof of the car. Zahra rushed to the water tap and turned off the water. Ibrahim looked up in surprise as the hose hung limp in his hand. Before he could say a word, Zahra grabbed him by the arm.
“Come inside, quick,” she hissed excitedly, dragging him inside at the same time. “Akram Ali is on the phone, he wants to talk to you.”
“Who in the world is Akram Ali?” Ibrahim stared at his adrenalized wife in confusion. He couldn’t immediately place any Akram Ali. Zahra clicked her tongue in exasperation.
“Umair Ali’s father…the boy for Humna, Ibrahim. How could you forget?” she pushed him indoors and grabbed the phone from the table. She quickly placed it in his hands before he could ask for it and pulled out a chair for him.
Ibrahim Saeed introduced himself and then fell into a friendly conversation about the family background and details. Zahra had pulled out another chair right in front of him and was watching him with an animated expression on her face.
Ibrahim was very careful not to say anything that would make Zahra suspicious of Umair’s location. Then he mentioned Salman, how he was a good friend and knew Akram Ali’s family. Akram Ali knew Salman’s family quite well and was pleased to learn of the connection. Zahra wondered who this Salman was. Salman Zia? Khalida’s husband? She wasn’t sure. She hoped Ibrahim would have her talk to the boy’s mother too. But he didn’t.
“So, what did he say?” she could barely wait for him to end his conversation.
“Oh, nothing much…He was just telling me about his son and that they had heard good things about us and were interested in our daughter.” Ibrahim replied airily. Although Zahra was ecstatic, she couldn’t help being slightly skeptical too.
“How could they be interested already?” she wondered out loud. “Neither Humna, nor the boy, have talked to each other yet?”
“This is how respectable families find matches for their children. Getting good references about the other family’s background is more important than what their children think. That matters too but families believe in doing their homework first. It will be Humna’s and Umair’s decision but after the elders give their ‘green’ signal.” Ibrahim quickly put her suspicions to rest. Zahra was very adept at getting to the bottom of things when she wanted to. And this would be bad in this situation. For the moment, she was suitably convinced. Then something struck her.
“Who is this Salman you were referring to?” she asked him.
“Salman Zia. Who else,” there was no way to avoid this sticky question. He had to tell her.
“Salman Zia,” she asked in amazement. “You mean Khalida’s husband Salman?” Ibrahim Saeed suppressed his smile.
“Yes. Why are you so surprised? He is my friend you know. And is there a rule against his referring a good boy for Humna?” Zahra only stared at him.
“But you told me it was a friend from southern California?” she asked.
“I did that on purpose. If I hadn’t you would have gone around asking Khalida all sorts of questions and I didn’t want that until I had talked to the boy’s father myself.” She understood his point but she wasn’t going to admit it.
“I’m not that stupid Ibrahim!” she replied haughtily. “You could have told me the truth and I wouldn’t have discussed it with Khalida at all. You really do behave like a child sometimes.”
“Well, childish or not, there is no need for secrecy or caution now. I like the boy’s father and I’ve got a very good report about the family.” Zahra’s heart soared. This was awesome news!
“So, should the kids now exchange email addresses or phone numbers or whatever now?” she asked excitedly.
“Talk to Humna and see if she agrees to the proposal at all. Then I’ll call back Akram Ali to give him our consent. I’d also like to talk to Umair.” He laid out a little plan for her to follow. Both father and daughter had to continue the drama a little longer.
“I’ll talk to Humna right now and let you know. No reason why she should object,” Zahra left the kitchen hastily.
On her way up to Humna’s room, a thought struck Zahra.
If this was such a good family and if the boy really was so eligible, why had Salman referred him for Humna and not considered him for his own daughter? And why hadn’t Khalida told her about this boy? Was there something wrong with the boy that Khalida and Salman weren’t telling them? She had to talk to Khalida, but meanwhile, there was no harm in getting Humna to get in touch with the boy. (To be continued)