A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
It had been three months since Humna and Umair had started emailing each other. Things had progressed to Internet chatting for about half an hour almost every night at nine California time. That was the only time that their clocks matched. It wasn’t long before Zahra noticed Humna’s diligent adherence to bedtime.
The family was gathered in the family room after dinner and she had seen Humna check the clock several times already.
“Are you expecting a phone call?” she finally asked her daughter. Humna looked at her in surprise.
“No Ammi,” she replied. “Why?”
“No reason. It’s just that you’ve become quite meticulous in going to your room on time every night for the past few weeks now,” said Zahra, going through the pages of a magazine. It was obvious by the casual remark that she was just thinking out loud.
“Really?” Humna tried to keep her voice indifferent. “I just read a little and then catch up on my emails before I sleep. Otherwise I don’t get time during the day.” Ibrahim Saeed intervened.
“When she stays up late flipping channels, you call her a mindless dope and tell her to go to bed early,” he teased his wife. “Now that she’s trying to bring some positive organization in her life, you have a problem with that too?”
“I don’t have a problem with it. I’m just asking her a question.”
“She’s not a child, Zahra. Let her decide when she wants to go in her room or not.”
“Why do you always take their side when I’m talking to them?” Zahra was annoyed.
He always did take the girls’ side whenever he could. Sensing the possible start of an argument, Humna quietly slipped away.
“Because you pick on them for no reason,” Ibrahim Saeed replied calmly. “You irritate them you know. They’re not little kids anymore.”
is wife was a perfectionist who demanded the same perfection in her children as one would in setting a dinner table.
“All I can say to you is, ‘you can take a Pakistani out of Pakistan but you can’t take Pakistan out of the Pakistani’,” she told her husband haughtily. He threw back his head and laughed.
“Listen to yourself talk! If anything at all, it is I who is the more Americanized version of us two, dear wife.” Zahra was taken aback.
“And how is that?” It was impossible for her to walk away from an argument without at least attempting to win it.
“You dragged the same baggage into the US when you moved here that Pakistanis had carried over the border into the new country in 1947,” he replied, amusedly.
“You refuse to allow individuals to live as they wish and you refuse to allow them room to develop freely. You literally force them to grow into the perfect ‘molds’ that you have defined for them. Not just individuals, you want life itself to progress within these defined molds too.”
“For your kind information, I believe in something called ‘organization’, something millions of other people in the world believe in too.”
“There is a difference between organization and mindless rigidity, my dear. If you must organize, organize your own life. Let others grow at their own pace and organize their lives as they like.”
Ibrahim had a response for everything she said. Despite the fact that her daughters were well mannered and obedient, she tended to blame Ibrahim’s attitude for even the minor things the girls did that she felt were against her liking. For instance, she had wanted Humna to become a doctor. But Humna had chosen finance and Ibrahim had supported her. Zahra had longed to boast in the community that her daughter was a doctor. She was glad at least Huma was showing some interest in the profession.
She had seen the mothers of doctors. Why! The women literally had rods in their necks and looked down on engineers and MBA’s like they were nothing. She had wanted Humna to be at least a lawyer, if not a doctor. But no, the girl had no interest in any heavy duty professional degree and the father’s support had a lot to do with it. Had she been an engineer, lawyer, or doctor, she would also have a far easier time finding a boy for her than she was having now.
‘What’s the use of living in the US, if you don’t change yourself for the better?’ she thought.
She failed to realize that Ibrahim Saeed had hit the nail on the head that she was indeed still cumbered with the materialistic baggage her family had brought along with them nearly quarter of a century ago into the new Pakistan.
Saira was looking closely at the pictures of the boy her mom had emailed her. It was after 9 o’clock at night. Khalida walked in just then with her cup of tea in her hand. She was impatient to find out what Saira thought.
“So?” she asked her daughter.
“What can I say just by looking at a picture?”
“If you like the picture and the bio-data, we’ll send them your picture.”
“Then they’ll call us and we’ll go from there. Pictures are just the initial step.”
“What do you guys think?”
“We think we should move to the next step. If you agree, that is. We can’t find out much unless we start talking to them.”
“Yeah, go ahead. Let’s try this one too.”
“Could you email me three or four of your good pictures? I need to send those with a short biodata. We like their son but they have to like you too.”
“I hate this selection-rejection process,” Saira looked cross.
“That’s the way this process works dear. We’ve all been through it.”
“I don’t know why we have to go through the same process even when we’re not living in Pakistan any more.”
“My dear, living here doesn’t change the fact that we’re still Pakistanis at heart. And being Pakistanis, we do as Pakistanis do.” Khalida ruffled her daughter’s shoulder length, straight hair affectionately.
“Do you think if you hadn’t instilled this Pakistanism in me, I’d have brought home any boy of my choice and you’d have allowed me to marry him?”
“Do you really think you would have been happy doing that?” Khalida asked in return. Saira thought for a moment then sighed.
“Being happy comes later,” she replied good humoredly. “I don’t think I could have found myself a Muslim, Pakistani, educated guy from a good family to start with.”
“So now do you appreciate the effort I make on your behalf? Trying to find out this perfect, or near perfect, guy?”
Saira smiled. Trust her mother to put things in perspective.
“Send me those pictures right away. I want to send them tonight. Pick a couple from Maheen’s wedding.”
“And another thing,” she turned around, suddenly remembering something. “Don’t mention anything to Humna or any of your other friends yet. I don’t want Zahra Anti to feel bad about it. Let’s first see if this thing is even going anywhere before we start announcing it.”
Saira nodded her head. She was already going through her pictures trying to pick out the ones that would be best for sending to the boy’s family.
At the end of four months of communication, Humna finally felt comfortable enough to send her picture to Umair. Umair was expecting a really plain looking girl, judging by her delay in sharing her picture with him. He refrained from expressing his opinion openly but inwardly was quite pleased to see a pleasantly attractive girl with a serious, sensible countenance. As the majority of Asians, she had wavy black hair, wheatish complexion and large dark brown eyes with long curling eye-lashes, her most attractive feature. She wasn’t a dashing model with flowing hair, fair skin, green eyes and sharp features. But that wasn’t what he or his family were looking for.
Their communication was still limited to email and chat. Umair had never insisted that they talk on the phone. He told her he did not feel it was proper without their parents’ knowledge. They were also starting to come around to the question of marriage. After all, that was the reason they were in touch with each other. Humna had done a lot of research online and had found questionnaires devised for screening potential spouses. They had both filled out the questionnaires and shared their answers. Mutually they felt it was time to move to the next step; letting their parents know and get their involvement. Humna was very comfortable with Umair and felt he would make a very good life partner for any girl. He was respectful, intelligent, sober and good-looking. Their interests and ideas on life matched. What more could a girl want?
Umair felt the same about Humna. He had been very frank about the fact that he was his parents’ only son and was obliged to keep them with him after marriage. He was afraid Humna would balk at the suggestion. However, Humna was very understanding and had no objection.
Umair told her that he would now actively start researching for PhD opportunities in the US. Humna was already working, so they would be able to support themselves independently.
The email response Mrs Ali got from Khalida was exactly what she had expected; a yes for the boy and pictures of Saira plus a short family background. In her email, Khalida had asked about the state of residence, but Mrs Ali decided not to answer that question yet. She wanted to see if the boy’s side liked Saira’s picture. Personally, there was no reason not to. Saira was an attractive girl with bright, large, light brown eyes, shoulder length, straight hair, and a glowing wheatish complexion. She may have competition with prettier candidates in the US but by Pakistani standard her fresh, well-groomed looks made up for everything she may be lacking. She forwarded the information to Zarina.
Seema had just given lunch to the boys when the phone rang. It was Sabiha asking her if she had checked her email yet. She told her that Zarina Apa had just sent them both the information for the girl for Meer. The girl’s side had liked Meer and had now put the ball in their court. Seema hurriedly turned on the computer and could hardly wait for the email to open. She liked what she saw. Saira, the girl, was not only attractive but was also dressed in shalwar kameez in all the pictures. This indicated that this was not a wholly westernized girl. She was an only child. The father was an engineer and the mother was a housewife. The two friends discussed the pictures together over the phone. Sabiha told her to forward the mail to her brother or Meer so that she could get their input too. Seema almost did but then stopped.
“I don’t think I’ll send the mail just yet. I’m going to talk to Akber about it first and then go myself to show Bhai and Bhabi the girl. I’ll take Akber this time to help convince Bhai in case he’s changed his mind about sending Meer out of the country.”
“I’ll leave that decision to you. Let me know what happens.”
Seema didn’t waste time in discussing the matter with Akber. He usually came home around 6 p.m. and had a cup of tea. Dinner wasn’t till 8 p.m.
“Akber, do you think it would be a good idea for Meer to go out of the country if he ever got the chance?” Seema started the conversation after handing him his cup of tea.
“It would be a good idea for me to go too if I got the chance,” he replied good-humouredly. “Why should only Meer go?”
“I’m serious, Akber.”
“Is he planning to for further education? That’s going to be one hefty bill.”
“Well he can also marry someone to go there.” Akber looked surprised.
“Is there a relative in the US that I don’t know about?”
“There is possibly a girl but she’s not a relative. But relative or not, don’t you think it would be a good opportunity for him to leave the country? A girl in the US is looking for a good match and Bhai and Bhabi need a good girl for him too; win, win for both parties.” She decided not to go into too many details of this entire set up being her brainchild.
“Well, for a boy as bright as Meer, that would certainly be a good opportunity. Any family would be lucky to have him as their son-in-law. However, that decision is not mine but the families concerned.”
“We’re also his family and I think we should also tell Bhai what a good opportunity this would be for Meer.”
“I’m sure you’re already playing an active role in convincing everyone involved about the advantages of this golden opportunity,” Akber teased his wife again. He was well aware of her philanthropic deeds for everyone around her, especially her family members.
“Still, it’ll sound even more convincing coming from you.” She walked over to the computer and turned it on. “I’ll show you the pictures of the girl.”
Akber went through the information thoughtfully. Seemingly, there was nothing wrong with the rishta. It was just like any other rishta in Pakistan, except that the girl was in the US.
“What do Meer and Bhai Bhabi say?”
“I haven’t shown them the pictures yet. I want to be there when I show them. Will you help me convince Bhai and Meer a little? They have this patriotic fervor and love of country. It might take a little coaxing to get it out of their veins.” Akber laughed.
“Of course I’ll help you, dear wife. A good deed never goes in vain. If I help Meer out today in finding a good match, there is a good chance he’ll help me find a second wife someday too.”
Seema picked up a small cushion and smacked her laughing husband. (Continued next week)