A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
Jabeen and Tahira were at the mall together. They had roamed most of the stores on both floors and had now stopped to have a snack at a bakery. This bakery was among the friends’ favorite eateries. It was set up like a French bistro and the aroma of fresh, hot bread complemented that picture nicely. Few of the tables were also set outside the door under a gay, red awning where one could eat and enjoy the hustle and bustle of shoppers in the mall. Baskets of colorful flowers hung at regular intervals from the awning rods.
They decided to eat outside. After ordering tea, fresh scones and a couple of jam tarts, they started a casual conversation that mostly revolved around home, children and family. Jabeen and her family were planning to go to Karachi during the summer. The trip to the mall was also part of the preparations for the trip.
“You only have about three months left before summer,” Tahira told her. “Have you booked the tickets yet?”
“We’ve already booked the seats. Just have to pay for them.”
The waiter placed a dainty teapot in front of them with matching cups. Sugar and cream were in separate containers. The hot scones were still giving out steam and the jam on the tarts was red and glossy.
“I wish I could go,” Tahira said ruefully. “I miss home already.”
“Why don’t you go this summer too? Imagine the fun we’ll have,” Jabeen coaxed her.
“I can well imagine the fun but since I went last year, I wouldn’t dare even mention it to Haider. It’s so expensive. Can’t afford to go every year yaar.”
“I know. With three kids, the cost is astronomical. Ticket prices are going through the roof. I haven’t been home for the past two years so I really need to go this year. I get horribly home and ‘relative sick’.” Tahira smiled. She knew the feeling.
“Exactly. I just have to visit at least once in two years. It’s like recharging my battery for the next two years.”
“Funny how we live here and have a complete life with our husband and kids…”
“Don’t forget the friends…” Tahira added.
“Yes…and friends,” Jabeen smiled. “But we crave to go to Karachi as if we were in isolation here.”
“We have our roots there and we are tethered to the land. That’s why we crave it. It reminds us of who we are.”
“Why do we crave to be reminded of who we are? Why don’t we just melt in our new surroundings and blend in, I wonder,” Jabeen asked. She had split open a scone and was smothering it with butter.
“Idiot, why don’t you wait for the scone to cool off a little? The butter is turning into ghee…”
“That’s exactly how I like it,” replied Jabeen merrily. “My nani jaan used to make parathas dripping with ghee. This taste brings back her memory.”
“That’s exactly why we crave to go back to Karachi,” Tahira told her. “We want those warm, loving, comforting memories to wash over us. Every bazaar that we’ve been to and every street that we’ve passed is littered with these memories. The people we crave to meet are related to us by blood. The friends that we make here, even our best friends, aren’t our blood relatives.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Jabeen said, wiping her fingers on a napkin. “Our relatives are related to us by blood and our friends are mostly related to us by paper.” Tahira looked at her in surprise.
“Yes, the waiter will now bring a piece of paper with the cost of the food we’ve eaten here. You being my ‘paper relative’ will pay that bill to prove our relation.” Tahira laughed out loud and shook her head. Trust Jabeen to make the most ludicrous remark to break up a somber conversation.
“I’ll pay this time but next time it’s going to be your turn,” she told her.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, my dear.”
Meer was looking at the pictures of the girl Saira and reading about her family background in her bio-data. By what Gul had told him, they were looking for a semi-conservative family and hence were keen to find a boy in Pakistan rather than in the US. Personally, he wasn’t all together averse to the idea of immigrating to the US. Karachi was nothing short of a deathtrap for ambitious people like himself and he would be a fool to think otherwise. He would be an even greater fool not to explore an opportunity to move abroad, if he could. He liked the attractive girl with her large, dark eyes. Though she looked sober and intelligent, one could never be sure until speaking to her and finding out her views. That couldn’t happen without his parents’ approval.
Farid Afridi was already considered something of a pariah by their Pathan clan in Peshawer for deciding to marry his children outside of the family. But according to Farid Afridi, times had changed. Still, the protocol was to have the two families talk first before the girl and boy started to communicate. Also, if the girl’s family did have the values that he heard they did, they wouldn’t allow their daughter to start talking to a stranger for the purpose of marriage until the parents had spoken first. He decided to talk to his parents and get this thing decided once and for all.
He found his mother in her room folding some clothes.
“Where’s Abba?” he asked her casually. He was hoping to catch both of them together.
“He’s in the living room with one of his friends,” she replied, thinking he would leave to go and find him. Instead, he sat on one of the chairs near her bed, picked up a magazine from the bedside table and started leafing through it absentmindedly.
“Do you want to talk to your Abba about something important?” Meher Afridi asked her son.
“Well…it’s actually about that girl Phuppo was talking about.” Meher Afridi was instantly alert and irritated at the same time. Her sister-in-law shouldn’t have been talking to her son about this sensitive issue without her permission. She had no idea that it was Gul and not Seema who had spoken to Meer. Meher Afridi had hoped that this American girl business could go away quietly but obviously now the keerahad gotten into Meer’s head too. However, she was comforted by the fact that he still hadn’t seen the pictures yet. This meant she could still dissuade him.
“Look Meer, I don’t think it’s a very good idea,” she started cautiously. “I mean…you could find so many good girls here. Why do you have to go to America?”
“I’m not dying to go to America Amma and you know that. But is there any harm in talking to a family who has expressed an interest in me?” Meher didn’t know what else to say.
“I mean, I hear it’s a very good family and they are looking for a match from a family like ours. Do you really think we should just refuse right away?” Meer looked at his mother questioningly.
“But you can find much better looking girls here Meer. My son is very handsome and educated. Any person would be willing to give you their girl,” Meher Afridi said, unable to keep the pride and love out of her voice.
“But Amma, she’s a good looking girl too,” he said. “I don’t want just a pretty face; I want an educated, smart person with a good personality. Seems like she has a good personality.”
“How do you know what she looks like?” Meher looked at him in amazement.
“Phuppo sent me the pictures. I’ve seen the girl and I’ve read about her family. I thought I would talk to you and Abba to see what you thought.”
“Talk to Abba about what?” Farid Afridi walked in the door before Meher had a chance to say anything. She was extremely incensed at Seema for sending Meer the pictures without consulting her first and here she was planning to bury the whole issue before it got out of hand.
“I was just trying to get your opinion about that girl Phuppo mentioned,” Meer turned to his father who had taken the other chair next to him. “Don’t you think we should answer them one way or the other? I mean, if we decide not to proceed, they would be free to consider someone else. Considering that they approached us themselves, it wouldn’t be nice of us not to respond at all.”
“That’s what I think and that’s what I was telling your mother,” Farid Afridi agreed with his son. “But she thinks they are out to steal you from right under our noses!” Meer smiled.
“If my fate is to go to US, then that is where I will end up, whether it is with this girl or any other,” Meer smiled at his parents. “That is not the point right now. The discussion at present is how we are going to respond to these people.”
“Have you seen the pictures of the girl Meer,” Farid Afridi asked his son. “Because that is the first step. If you don’t think she’s your type, I’ll refuse right now.”
“What would you do if I feel we should at least talk to them?” Meer asked.
“I would call up the girl’s father and talk to him to see what they’re thinking and what they have in mind. It’s not necessary that both parties find each other suitable. Also, we can’t just ‘arrange’ a marriage nowadays without the girl and the boy agreeing. And that can only happen when the two talk to each other.”
“Then I suggest you talk to the father and see what he says,” Meer said thoughtfully. “I don’t want this thing hanging over my head. And I know Phuppo will keep talking to us about it until we decide one way or the other.” Both Farid Afridi and his wife looked at their son. Farid Afridi, in surprise, and his wife, in frustration. This was just what she hadn’t wanted.
“So, I assume you’ve made this decision after looking at the picture?” Farid Afridi asked.
“Yes. Phuppo sent it to me. But why isn’t Amma calling the mother? That’s what she usually does in the beginning. Isn’t that how the initial communication begins?”
“Your Amma is not in a mood to take this thing even half a step further,” Farid Afridi looked at his wife in amusement, a smile on his face. He could guess by her expressions that she wasn’t overly pleased by this decision. “She’s making silly excuses so I think it’s better that I handle this one myself.”
“I’m not making excuses, Farid Sahib,” Meher Afridi exclaimed. “I really don’t know what the girl’s mother will be like and how she’s going to talk.”
“Meri piyaaree Amma!” Meer left his chair, sat next to his mother on the bed and put his arm around her shoulders affectionately. “You’re talking like this family is from the moon! They’re a Pakistani family just like us and they talk just like us too. Their living in the US doesn’t make them any different than any other family here.”
“Your Amma won’t believe it until she sees it for herself!” Farid Afridi laughed. “Hand me my phone ,Meer. Let me call Seema and tell her before she calls me in the middle of the night to ask what I’ve decided.”
Akber picked up the phone. Farid Afridi talked to him for a few minutes before asking about Seema.
“Where is that wife of yours?” he asked affectionately. “Busy making another match on the other phone?” Akber laughed.
“At the moment she’s only obsessed with Meer,” he told his brother-in-law. “She was also angry at me for not trying hard enough to convince you the other day. I told her it was yours, Bhabi’s and Meer’s decision and I didn’t want to say anything.”
“You can always tell us what you think Akber. You’re family too,” said Farid Afridi. “However, it’s Meer’s decision even more than ours. Anyway, given the fact that they approached us for our son, we would like to at least talk to them. It seems very impolite to say no without even talking once.”
“I agree,” said Akber. “We owe them at least that much. Here’s Seema and she’s very impatient to talk to you!” He handed the phone to his wife.
Seema was elated to hear her brother’s decision and could hardly wait to call Zarina Ali and give her the good news. It was after her conversation with Zarina that a thought struck her; how did Meer agree to this when he hadn’t even seen the girl? The pictures were still in her email and she had intended to show them to him personally the next time she went to their house.
Saira had just gotten home from work and was standing with her head stuck inside the refrigerator in search of a snack when she heard Khalida’s voice calling her. A moment later, she was in the kitchen. Saira had found a couple of leftover shami kababs from the previous night’s dinner. One look at her mother’s face was enough to tell her she was very excited.
“Mrs Ali called today,” Khalida informed her daughter. “And guess what?”
“Another potential candidate, my dear Ammi?” Saira asked amusedly. She had pulled out a chair and was seated at the small kitchen table. Mrs Ali certainly wouldn’t have called to discuss the weather.
“Not a new one but the same one. Remember that Pathan family? They liked your picture and would like to talk further.” Of course Saira remembered. She had liked the boy. However, she hadn’t expected them to reply back. At least not with the desire to talk further. She was pleasantly surprised but did not express it.
“Are you sure they saw the right picture?” she teased her mother.
“Don’t be silly,” Khalida smacked her daughter’s head lightly. “And don’t underestimate yourself. You are a very attractive girl.”
“That’s not what boys are looking for nowadays, Ammi,” Saira informed her mother nonchalantly, dipping her kabab in ketchup. “And I’m not underestimating myself, I’m just being realistic.”
“Well the real thing right now is that they are interested. I’ve given them your Abbu’s cell phone number. The father wants to talk to him.” Saira looked at her curiously.
“Don’t the mothers usually do this?”
“I know they do. But Mrs Ali was saying that perhaps this is how the Pathan families do it.”
“Have you told Abbu?”
“Yes. He said I should have given the home number but I didn’t want Afridi Sahib to call at a time when Salman wasn’t home. At least he won’t miss the call on his cell phone.” Saira was tickled at her mother’s excitement.
“Aren’t you getting a little carried away, my dear Ammi?” she teased her again. “I suggest you don’t get your hopes too high. I have to talk to the boy and approve before this thing goes anywhere.”
“I’m not getting my hopes up,” Khalida was irritated. She had very strong nerves and to exhibit this sort of childish excitement and also be teased about it was just not up her alley. “And of course, you have the final word. But I can’t help hoping this will go somewhere.” She walked out the door.
Saira sat at the table, deep in thought. She was about to turn twenty-five. In the Pakistani community, this was an age when a girl had to be at least engaged to someone. The chances of finding a good match diminished considerably at twenty-four and then went into a steep decline every following year. She understood her mother’s worries but knowing the type of boy who would be acceptable to the family, and to the community at large, only her mother could find one.
She couldn’t help but hope that this certain rishta wasn’t a false alarm. She wondered if her mother had told her best buddies yet. (Continued next week)