A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfraz
Sumbal had come to drop something off at Zahra’s house on a Saturday afternoon. Ruby was also with her. While the two women chatted, the girls went to Humna’s room. Humna was starting to get a little weary of Ruby. Where previously they had talked about their future plans, friends and parties, most of Ruby’s conversations now revolved around her husband and her future plans with him. Listening to Ruby had initially been intriguing but now that everything had been discussed, repeatedly, it was getting tiresome. Now it was mostly one-sided conversation where Ruby talked about Ahmed and Humna listened, often bored.
“Don’t you get tired of talking about him all the time?” Humna asked her jokingly, trying to keep the weariness out of her voice. Ruby laughed.
“Tired of talking about him?” she asked with feigned surprise. “I don’t even get tired of talking to him all the time.” Humna laughed.
“Wait till you spend a couple of years with the guy,” she told Ruby, “then you’ll be talking behind him all the time!” Ruby smiled.
“Guess we’ll have to wait and see when that prepositional change occurs, if ever at all,” she said.
“So, anyone on the horizon for you?” she asked Humna. “Zahra Anti was telling Ammi about some Mrs Ali. A couple of other girls from college also know the lady. She seems to introduce a lot of people to each other.”
“Do you know anyone who’s had any luck with her?” Humna was curious. “I’m just wondering if that lady is any good at all?”
“I don’t know how good she is,” Ruby replied. “I guess it’s just your luck because guys nowadays are so picky. Finding the right guy is becoming a huge problem. A lot of girls are expanding their horizon, looking into either intercultural marriage or converting a guy of some other faith.”
“I really don’t think I’d have the guts to do either of those things,” Humna replied, taken aback at even the thought of putting those suggestions in action. “I guess one has to be really in love with the guy and out of love with his parents to be able to take a bold step like that. Frankly, I’d like to stick with a desi guy. Adjustment for both the couple and their families is easier.”
“By what I’ve heard about Mrs Ali, it seems like she has more girl files than boys’,” Ruby said. “And whatever boys she has are very picky.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Humna sighed. “But she says that nowadays even the girls are picky about choosing guys.”
“True,” Ruby agreed. “But these are the girls who have the ‘choice’ to pick and choose. For the ones who don’t have a line of suitors, there is no question of choice.”
“So, you’re saying that girls like myself are never going to get married because we don’t have a line of suitors standing outside our door?” Humna was irked.
“I’m not saying that at all,” Ruby reassured her. “Don’t take me wrong. I was in your shoes a year ago too. I didn’t have a line of suitors outside my door and my mother was having a tough time figuring out how to find someone. If I hadn’t decided to consider Ahmed seriously, I’d still be on your side of the field.” Humna didn’t reply.
“Frankly, my experience has been pretty good,” Ruby continued. “Marriage is a gamble no matter where it happens and whom you marry. I think the Pakistani families here should consider looking beyond the border.”
“What?” exclaimed Humna. “Find a guy from Pakistan? And hang a GCS medal around my neck…Forget it!” she shook off the idea vehemently.
“Not everyone is a Green Card Seeker,” Ruby pointed out.
“How can you be sure Ahmed is not one too?” Humna asked, looking at her closely.
“No one forced me to marry him,” she shrugged her shoulders. “I made that decision after talking to him for five or six months. If I had felt he was only marrying me for getting to the US, I wouldn’t have made the decision.”
“How can you be sure he didn’t fool you?”
“I’m sure so far that he hasn’t fooled me. But if in case he has, then that would be my luck, or bad luck, wouldn’t it?” said Ruby. “And why are you assuming that only guys coming straight from Pakistan divorce the US-born and -raised Pakistani girls? This is like saying that no US-born and -raised boy ever divorces a girl here.” This was the nagging notion in Humna’s head too but she still denied it.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said feebly.
“Well, that’s exactly what it sounded like. It seems like you’re unwilling to take a chance on a guy from Pakistan simply because you think that a green card is the only reason he would marry a girl from here and the only reason why a girl from here is likely to be divorced.”
Even though Ruby’s words carried weight, Humna didn’t know what to say. She was only expressing the ideas about Pakistani boys that she had gotten from her mother.
“If you start talking to people on this issue, you’ll be shocked at the many reasons American-born Pakistani girls and boys get divorced in the US,” said Ruby. “The bottom line is: marriage is a gamble. It doesn’t matter in which country you roll the dice.”
Humna just looked at her quietly.
“You and I, and most of the girls we grew up with, are simple and straight forward with some core values,” Ruby continued. “We don’t know how to hook boys, we don’t look like glamorous models, we don’t dress like models, we don’t date, we don’t party at night, and we don’t hang out with every XYZ on the weekend. In a society that encourages all these things, what are our chances of finding a match, good or bad, by ourselves?”
‘Very poor,’ Humna thought to herself, ‘Very poor indeed.’
As a friend, Ruby had been very candid in her analysis of their personalities and the marriage situation. Humna knew that her own mother would not have been so upfront with her, perhaps for fear of hurting her daughter’s feelings. Also, she admitted to herself, that though her own mother continued to remain very hopeful for a perfect match to land at their doorstep, Ruby had been very realistic about the chances of this ever happening.
It was impossible for Ruby not to mention her conversation with Humna to Ahmed, especially since it concerned the general boy population in Pakistan. Ahmed was surprised.
“It seems that marriages are just as much of a problem in the US as they are over here,” he said.
“No Ahmed, boys don’t grow on trees here,” replied Ruby. “My own good friends are having problems too. The majority of educated boys of good families here is too outgoing and westernized for us and prefers girls like themselves. The remaining ones who may be considered are not educated or motivated enough to get anywhere in life and are hence rejected by our parents.”
“How can the boy in the US not be educated?” Ahmed asked incredulously. Ruby laughed.
“You think every boy in the US avails the opportunity to get a good education?” she was amused at his genuine astonishment. “There is an astounding number of college drop-outs in the US in the Pakistani community. These boys then start taking odd jobs here and there. Though they keep saying they’ll continue their education later, it rarely happens. Most of the Pakistani people in the circle we move in are professional engineers, doctors, or lawyers. They would never consider boys like them for their daughters. And frankly, neither would the girls.”
It was surprising for an ambitious boy like Ahmed to learn that people in the US did not grab the chance to get a good education and actually dropped out of school. To think of all the problems people went through in Pakistan just to get admission in a US university. To study abroad was an unrealized dream for millions in his Third World country.
“My friends are just as ambitious as I am,” he told Ruby. “But their opportunities are terribly limited here. Our system is so rife with corruption that talent, dreams, and aspirations are suffocated here. Even they wouldn’t understand how any person could deliberately choose to drop out of school and jeopardize his entire future.”
“Why don’t they continue their education there?” Ruby was curious. “I’m sure they could easily get into any good university.”
“They are from middle class backgrounds,” Ahmed explained. “Their families have counted the days till they complete their Master’s degrees and find jobs. Though their families own their homes and their fathers probably have other investments too, it is unthinkable to spend all that money on one child in dollars as his international student fees. The amount calculates to be astronomical.”
“If they belong to respectable families and are sincere enough about making a good start in life with a nice girl, they should marry someone here,” she said. “Some nice girl here could get a good match and they could get a chance at a good life. It’s a win-win situation.” Ahmed laughed.
“Not everyone has a cousin in the US who is willing to marry him,” he teased. She understood his teasing.
“You think I married you just because you were my cousin?” she asked innocently. “No sir; I married you because I trusted you and I know you are not one of those GCS’s.”
“Green Card Seekers,” Ruby explained with a smile. “One of my friends, Humna, coined this word. As most other girls I know, she too is highly apprehensive, actually fearful, about marrying a guy from Pakistan. We hear too many disaster tales nowadays.”
“What makes her so sure that the guy she marries in the US will be perfect?” Ahmed couldn’t help being irritated. “Or that they were going to have a fairy tale life with no problems?” Being from Pakistan, negatively stereotyped like that made it hard for him not to take the conversation personally. It irked him that the general opinion about boys from his country was that they were all green card greedies who dumped the girl and fled right after they got their hands on the coveted US immigration.
Ruby was quiet. Ahmed was asking her what she herself had asked Humna.
“No,” she finally replied. “There is no guarantee that a US-born and raised guy is going to be perfect. One cannot vouch for anyone.”
“I can vouch for my friends,” Ahmed did not hesitate in answering. He knew his friends well enough to say this.
Humna was silent for a long moment. Ahmed thought she had hung up.
“Ahmed,” she said a little hesitatingly. “Do you think your friend, Umair, would be interested in my friend Humna?”
This time Ahmed was speechless. The question was quite unexpected. He thought for a moment before replying.
“It’s really not a question of what he wants or doesn’t want,” he said. “It’s also what your friend wants. Umair and I have been very good friends for the past many years. But he belongs to the simple, down to earth, though respectable, Pakistani middle class. I don’t know how acceptable this would be for a girl who is born and raised in the US.”
“Does social class really matter if there is mental compatibility between the boy and the girl?” Ruby questioned. “I mean, shouldn’t education, ambition, and respectability be the ultimate criteria for seeking a match?” Ahmed sighed.
“The test of mental compatibility comes later,” he explained. “If the boy is rejected on the basis of his class and the labels attached to his class, then mental compatibility doesn’t stand a chance.”
Ruby was thoughtful. An idea had suddenly started to take root in her mind. But she had to talk to Humna first.
Zahra was pleasantly surprised. A lady from Oregon had called. She was looking for a girl for her son. The boy had completed his BBA and was working.
“He has plans to complete his MBA later,” the lady told Zahra when she enquired about his future plans for further studies. However, the mother had no idea when exactly he would do that. They chatted about the family backgrounds in general. One of the boy’s older brothers was a doctor and the other a Chartered Accountant.
“Could you email me your son’s picture and background information?” Zahra asked. She wondered why this son had only stopped at a bachelor’s degree. Though she would have preferred a higher level of education, the proposal was definitely worth looking into.
“Could your first send me your daughter’s info?” the lady asked in turn. “I will show it to my son and if he approves, then I will send you his info.”
Zahra was taken aback. This was the first time she had heard a boy’s side asking for the girl’s info first. There was a protocol of this process and it was quite similar to how the affair was handled in Pakistan; the girl’s information was sent to the other side only after the boy was approved.
“But that is not the way this usually works,” Zahra explained politely. “The girl’s information is shared only after her parents and the girl herself decide to move forward.”
“Well that’s not the way I’ve done things,” the lady replied firmly, showing no sign of reconsidering. “Two of my sons are already married and no one had an objection when I was looking for girls for them.” Her tone had turned somewhat haughty, even indignant. She was obviously not used to being told the ‘right’ way to do a rishta search.
“Let me consult with my husband and I’ll get back to you,” Zahra was quite put off but she remained polite. “If he agrees, then I’ll send you my daughter’s picture.” Clearly, Mrs High-and-Mighty had been spoilt by the girls’ mothers who figured they had no choice but to let the boys have a ‘pick’ of the best themselves. However, Zahra had no intention of sending Humna’ s picture first.
(Continued next week)