A Suitable Match
Mrs Ali was going through her girl folder trying to figure out if the girl she had in mind would be a good match for the boy her cousin Zarina had called about from Karachi. As a rule, she never agreed to match up boys from Pakistan with girls in the US. With her experience, she could tell just by looking at the pictures of the boys that they would be completely incompatible with the educated and open-minded, not to mention well-groomed, girls she had in her folder. However, this particular boy had caught her eye instantly. In other words, he was worth taking a chance on.
Zarina had told her that he was of Pathan-origin, well-educated and from a respectable family. Not only that, he was also good-looking. The best match would be from a semi-conservative family who had raised their daughter with the traditions of the religion and culture intact. Mrs Ali had a pretty good idea of what a Pathanfamily living in Karachi would want and she had a certain girl in mind. The families of boys like Meer were more interested in values and manners than outstanding physical beauty. She’d been in the match-making business long enough to figure out who fits best with whom. The only problem was that it would be a rare family who would be willing to bet on a strange boy from Pakistan. Surprisingly, the same families were perfectly open to considering proposals from unknown boys from within the US. The only thing that cast an abominable shadow of doom and gloom over a Pakistani boy living in Pakistan was his country of residence. However, Mrs Ali finally figured out a way to get around that.
Khalida was watching her afternoon talk show with her customary after lunch cup of tea in hand when the phone rang. She glanced at the phone disdainfully. However, she brightened up when she saw Mrs Ali’s name on the caller ID. Much as she hated interruptions during her tea, this was one phone call which was an exception.
“Hello Mrs Ali, so good to hear from you.”
“Same here Khalida, hope all is well with you?”
“All is well here. I haven’t heard from you in a while. I thought you had forgotten all about me,” Khalida teased the older lady. Mrs Ali laughed.
“Of course I haven’t forgotten about you. In fact, that’s the reason I’m calling today. I have a potential boy in mind for Saira.”
“That’s great! Who is he?”
“He’s from a Pathan family, has a Master’s degree and wishes to continue studying further. His father, Farid Afridi, belongs to a notable tribe in Northwest Pakistan and has ancestral lands there. They’re looking for a stable family like their own and a well-mannered, educated girl. Whatever else you need to know, you can find out from their side when they call you.” Khalida sat up, her eyes shining. It sounded perfect.
“That all sounds very good. So… what have you told them about us?”
“Nothing yet. I wanted to see if you agreed first before I said anything to them. This time I’m also making a little exception to my rule of non-interference. Though I only give out phone numbers to both parties, I’m going to send you the boy’s pictures and his information so that you can discuss it with Saira and your husband. If you all like the boy and the family, then I’d like you to send me Saira’s information, which I will forward to the boy’s side. If they also like Saira, then they’ll call you.”
“But isn’t that extra work for you? I mean mediating between two parties is very time-consuming.” Khaida asked hesitatingly.
“Yes, it is time-consuming. But unlike the other matches I suggest, whom I don’t know so well, this boy and his family are well recommended by my cousin. Frankly this proposition looks too good to miss. I also know that you and a couple other families would be best matched with a family like this. If you feel you are not interested, I’ll move to the next person in line.”
“I do appreciate your effort Mrs Ali,” Khalida was sincerely appreciative.
“Let’s just hope it’s worth it.”
“Send me the information and I’ll discuss it with Salman and Saira.”
“I’ll email it right now. But please don’t take too long to think about it. Good boys, especially personally recommended ones, don’t come by often. If you like the boy, send two or three good pictures of Saira and information about your family to me right away.”
“I will and I won’t take long to reply back,” Khalida assured her, barely able to keep the excitement out of her voice. She hung up after chatting for a minute or two longer.
It was after she had hung up the phone that she realized she hadn’t asked Mrs Ali which state the boy lived in. She went over her conversation in her mind trying to remember if Mrs Ali had mentioned anything about the state. But then, she figured, if the boy was good enough, he could be in Alaska for all she cared.
“So, how’s the overseas romance going?” Ruby asked Humna when they had a moment alone at a dinner one night. Their mothers were quite social and there was rarely a weekend that either they weren’t invited somewhere or they didn’t have a get together at their own house.
“Shut up,” Humna said hurriedly, looking around to see if anyone had overheard. “Are you crazy, it’s not a romance.”
“You should say, ‘it’s not a romance, yet, Ruby’,” Ruby said with a mischievous look in her eye.
“If you say the word romance one more time, I swear I’ll say goodbye to the guy and put a block on his email address.”
“Oh, stop being so goody-goody and answer the question.”
“It’s still in the getting-to-know phase. You know something, with none of the family or friends offering suggestions and opinions about him, I feel like it’s my decision entirely. I’m the only one judging him and figuring out if he’s right for me.”
“So? Don’t you think this is the right way to do things? To be able to decide for yourself if this is the guy you want to spend your whole life with?”
“I guess it is. Only, it takes longer than when the parents are also involved.”
“They will be involved but only when you two decide you like each other.”
“So far, there seems to be nothing wrong with Umair.”
“Have you sent him your picture yet?” Ruby asked keenly but was surprised to hear that Humna still hadn’t send him her picture.
“He said he wanted to know the inner person before he saw the picture,” Humna explained.
“Whoah! A twenty-first century Romeo…!” Ruby looked at her disbelievingly. Humna was tickled at her expressions.
“Honestly. He thinks people are very superfluous nowadays and judge each other on the basis of physical attributes and money rather than their personality. So he said he wasn’t interested in the picture….yet.” She made sure she added the yet. Ruby was amused. Humna continued.
“He said he would rather reject a picture for a personality than a personality for a picture.”
“Quite a knight in shining armor you’ve found yourself!” Ruby teased. “And did you tell your knight that the first thing you wanted to see was his picture to make sure he wasn’t a paindu?” Humna laughed.
“Yes, I told him that,” she said. “We’ve been very honest about what our expectations prior to our communication were.” Ruby slapped her forehead in feigned disgust.
“Well you certainly are a stupid idiot,” she said. “You don’t say things like that to a guy you barely know.” Humna looked at her calmly.
“Those are exactly the kind of things you say to a guy you barely know. This is called upfront honesty and it helps to get to know each other better. This is not some stage play; it’s my life. The guy has to know who I am and what my reservations are before we can proceed further. It’s also a great way to gauge the level of his male ego.”
“And I guess in reply he told you how he doesn’t like US-born and -raised Pakistani girls because they are reputed to be stuck up, conceited fools?” Ruby asked in a sarcastic tone.
“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what he told me,” Humna was again amused to see Ruby’s expressions. Ruby shook her head exasperatedly. These two idiots seemed to be quite well matched.
It was the weekend and the girls had voted to go outside for nihariand seekh kabab at a nearby Pakistani restaurant. Salman Zia enjoyed the time he spent with his daughters. He was the youngest child in his own family with four older sisters. Growing up in Karachi, he had witnessed his house growing considerably quieter over the years as one by one his sisters got married and left. He had come to the US for his Master’s degree and then stayed. His two daughters reminded him of his sisters and he realized that it wouldn’t be long before his own house would become as silent as his parents’ had. Girls exuded an indefinable energy, love and excitement that they took with them when they left. Although, boys stayed around longer and often with their wife and children, it was not quite the same. Salman Zia therefore cherished his time with his daughters.
Relieved from the thought of cooking lunch, Khalida was enjoying a leisurely ‘stroll’ through her cousins’ and friends’ lives on Facebook. She stopped her Internet sauntering to check her email again, probably the tenth time since Mrs Ali had called. There was finally a message from her with attachments. Excitedly, Khalida clicked open the mail. It was the boy’s pictures with a brief bio-data.
Khalida was taken aback. By what Mrs Ali had told her, and as it was obvious to her now, the family wasn’t keen on cashing in their son’s good looks. This was a handsome boy with gray eyes, sharp features, definitely Pathan features, and fair complexion. He belonged to the Afridi family, a respected name in the northwestern region, Khalida knew. He had a Master’s degree and all of his siblings were married, except a younger sister. One of the pictures was with his parents. She could see where he got his good looks.
She immediately forwarded the email to Salman, snapped shut the lid of her laptop, put it on the side table, and jumped up from her very comfy position on the ottoman in the family room to go find him. He was in his study going through some papers on his desk. Salman Zia was in his early fifties with graying hair and glasses. His dark tan complexion wasn’t a fault of the sun but hereditary. Khalida wished he would color his hair but he always brushed aside the suggestion impatiently.
“I just sent you an email. Open it,” she said, hurriedly flipping his laptop open for him.
“What is it,” he asked in surprise.
“Mrs Ali told me about a boy for Saira and she just sent me his information.” Salman had logged into his email account and was soon looking at the pictures and the information that Khalida had sent.
“The boy seems to have a good personality and the background information looks ok to me,” he said thoughtfully.
“She said they were looking for a moderately religious and educated girl.”
“I suppose they are,” he said. He had noticed that the father had a small beard and the mother’s head was covered. “Pathan families raise their children well. But they usually prefer to marry within their own families. Why are they looking outside the family?”
“Mrs Ali said they are open to marrying into good families regardless of background. That’s all the details she could give me. She’s already going the extra mile in this case forwarding me the boy’s information. The rest of the investigation is now up to us.”
“The investigation will come later. Have you asked Saira yet?”
“I just got these and I had to talk to you first. I’ll ask Saira now. If she has no objection, I’ll send her picture and our information to them. If they feel they like us, they’ll call.”
“Sounds like a plan. But make sure Saira okays the picture and bio-data before you jump into this.”
“Since you’re already on the computer, just forward the mail to her. Let her take a look too. I’ll talk to her tonight.”
The next thing Khalida wanted to do was to call up Zahra and tell her about this latest development. However, she decided against it at the last moment. Zahra was as fretful about Humna as she was about Saira. She didn’t want her friend feeling that Mrs Ali had bypassed Humna for Saira. She decided to first wait and see if there was any air in this balloon before she shared the news with others. What if Saira didn’t like the boy? Plus, the boy’s side hadn’t seen Saira yet. There was a chance she wasn’t the kind of girl they were looking for.
It was best to wait. (Continued next week)