A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
Khalida was impatient to find out if Mrs Ali had forwarded Saira’s pictures to the boy’s side. Though she hated to appear so anxious when it had only been three days, she couldn’t help herself.
“I’ve already forwarded Saira’s pictures and information,” Mrs Ali told her. “But I haven’t heard anything from my cousin yet.”
“I hope the boy’s side will give us a yes or a no instead of just going mute like a lot of them do,” Khalida sighed.
“I’m sure they won’t,” Mrs Ali reassured her, “I suggest you give them a little more time. It’s too soon yet.”
After talking to Khalida, Mrs Ali messaged her cousin Zarina in Karachi, curious to find out herself if there was a chance of a yes from the Afridi family.
Zarina in turn called Seema to gauge the family’s reaction.
“I really liked the girl,” Seema told her. “My Bhabi and my niece also thought Saira was quite attractive and nice. But you know how it works. My Bhabi has to discuss it with my Bhai and Meer himself before she could say anything.”
“I hope they won’t take too long,” Zarina decided to apply little pressure. “The parents of eligible girls are usually considering more than one proposal at a time. I suggest your Bhai and Bhabi at least start the conversation process with the girl’s family to show their interest.”
“I will definitely talk to my Bhabi and let her know that but I can’t force her. Frankly, I would call the girl’s family right away if Meer were my son.”
“I understand. I was just following up. Do keep me posted about their decision.”
“I sure will Zarina Apa.”
The next thing Zarina did was to message back Mrs Ali. Zarina was smart enough to judge the interest of one party for the other from a mile away. And by Seema’s conversation, at least the women folk in the Afridi family seemed definitely interested in Saira.
It was almost nine thirty at night when Meher Afridi got done with clearing up the kitchen. Though her two daughters-in-law took care of the cooking and the main work, she also made sure she helped as much as she could. When she came into her room, Farid Afridi was propped up in bed with a book in his lap and his phone to his ear. She sat down on the chair facing the bed. The relaxed smile on his face was enough to tell her that it was a family member. He was done a minute later.
“It was Seema,” he told his wife, putting the phone on the bed-side table.
“Was it about that proposal for Meer again?” She asked. Farid Afridi nodded.
"She said she showed you a picture two days ago?”
“Yes, she did. I forgot to mention it to you,” She replied casually. Actually, Meher Afridi hadn’t forgotten. She just didn’t want to get her husband too involved with the idea. She was biding time, hoping she could gradually talk Seema out of her infatuation. But obviously, Seema was quite intent on making sure the process wasn’t stalled.
“So what did you think about the girl?” Farid Afridi asked his wife keenly.
“She’s pretty and educated and the bio-data isn’t too bad either. But the only major problem is that she is in the US.” The last thing Meher Afridi would do was to lie about someone else’s daughter.
“I understand your reservations. But I was thinking that if a family in the US is looking for a boy from Pakistan, I’m sure it’s because they have good cultural and moral values that they are unable to find over there. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they just look in America?”
“How can you be so certain?” Meher Afridi looked at her husband in surprise.
“I’m not saying I’m certain, but that does seem like a highly likely reason. The other reason why we shouldn’t just ignore this proposal is because they themselves have expressed an interest in Meer through Seema’s friend. It would be very arrogant of us not to even talk to these people and reject them outright.”
Meher sighed. She knew that once her husband decided on doing something, she, or anyone else for that matter, had little say in his decision.
“Seema suggested that you ask Meer about the girl and if he finds this proposal acceptable, then you talk to the girl’s mother.” Meher Afridi nearly jumped in her seat.
“Me? Talk to the girl’s mother? Oh no… Afridi Sahib…”
“Why ever not?” it was now Farid Afridi’s turn to be amazed. “It’s not like you’ve never done it before. You’ve had similar conversations three times already marrying off two sons and a daughter.”
“But Afridi Sahib, I couldn’t talk to a woman in the US,” Meher Afridi looked genuinely perturbed. “I mean, I don’t know what kind of a person she is. And what if she talks in English? I don’t know a word of English.” Farid Afridi couldn’t suppress his smile. His wife was really a simpleton.
“Ok, don’t worry, I’ll talk to the father instead,” he calmed her down. “What does it matter who talks to whom? I’ll decide when to call after Meer tells us if he is even interested in going forward.”
Meher got up from her chair. It was no use arguing further with her husband at this time. Plus, there was still a chance that Meer would decide she was not the girl for him after all. She would not only show the pictures of the girl to him but also tell him how he would be much better off with his family in Karachi than moving to a new country with a girl who could turn out to be spoilt, highly fashionable, and ill-mannered.
If the girl wasn’t what he wanted, that would be the end of the entire story. She would also make sure Seema never brought another proposal from a US-born and -raised girl again. In Meher Afridi’s opinion, although Seema was married and a mother of two sons, her imagination still tended to run away with her.
A couple of days later, Gul remembered the email she had forwarded to Meer. She knocked and went into his room to ask him how he liked the girl. “What girl?” Meer asked in surprise.
“The girl in the picture I sent you. The one Phuppo was suggesting for you. You didn’t see the email?”
“Oh, that ugly girl? I’m surprised you could think she would be a good match for me.” Gul looked hurt.
“How could you possibly think her ugly? I think she’s quite attractive. Especially her eyes. So she isn’t very fair but beauty isn’t all about being fair.”
“Thank goodness, you finally admitted yourself that beauty isn’t all about being fair,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. He was obviously hinting on his sister’s pink complexion and dark gray eyes so like his own. Gul suddenly grasped his teasing.
“Come on Meer Bhai!” she shook his shoulder. “Don’t kid with me. I know you like the girl. I like her and so do Phuppa and Amma. Do say yes!”
“Say yes? How can I say yes just yet?” he laughed at his sister’s excitement. “I’m not marrying a picture you know. I’ll be marrying a person.”
“Of course, I know that,” Gul said in exasperation. “But the next step can only come when you like her picture. You can talk to her later and see if you like her as a person too.”
“Don’t get carried away, Gul,” Meer said firmly. ‘I’m still thinking about it. And please don’t say anything to Amma jan yet. I’ll tell her when I’m ready.”
This was enough to satisfy Gul. She liked the idea of Meer going outside the country. She knew he had wanted to go outside for higher studies but had understood that it was unaffordable. Getting married to a good girl and moving there would be the perfect solution.
Although Umair and Humna were in more or less the same kind of situation, Umair felt that he had less of an uphill battle than Humna. However, though he knew his parents wouldn’t be wholly opposed to a girl he had chosen for himself, he wasn’t sure how they would feel that the girl was in the US. There was only one way to find out.
He chose a Friday night to talk to them. Akram Ali didn’t have work the next day and the family usually spent a longer time in the family room.
“Ammi and Abbu, I need to talk to you about something,” Umair started out hesitatingly. Akram Ali looked at his son in amusement.
“You’ve never needed our permission talk before Umair,” he said. “Must be something really important.” Farida wasn’t really paying attention. The father and son often discussed his educational plans and job search statuses. She and her daughter were engrossed in the latest episode of a Pakistani drama.
“It’s actually about my marriage plans,” said Umair, sneaking a look at his mother. As expected, Farida was suddenly all ears.
“Your marriage?” she looked at her son in amazement. She motioned to Amna to turn down the volume. “Why the sudden thought about marriage? I thought you said you didn’t want to get married until you found a job and started applying for your PhD?” Amna was also listening intently, her drama forgotten. This live drama was way more engrossing.
“I didn’t have any plans yet but Ahmed actually recommended a girl who is a friend of his wife Ruby,” Umair started but was interrupted abruptly.
“Wait a minute!” said Farida sharply. “Are you saying that the girl is in America?” she was quite taken aback. Akram Ali didn’t say anything. He wanted to hear the whole story before interrupting his son. He was a patient man who let his head rule his heart rather than vice versa. His wife tended to be more emotional.
“Yes Ammi,” he sighed. It was time to let the cat out of the bag once and for all. However, he edited the story a little, presenting a version that would be more acceptable to them. He left out the fact that they had been communicating for nearly four months now and had reached the decision that they were compatible. He only told them that the girl was Ahmed’s wife’s friend and that she had shown the girl’s side his pictures taken during the wedding. He told them they liked him and his family based on the information Ahmed had given them and now wished to see if the two families were compatible. To add urgency to the matter, he added they had shown an interest to move the process forward.
He knew that if he hadn’t presented this rather decent, albeit highly edited, version of their ongoing courtship, it would become very hard for both his parents to understand the situation. It was likely they would have felt left out and hurt by the fact that their only son had not cared to take their opinion into consideration in taking this very important step in his life. There was also a great possibility that his mother would assume the girl to be very tezor ‘fast’ and ‘after’ her son to ‘ensnare’ him, in which case she would reject the entire process even before it started.
“This is very sudden Umair and we know nothing about this family,” Akram Ali finally said. “In fact, you don’t even know how well Ahmed’s wife’s family knows them.”
“That is what I told Ahmed Abbu,” said Umair, playing the part of the obedient son perfectly. This wasn’t entirely a lie. “But he insists that the girl is his wife’s very good friend and they have grown up together in California. Their families have known each other for years.”
“But Umair, I didn’t know you wanted to move to America,” said Farida. “I know you want to go there for your PhD but that would have been temporary. But once you marry a girl from there, you’ll be gone forever. You want to leave us alone here?” It was hard for Farida to comprehend all this. She looked and sounded dejected.
“No Ammi, of course not,” said Umair, understanding his mother’s fears. “If I settle there, you and Abbu will go with me.”
“But beta,” said Farida sadly. “No daughter-in-law from the US wants to live with her in laws.”
“That will be my only condition for this marriage Ammi,” Umair said firmly. He of course did not tell her that this point had already been discussed in detail and Humna had assured him that she had no problems with his family living with them. Her own grandparents had lived with them after her father had moved to the US. Though they visited their other children in Pakistan and Canada too, her mother had never had issues with her mother and father-in-law spending long periods of time with them. It was primarily because of this interaction that both Humna and Huma spoke and understood Urdu better than a lot of other Pakistani children growing up in the US.
“And you think a girl from the US will listen to your conditions, Umair?” his father asked smiling. In his opinion, Umair was talking naïvely. “Conditions such as these are called deal-breakers…”
“Then the deal will break Abbu,” Umair said seriously. He had discussed all his conditions with Humna but had to give his parents the confidence that he was on their side. This would make them happy and relaxed when talking to Humna’s parents.
As expected, the manner in which Umair presented his case put both Farida and Akram Ali at ease. They trusted their son. And there was no harm in at least talking to the girl’s parents. With a daughter of their own, they knew quite well how much good boys were in demand. The only difference was that this time a family from the US had shown interest in their son. In a way, they couldn’t help but feel a little proud. Amna too was excited and was wondering if he had a picture of the girl he could show her.
“Have Ahmed come over whenever he’s free,” Akram Ali told Umair. “Your mother and I would like to talk to him about this.”
“Sure Abbu,” said Umair. “He has been pestering me to tell you for the past two weeks now. I kept putting him off. But then I decided that the best way to decide the matter once and for all was to talk to you about it.”
On the phone with Ahmed that night, he cursed him for making him lay such an elaborate plan for breaking the news to his parents. Ahmed only laughed.
“All is fair in love and war, my dear,” he said airily. “Worry not my friend. I’ll come in a day or two and take over the drama for you!”
‘Bewaqoof, gadha’ Umair said as he flipped the phone off. Overall, his little meeting had gone fairly well. He wondered how it was going with Humna. (Continued next week)