A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
Chapter 23

The moment Humna saw her mother’s thrilled face, she guessed that not only must Umair’s father have called but that the conversation had gone quite well too. Nevertheless, she pretended like everything was news to her. Zahra handed Humna the slip of paper with Umair’s email address and told her to contact him. Humna was tickled to think how she would react if she found out that the two of them were already in touch. Though she was relieved that things were finally getting in line, she wished her father would finally tell her mother about the ‘Pakistan’ part of the whole deal too. She wondered if Zahra would continue to be as excited about the whole thing then as she was now. This was indeed what could be referred to as ‘the million-dollar question’.
*****
It as evening on the same day that Salman Zia got a phone call from Ibrahim Saeed asking if he was home. He wanted to drop by for a little while. Zahra was not home at the moment, having left a little while ago to attend a Pakistani dress fair. Ibrahim also knew that Khalida was away for the weekend, visiting a relative in San Diego. It was the perfect time to talk to Salman. It was important for Ibrahim to bring him up to speed before Zahra started questioning Khalida about the background of the Umair rishta and the reason why she had failed to mention it to her. Wives were extremely suspicious and most efficient in getting all such details immediately. If Salman didn’t know anything about the whole situation and told her that it was for Ibrahim’s sister, it would open up another Pandora’s box for him with Zahra.
Although Ibrahim was very confident about Umair’s background, he nonetheless felt the need to talk to one of his friends about it too and discuss the entire idea objectively. He also wanted to discuss it with Ehsan Khan, Ruby’s parents, but he decided he would do that after he had let the cat out of the bag with Zahra.
Salman was alone at home when he arrived there. Saira was also not home, attending the same dress fair as Zahra. With all the socializing the Pakistani women did, chances like this were rarely missed.
Over light chatter, Salman made two cups of tea and then they both came into the family room.
“Salman, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about…,” Ibrahim finally got to the topic, unsure of what to say.
“Actually, I’m glad you came,” Salman told him. “There’s something I wanted to discuss with you too. But you go first.”
“Well, you know that family you told me about in Karachi? Akram Ali?” Ibrahim asked.
“Yes,” Salman nodded. “You said your sister was considering Akram Bhai’s daughter for her son.”
“Exactly,” Ibrahim nodded, shifting uncomfortably on the sofa. “But that proposal isn’t exactly for Akram Ali’s daughter…from his son…” Salman looked a little confused.
“You mean your sister is considering his son for her daughter?” he tried to figure it out.
“No, no,” Ibrahim sighed. “It’s not for my sister at all. It’s for myself…,” Salman sputtered his tea out, coughing. He stared at Ibrahim incredulously.
“You want to marry Akram Ali’s daughter?” he asked, his eyes wide with disbelief. Ibrahim clicked his tongue and slapped his forehead in sheer exasperation.
“Of course not, you idiot,” he glared at him, “it’s from Akram Ali’s son…for Humna.” Salman stared at him for a moment. Suddenly, reality dawned upon him.
“Really? That’s’ great!” he exclaimed excitedly. “And what a coincidence that I knew the family so well.”
Ibrahim then told him how it had progressed and what the situation was at present. Salman listened carefully without interrupting, sipping his tea quietly. Ibrahim told him to expect questions from Khalida about it as soon as she returned from her trip. Salman understood his predicament far too well.
“What was it that you wanted to talk to me about?” Ibrahim remembered that Salman had wanted to talk to him about something too.
“Well it seems like we’re in the same boat,” he took a deep breath and made a comical face.
“Same boat?” it was Ibrahim’s turn to be confused now.
Salman told him about the ongoing rishta talks they were having with Farid Afridi’s family. But Salman’s principal concern, as opposed to the Umair-Humna situation, was that Salman didn’t know anyone who knew Meer or his family personally. Ibrahim laughed out loud when Salman was finished with his story.
“Isn’t it strange how we’re both considering boys from Pakistan for our daughters,” his voice was bemused.
“Yes,” Salman laughed too. “The word eerie would apply here!”
“But I understand your concern,” Ibrahim was now thoughtful. “I would also be very hesitant to take such an important step without personal references.”
“So, what do you suggest I do?” Salman looked at him questioningly. “Afridi sounded like a reasonable man and I’ll talk to the son too. But I won’t hesitate in refusing him if I’m not satisfied.”
“Wouldn’t Farid Afridi have the same type of reservations regarding an unknown family in the US as you do about them?” It was a logical question.
“He probably does,” Salman replied. “But he sounds like someone who trusts his instinct. The parents of a boy can afford to rely on their instinct. But I can’t do this…Especially for a boy coming straight from Karachi.”
“Is Saira in touch with the boy?” Ibrahim asked. “What does she say?”
“She’s already in touch with him and also discussing it with Ruby,” Salman replied. “But Ruby’s husband is her cousin so that’s a different thing.” Ibrahim agreed.
“I suggest you let the two of them figure out first if this is really going anywhere,” he advised. “If it is, then you can start digging a little deeper for references. What does Khalida say?”
“She’s in love with the boy already and envisioning him as our son-in-law!” Salman quipped drily. “What about Zahra?”
“Same story there…,” Ibrahim sighed. “She can barely wait to start making the guest list!” They both laughed for a long moment.
“How does Zahra feel about the Pakistan part?” Salman sobered down. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to adjust to the idea.”
“That’s actually a can of worms I haven’t opened yet… “Ibrahim scratched his head. “You see…actually..., Zahra doesn’t know yet that the boy is in Karachi.” Salman stared at Ibrahim for a few seconds before bursting out with laughter again.
“Are you serious?” he asked, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. This was a fantastic comedy of errors. “Talk about walking knowingly into a lion’s den!” Ibrahim was embarrassed and irritated.
“Well laugh at me all you like,” he grumbled, pretending to be extremely vexed. “These are the kind of things a father is known to do for the love of his daughters.”
“I know exactly what you mean, my friend,” Salman assured him good humoredly.
“Of course you don’t know what I mean…,” Ibrahim brushed him off.
“Oh, but I do, dear Ibrahim Saeed. Because if you look around carefully in that lion’s den, you’ll see me sitting right beside you!” It took Ibrahim a second to understand what he was saying.
“Are you saying, Khalida doesn’t….” Salman nodded pretending to be extremely grim and solemn.
Ibrahim Saeed was the one laughing this time. Salman joined him.
“It’s amazing how our wives’ minds’ work,” Ibrahim reflected when they had sobered up. “Zahra is so excited about this proposal and sees nothing wrong with it. But I know for sure that the moment she discovers the boy is from Karachi, all hell will break loose.”
“So many of us here think along the same lines,” said Salman. “Possibly the effect of the materialistic society in which we live.”
“But I’m glad our daughters aren’t like that,” Ibrahim was truly thankful.
“Yes, indeed. This society may have its faults but it also teaches one to analyze situations objectively and think more with the head than the heart,” Salman mused. “I think it’s because the first-generation immigrants are so burdened with the history of the society where they’ve come from, they think differently.” Ibrahim nodded in agreement.
“It could also be our wives’ continual griping and fretting about finding the perfect boy that has made the girls think outside the box. I don’t know about Saira but Humna feels that location is not a valid enough reason for rejection.”
“More like thinking outside the border!” Salman joked. “Saira feels similarly and I agree with her.”
“So, when are you going to tell Khalida?” Ibrahim asked, rubbing his hands in mock glee.
“Not unless Saira tells me there’s some air in this balloon. How about you?” Salman replied.
“I have to tell Zahra very soon,” Ibrhahim told him. “Humna feels there’s enough air in her balloon to lift it off the ground!”
“Well, good luck to you and good luck to me!” the two friends gave each other a grand high-five.
*****
A couple of weeks later, everyone in Farid Afridi’s close family was aware that a girl from America was under serious consideration for Meer. The on and off discussions on the topic had softened Meher Afridi too. She was no longer as averse to the idea as she had been earlier. Her older sons also felt that if Meer had a good opportunity there was no reason he should not avail it. Plus, they reasoned, if it was Meer’s fate to settle in a foreign country he would eventually end up there even if he married a girl from Pakistan. Meher Afridi was a woman who trusted her husband’s decisions and was content with them. Why should this situation be any different? If Farid Afridi was allowing Meer and Saira to decide if they really did want to marry each other, then so be it.
*****
“Khalida, I wanted to talk to you about something,” Zahra had dropped in to see her on Monday morning. She wanted to talk in person rather than on the phone. The two were sitting on the kitchen table having tea.
“Sure.”
“Why didn’t you mention that rishta to me for Humna?” Zahra got to the point right away.
“What rishta?” Khalida looked at her blankly.
“The one that Salman told Ibrahim about,” Zahra explained. “I mean, you could have told me… I was surprised this came from Salman and not you.” Khalida was completely bewildered. She had no idea what Zahra was talking about.
“I really don’t know what rishta you’re referring to,” she said. “And if there was a rishta, of course I would be the one to tell you, rather than Salman telling Ibrahim.”
“That’s what I thought,” Zahra was a little relieved from Khalida’s side but the confusion remained.
“Believe me, I’m just as confused as you are,” Khalida explained further. “I’ll definitely talk to Salman about it and let you know. And to think women are notorious about keeping secrets. These men are no better.” Zahra nodded in agreement.
“Never mind who referred who, but I’m so happy to hear that there is a good ristha,” Khalida was suddenly excited now. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was just waiting to see how we liked the family and how Humna feels about the boy.”
“So?” Khalida prompted her on.
“Well, things look pretty promising so far.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Khalida exclaimed. She was genuinely happy for her friend. She could barely wait now to tell Zahra about the Afridi rishta. Since Zahra was already considering a promising proposal for Humna, there was no problem at all.
“There is something else on my mind and I really hope you won’t mind me asking you,” Zahra asked again. “Why did Salman send a good boy our way when he could have matched him up with Saira?”
“Because of the timing,” Khalida smiled. “We’re already considering a rishta for Saira!” Zahra was both excited and surprised at the same time.
“That’s great news!” she exclaimed. Both of them were considering serious rishtas that neither was aware of! “So why didn’t you tell me before?”
“For the same reason you hadn’t…I wanted to see if this thing looked like it was going somewhere before I told anyone. But I guess we both timed it pretty well,” she smiled happily.
Zahra’s grocery and Khalida’s morning chores were all forgotten as the two friends eagerly started sharing the details of the rishtas.
“So where does this Afridi family live?” Zahra asked.
“I think they’re on the East Coast somewhere. Salman said they lived far from California. Not sure about the state,” Khalida told her what she thought.
“You mean you haven’t asked him or Mrs Ali yet?” Zahra was surprised.
“If this thing works out, I don’t care if they’re in Hawaii,” Khalida waved her hand carelessly. “I haven’t talked to Mrs Ali after Salman started to talk to Afridi Sahib. Plus, Saira is already in touch with the boy so she probably knows. Surprisingly, Salman has taken the reins of this rishta negotiation entirely in his hands. And for once, I don’t mind. These mothers of boys in the US are often so haughty and stuck up, they had really started to try my patience. How about this Akram Ali family?”
“They’re in southern California,” Zahra told her. Because Ibrahim Saeed had initially told her that his friend in Southern California had referred the proposal, she was still under the impression that the boy’s family lived there too. It never occurred to her to question this notion even after the reality about Salman being the friend had surfaced.
“So, when do we tell the others?” Khalida was now itching to tell the other two in the group.
“What others? I don’t plan to tell anyone else except Jabeen and Tahira,” Zahra told her airily.
“That’s exactly I meant silly!” Khalida replied impatiently. “The rest of the community can find out when we announce the wedding date!”
They both laughed, relieved to be able to share all the details without the fear of it hurting the other friend.
*****
A month had elapsed since Saira and Meer started emailing. Ruby, quite experienced by now in what to ask a candidate who was in Pakistan, was guiding Saira about all the important questions to ask. As she had advised Humna, she told Saira to set a time limit to reach a decision. Saira had told both Meer and her parents that she would have her answer in less than two months.
A month had already gone by. There was just one little issue. Her father was having qualms about accepting a proposal of a stranger. Although according to Mrs Ali’s cousin, it was a good family, he wasn’t satisfied. What could her cousin know about the boy’s character or personality? Meer seemed intelligent, sensitive and sensible. Salman Zia had talked to him twice and Saira had also spoken to Gul and his mother once too. But Saira knew her father was right. She finally told Salman Zia that if he wasn’t comfortable with saying yes to a completely strange family, she would understand. (Continued next week)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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