Doctor se Rishta: A modest proposal
Recently a friend posted a Facebook link that read:
“Gift-find for the single South Asian women on Facebook.”
Falling into all the above categories - South Asian, female, and single - I felt obliged to follow his instructions, which led me to an online matrimonial service.
Great, I thought. Just what the free world needs: another run-of-the-mill, Shaadi.com spin-off promising compatibility in the form of a mutual love for puppies, aloo ke parathay and Bollywood.
But, after giving the website a proper look-see, I realised I had miscalculated. This was not your typical vanilla, hackneyed online dating site. No, this website came with ambitions. It promised to fulfill the grandest of promises by bringing to you the grandest of rishtas. This website, dear customer, guaranteed you a Doctor Se Rishta.
Now, allow me to assume my reader has been living under a proverbial rock and is unaware that marrying a doctor runs parallel to becoming one on the List of Awesome Things All Desis Aspire to Do. This makes www.doctorserishta.com – which guarantees a marital partnership with at least one doctor (maybe even two!) - a categorical win-win for all parties involved.
Why doctors are afforded so much prestige as quintessential potential spouse’s is a question that has received its lion’s share of attention across social and academic circles.
So, what makes a spouse in the medical profession so appealing?
There’s the obvious allure of an elevated social standing and the belief that material comforts would be easily taken care of.
Then, there are the less obvious variables to the whole equation and these more discreet benefits spell out positive things for the health of a relationship. For instance, having gotten in-and-through the gruelling process of med school means your spouse would possess some degree of intellect. And, having dedicated a decade (if not more) of their life to this one thing would make for an individual with a very healthy attitude towards commitment.
Projects like www.doctorserishta.com have good intentions. (Even though, in order to turn intention into action, it will charge you a monthly fee). By addressing the difficulties in finding a suitable match (and a cute love story) while working in remote locations for long hours (to cite just a few obstacles of the modern-day (wo)man), these projects are addressing very real, very prevalent issues faced by many of us young adults around the globe.
But the darker undertones of this pervasive demand, seeping and staining our social fabric, shouldn’t be taken so lightly. The very fact that such a service now exists to pander to this pervasive, freakishly enduring demand for a doctor spouse, should send up all sorts of red flags within South Asian communities.
Aren’t we just further propagating our stereotypical obsession with material wealth and societal status – which, bear in mind, the majority of us will never fully achieve in a regular lifetime?
Haven’t enough drama serials advised us against the relentless pursuit of hedonistic wealth and luxury?
Hasn’t Bollywood (and Amir Khan) advised us to appreciate the varied spectrum of intelligentsia, intellect, and talent dispersed among our youth?
Why then do we continue to suppress or ignore the next Rumi, the next Nana Asma’u, the next Allama Iqbal, and the next Nilima Ibrahim amongst us?
The creators of www.doctorserishta.com told me over the phone that though they are housed and operating out of Los Angeles, the brunt of their web traffic comes out of Pakistan.
So, during a time in which we are so keen and willing to pay an online service to lock a marriage down with the most coveted of professions, would it be too ridiculous to hope that we are crawling out of the quagmire of age-old adages and stereotypes towards a burning beacon of hopeful, positive revolt?
For the sake of our youth and for the sake of our nation, I hope so.
Feminist author Erica Jong notes in her memoirs that:
“rebelling generations follow quiescent ones, quiescent ones follow rebelling ones and the world goes on as it always has.”
And like fireflies lighting up the night sky, flickers of change dot the horizon. A pushback against the Old Order is materialising as the current generation grabs the Talking Stick and refuses to pass it on. We’re defiantly rowing out in shaky dinghies onto the currents of alternative career choices, lifestyles, and increasingly, romantic partnerships, based on our own terms and conditions.
Take the Muslim MD documentary series as an example of a generation coming out of its quiescent slumber. Created by a Canadian engineer-turned-graphic design student, Mustaali Raj, Muslim MD takes to the streets of Canada and India, to meet with Muslims across the different social and educational strata, and to explore our borderline-perverse fascination with the medical profession. Rightfully so, the documentary series comments on the noble nature of the profession. It also delves into the power an MD designation provides; Muslims in leadership roles benefits us Muslims the most during a time when we are so easily demonised and misrepresented.
But most importantly, the thought-provoking documentary series opens up the floor for dialogue and argument. There is nothing wrong with asking for stability and comfort when planning your child’s future.
But, are we doing it for the right reasons, with the right intention?
Along the way, are we compromising a fundamental part of ourselves or the two people in question?
With episodes of intentional hilarity - such as when a med-school hopeful, commenting on the anticipated boost in rishtas following an MD, adds “the downside is if you don’t get in, you might not get married” – the documentary series comfortably begins and ends on the notion that questions are many, answers limited, and things are more complicated than mere surfaces may convey. And as we journey with Raj through the predominantly Muslim slums of India, there comes a small moment which humbles, moves, and silently educates.
Asking a mother why she “feels [her son] should become a doctor, hold a laptop in his hand, wear a suit, [and] wear a coat” we’re given the naked, unadulterated truth.
For this woman - and countless others in her position - that MD degree is not a fancy first-class ticket signalling a seat on the lap of luxury. It is but a mere chance at “becoming a human being.”
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