A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
It was Saturday morning and Humna was carefully observing both her mother and father. She was waiting to catch her father alone and the only way this could happen was if her mother could go out for some chores. To the contrary, she saw her dad pick up the car keys, obviously on his way out.
“Are you going somewhere Daddy?” she asked him hurriedly. Her mother was enjoying the news and relaxing on the sofa. It didn’t look like she had plans to leave the house anytime soon.
“Just taking the car for oil change at Walmart,” Ibrahim replied.
“I’ll come with you. I need to get some things from Walmart too,” Humna said quickly. “And I’m ready.” She was dressed in her usual kurta and jeans and didn’t need to change. She wanted to leave before her mother started asking questions or made a list of her own for Walmart. This was the perfect opportunity. Being out of the house greatly reduced the risk of having Huma or her mother walk in any moment on the very important conversation she wanted to have with her father.
After her father had dropped off the car, she suggested they get some coffee at the McDonald’s inside the huge store while they waited. Her father had no objection. He liked spending time with both his daughters.
“Daddy, there’s something important I need to discuss with you,” Humna started to fumble with words as soon they were seated.
“Go ahead,” Ibrahim said. He assumed it was a job-related issue. These were the type of things Humna and Huma talked to him about; Zahra always directed the technical issues to him.
“It’s actually about a proposal from a boy,” the words came out in a rush. She watched her father’s expressions carefully. Ibrahim was completely astonished. Proposals and marriage were issues that Zahra dealt with.
“Isn’t this something that you should be talking to your mother about?” he asked, a little curious now. “I mean, I’m sure she’s the one who has recommended the boy to you?”
“Not this time, Daddy,” said Humna, a little uncomfortable now. “She knows nothing about him or any of this. I wanted to talk to you first.” Ibrahim was suddenly afraid that she was going to spring the least expected and most unpleasant surprise at him. It was probably a boy out of religion or culture that she had met at work. Why else wouldn’t Zahra know about it? Living in the US, although Pakistani parents repeatedly told themselves that they had to be ready for all and any kind of surprises from their children, the fact was that they were never prepared and always dreaded this sort of thing. Though the stories were common, no one ever believed them until it happened in their own homes.
“You’d better tell me quickly,” he said sternly, expecting the worst. “Is it someone at work?” Humna shook her head. She knew instantly what was going through his mind.
“No daddy,” she replied in a somewhat reassuring tone. “It’s nothing like that.” She then recounted the entire story to him. However, she gave him as much of an edited version as Ahmed had given to his own parents. They had both mutually decided that this would be the best way to do it. This not only preserved their ‘innocence’ in the entire process, it also made it appear as ‘proper’ as their neo-conservative Pakistani parents could desire it to be. In her version of the story, Humna made Ruby and Ahmed the key players and refrained from disclosing the fact that Umair’s and her mind were already more or less made up.
Ibrahim looked at his daughter thoughtfully after she had finished. Humna knew her father wasn’t going to exhibit an emotional outburst like her mother.
“I assume you have already been in touch with the boy?” he asked her. He wasn’t foolish enough to assume that his mature US-raised and educated daughter would actually be meek enough to ask his permission before scouting out a potential candidate for marriage.
“Yes Daddy, I have,” sighed Humna. “I was curious to see if a boy from Pakistan really was as incompatible with us as Ammi always makes it seem.” Humna answered simply and honestly and Ibrahim was pleased with her candor. He was also amused by her answer.
“And are they, or should I say, is he, as incompatible as you had heard?” he asked. He was now worried that Humna was actually telling him about it rather than asking his opinion. She thought for a moment before replying.
“I won’t lie to you, Daddy,” she said. “We aren’t incompatible. In fact, we feel we can have a good life together.” Ibrahim knew he had to tread carefully now. Obviously, she had gone farther than he had assumed.
“What do you want me to do now? I mean what ‘role’ am I to play in this little drama when it seems to me like all is already decided?” he hadn’t meant to sound sarcastic but it came out sounding like it. Humna looked at him, surprised.
“Are you assuming that I have already decided everything?” she asked. His expression told her she was right. “Oh, no Daddy, I haven’t decided anything yet. I want your advice on how to proceed to the next step now. Umair and I both feel that the parents need to be online now to move the process forward. I’ve told you first because you know what Ammi is like. She wouldn’t want to hear anything after finding out that the boy is in Pakistan. I need someone who would understand and you know best how to handle her.” A huge wave of relief swept over Ibrahim. His daughter needed an ally and he would never let her down. He smiled and patted her hand.
“I trust you fully Humna,” he told her. “I know you’re smart enough not to venture callously into any decision that involves a boy from Pakistan. Let me think about this and then I’ll tell you how we should proceed. This includes figuring out when and how to tell your mother.” Humna felt like a weight was lifted off her shoulders.
“I know I could have told Ammi about any boy from the US and she wouldn’t have been upset,” she told her father. “But she has this thing about Pakistani boys and how they all marry just to get hands on US immigration. Plus, you know how enamored she is with money and status.” Ibrahim knew exactly what she meant. Zahra really was more concerned with the level of glitz and glamour attached to her son-in-law than whether or not he could keep her daughter happy.
“Yes, I know,” he sighed.
“She couldn’t always have been like this, Daddy,” Humna thought out loud. “I mean, both you and her come from simple homes and backgrounds in Karachi. But you haven’t changed at all. What happened to her?” Ibrahim laughed.
“Well, my dear,” he said. “I guess there’s something in the American air. The chill of the weather seeps into the hearts too. Your Ammi is a good person, but she’s gotten cold for so many things.”
“How do you keep that chill out of your heart?” Humna philosophized.
“It’s easy. You keep your family very close to yourself and you keep their happiness above the opinion of the world. Their loving warmth keeps the chill out.” Humna smiled. This was a lesson to remember for the future.
There was an announcement for Ibrahim Saeed that the car was ready at the oil change station. They got up hurriedly. Time had flown. On the way back Ibrahim got more details from Humna about Umair’s background including the name of the bank where Akram Ali worked and the University where Umair was studying. If Humna really was as interested in Umair as she appeared to be, it was important to start working on the background checks of the boy and his family. He also asked Humna to email him pictures of Umair along with a short bio.
“Don’t mention anything to your mother yet,” he told her before she got out of the car at home. “I want to do a background check before I talk to Zahra.”
“Sure, Daddy,” Humna replied. Iqbal then asked her the question that had been nagging him.
“Humna, suppose I find out something about the boy or his family that I don’t like or approve of, or suppose they have some form of bad repute, would you still insist on this marriage?” Humna knew this was the question that could win or lose her father’s confidence.
“If you find anything that is not right, I will back out immediately. I trust your decision Daddy and I won’t challenge it. That’s why I’ve brought you in the picture at this point. I’m not telling you about Umair, I’m asking your advice.” She made his day. He smiled at her and tweaked her nose affectionately.
“That’s wonderful to hear,” he said. “Let me see what I can find out.”
The first thing she did when she got to her room was to email Umair asking for a few good pictures of him alone. The ones she had were from Ruby’s wedding and where he was in groups with other people. She also asked him to send a short bio of his family. She knew it was late night in Karachi but he would get the mail the next morning.
Seema had just arrived at her brother’s house, excited as usual about her ongoing matchmaking project for Meer. Meher Afrdi and Meer were in the family room. Farid Afridi wasn’t home. As soon as she had taken her chadar off and gotten her breath, Meher Afridi took her to task. She was still extremely displeased about Seema bypassing her to send Meer the pictures of the girl. If only he hadn’t seen the pictures and bio, Meher Afridi would have succeeded in brushing the whole matter under the rug discreetly.
“Seema, why did you send Meer the pictures of the girl without asking me?” she asked, unable to keep the irritation out of her voice. Seema was taken aback.
“But Bhabi,” she said. “I didn’t send him any pictures. I thought you had shown those to him.”
“Of course, I didn’t,” Meher Afridi snapped. Meer looked at his Phuppo in confusion; why was she denying she had sent him the pictures?
“But Phuppo, you emailed those pictures to me,” he blurted out. “Maybe you’re forgetting?”
“Of course, I’m not forgetting,” Seema turned to him indignantly. “Why would I when Bhabi had told me not to until she gave me permission? Plus, I wanted to show them to you when I was present too.”
“Even if you did email those, there is little I can do about it now,” Meher Afridi told her sister-in-law. Either Seema was lying or Meer.
“But Bhabi…,” Seema started to fight her case again. Just then Gul walked in.
“How are you Phuppo?” she asked her aunt cheerfully. “How goes the matchmaking?”
“Your Phuppo’s matchmaking is going so well that the pictures of girls and boys get magically sent to the other party without her knowledge,” Meher Afridi told her daughter.
“What do you mean?” This sounded interesting.
“Phuppo sent me the pictures of the rishta girl and is now denying it,” Meer teased his Phuppo.
“I’m not denying it, Meer…,” Seema said indignantly but Gul interrupted.
“You mean the pictures of that American girl?” Gul asked. Meher Afridi groaned. It was bad enough to consider an American Pakistani girl as a potential daughter-in-law. Not to mention her being referred to as an American girl.
“Yes. And she’s not American,” Seema corrected her niece tartly. “She’s Pakistani…”
“But I sent those to Meer Bhai,” she calmly informed her aunt, mother and brother.
“But the email address was…,” Gul didn’t let her brother speak.
“Phuppo’s email was already open so I just sent it from her account,” Gul shrugged her shoulders. Meer and Seema burst out laughing. Meher Afridi slapped her forehead in sheer exasperation. It certainly seemed as if the odds were against her in this particular rishta.
It was around ten o’clock in the morning and Salman Zia was in his office when his cell phone rang. He usually let the answering machine take calls when he was working but the number indicated that it was coming from Pakistan. Wondering who was calling from Pakistan at that time, he picked up on the fourth ring.
“Assalam Alaikum, is this Salman Zia Sahib?” a polite and heavy voice asked.
“Yes, this is Salman Zia.”
“Salman Sahib, my name is Farid Afridi. I was given your number and information about your family with regards to a marriage proposal. I believe you have already reviewed information regarding my son, Meer.”
Salman Zia was suddenly alert. This was obviously the father of the Pathan boy Mrs Ali had referred. But why was he calling from Pakistan? Perhaps, he was visiting his family there.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Salman replied warmly. “I’ve seen the pictures of your son. Masha Allah, we have heard good things about your son and family.”
“Shukria, my wife and I are interested in finding out more about your daughter, too,” Farid Afridi replied. “As you must know Salman Sahib, marriages are made in heaven. Our job is only to try and see if there is compatibility between the two families and the boy and girl. If Allah has willed the match to be, then it shall happen.”
“Indeed,” Salman agreed. “So, as I see by your bio-data, you are a Pathan family. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but my impression was that Pathan families preferred to marry within the family.”
“Yes, that used to be so but times have changed,” Farid Afridi sounded very affable and easygoing. “It is different when there are good matches in the family but when there aren’t, we are no longer opposed to finding good families and good girls without the limitation of caste or creed.”
They both talked about their family background for a while.
“Where in the US do you live?” Salman suddenly remembered to ask him.
“We don’t live in the US,” Farid Afridi replied. “I am settled in Karachi. I moved here from Peshawar when my children were very young.” Salman was astounded but wisely did not act surprised. He liked Farid Afridi’s manner of speech and didn’t want to embarrass him by saying that the middle person had obviously seriously jumbled up the facts.
“I was just wondering because the lady who referred you to us usually refers families from the US,” said Salman quickly.
“I see,” said Farid Afridi. “My family moved to Karachi when my two elder sons were very young. My two younger children were born in Karachi. We are all so used to the hustle and bustle of Karachi now that no one wishes to move back to Peshawar. Especially with the current state of affairs in the region.” Salman agreed. In an instance, he decided not to stall the negotiations and to at least see where things would lead despite the fact that the Pakistan stamp on the boy had now put the matter in a completely different perspective. Plus, he wasn’t even sure how his wife would react or if his daughter would even agree to a Pakistani boy.
“So, Afridi Sahib,” he moved the conversation forward, “how do you propose we move the process along? I mean, our being so far away makes it difficult for us to meet like people usually do in these matters.”
“I’m not an old-fashioned father, Salman Sahib. I suggest we let the boy and the girl communicate and see if they find each other like-minded,” Farid Afridi suggested. “I may be a Pathan from Peshawar but I do realize that this is a decision that rests entirely on these two people since it will affect their lives the most. We can suggest matches for our children, but we cannot, and should not, force our choice upon them.”
“So my daughter being in the US is not relevant to you?” Salman decided to lay his cards on the table.
“I’m not going to lie to you Salman Sahib. My wife is having a hard time with this. But my son feels that no match should be rejected before making an honest attempt to figure out if it has any potential.” There was wisdom in the older man’s words that couldn’t be denied. Salman Zia was reminded of his own father and the way he used to present logical and sensible solutions to problems that seemingly defied resolution.
“So, you propose we let your son and my daughter figure out if they are interested in each other first?” he probed further.
“Actually, the first step was for the elders to figure out if they liked the families enough to allow our children to talk to each other,” Farid Afridi replied. Salman could sense the older man smiling. “I think that has gone pretty well so far, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Indeed, I do,” Salman said warmly. “Let me talk to my daughter and I’ll call you back with her answer.”
“No problem at all,” Farid Afridi replied. “But regardless of how things go in the future, it was indeed a pleasure talking to you.” Farid Afridi then gave Salman his phone number.
Salman Zia spent the rest of the day in a deep thought. Obviously there had been some sort of a miscommunication regarding the boy’s place of residence. Mrs Ali had not mentioned his being in Karachi at all. Why she had forgotten or if she had left out that fact deliberately was irrelevant now. Much as he had liked talking to Farid Afridi, he couldn’t for the life of him imagine how his wife and daughter would react to the fact that the good looking, Pathan boy they were all interested in and whose family was keen to take the matter to the next level with them, was in Pakistan. There was a very strong chance that Khalida would reject the proposal immediately than take a chance on a Pakistani boy. She would definitely be more in favor of waiting for a proposal for Saira from a US settled boy. But would that be wise?
By the end of the day, Salman Zia had figured out what he was going to do. (Continued next week)