If you're 'fair and innocent', will you marry my son?

"Single girls" get examined like goats in a goat market by vulture women camped out at weddings.

Nojeba Haider December 01, 2010
A few weeks ago, I went to a wedding where upon introduction, an aunty made the following comment: “Oh, beta how wonderful to see you’ve done your MBA.  But why aren’t you married yet?”

The “why aren’t u married yet” was repeated in a derogatory tone as I was dragged to meet another aunty. This aunty seemed to be looking for a “suitable” wife for her son who  was living in America. Her plan was to short list 5-8 girls for her son, who would be visiting Pakistan for just a week, so she could ask him to choose one with whom an engagement or nikkah could be settled within the week. She elaborated about how innocent her son was and how he had told her he wanted a homely, domesticated wife and had therefore asked his mother to choose a Pakistani girl for him.

After this episode, I was asked a series of questions which shocked me, as I didn’t know how to respond to some of them. I was asked if I helped around the house, followed by whether I am a very social person or not. The third question (and I’m not exaggerating) was “Beta, I wanted to ask: do you wear deep neck shirts? Because we don’t approve of such things in our family.”

What shocked me was the bluntness with which an educated aunty asked me such a question. For all I know, her son could have been living abroad with a foreign woman, but yet the aunty believed her son was an angel and deserved a pure, innocent beauty queen.

This is a very common method for people to get married in Pakistan.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying love marriages are better than arranged marriages, since marriage is a gamble whether it’s out of choice or arranged, but I feel the concept of marriage in Pakistan is distorted.

Marriage should be about sharing your life with someone. I would rather wait for a man who wanted to marry me because he wants to share his life with me, than marry a man who, without getting to know me, lets his mother decide if I’m the one for him based on my looks.

Most men in Pakistan get married as an obligation or because their mothers want them to.  Marriage is about compatibility, understanding and adjustment. That depends on how two people connect, communicate or interact with one another not upon what they can cook or how tall or fair they are.  It’s okay to introduce families or people to one another for the purpose of marriage but classifying looks or cooking as criteria for marriage is ridiculous.

In a similar incident, a few people were coming over to my friend’s house to meet her for the purpose of marriage.  During the one hour the family was at her house, the boy didn’t say a word to her; he just stared at his mom and then at his feet. Moreover, my friend was asked by the father if any of the tea items being served to them were cooked by her as "it’s very important to know how to cook".

His second question to her was if she knew how to drive as their eldest daughter used to drive him around but now that she was married, they had no driver. With the lack of interest from the boy’s side and the questions the father was asking, I wonder if they were hiring a maid/driver instead of a wife for their son.

Why are cooking skills and looks treated as the basis of marriage in Pakistan? Anyone can learn how to cook; being a great cook is a different matter but it is not something that cannot be learnt.

Being a single girl, I can’t breathe when I go to a wedding or social gathering because I know I’m being watched like a goat in the goat market by vulture women.  Moreover what amazes me is that girls and boys agree to such practices and get married that way.  Boys get married just because their mothers approved of the girl but lose interest later as they realised the girl wasn’t their “type” and they have extra marital affairs.

Wouldn’t it just have been simpler had they showed some interest initially and gotten to know the girl? Why can’t men use their own brains and make their own decisions about who they want to marry?

The other day, some family friends were over. I’ve known their son since we were kids and also know that he’s dated many girls, gone to parties, and is pretty much a “player”. Yet that very day, his mom sat in front of me and said “My son has told me to look for a girl for him to get married to as he is very innocent and likes innocent girls. Please keep a look out for homely girls, who don’t go out much. Oh, and she should be fair and tall.”

I wanted to barf in disgust but I realised that about 85 per cent of the people in Pakistan have a similar mentality.

It’s time our matchmaking aunties change the criteria for marriage. Boys should, at the least, make an effort to get to know who they are marrying. Marriage cannot and should not be based on trivial things such as cooking or complexion.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment.  It’s about standing by your partner’s side and sharing his/her life - in sickness or in health.
Nojeba Haider A corporate banker based in Karachi. Nojeba tweets @nojeba.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Nojeba | 13 years ago | Reply @ Saqib... try being a girl in our society for just 1 day, my bet is you wont be able to survive. Also by getting to know your future marriage partner im not suggesting dating, that is not called being liberal, its about knowing what you want in life. and my brother has the freedom to choose whoever he wants to get married to
Saqib | 13 years ago | Reply the whole article looks a perfect reflection of liberal mind ,, i mean if that boy would be really innocent then what..? specially lines " Being a single girl, I can’t breathe when I go to a wedding or social gathering because I know I’m being watched like a goat in the goat market by vulture women." Was really a bouncer , Madam if women acts like a vulture in parties then ,may be your mother can also be one of them who might looking for a perfect rishta for your brother ..
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