Have you ever sat in front of a rishta committee and felt like a qurbani ka bakra being inspected for perfect teeth and skin? When it comes to the SH-word, progressive parents who once told you that you were the Pakistani version of Christiane Amanpour, now want you to act like the hyperventilating and very traditional Shabnam.
As far as the shaadi-biyah scene is concerned, rishta aunties (and sometimes even uncles — awkward!) with their superlative social skills and admirable foresight have become the executioners of the plans God made up in the heavens, acting as liaisons between the boy’s family and the girl’s. Unfortunately, this situation has not made things any less stressful or awkward for us single girls. While your parents lecture you on how ending up an old maid is the biggest blight in our society, the rishta aunty will look at you with X-ray vision, tut-tutting and shaking her head at the sad dearth of desirable characteristics you possess. In the end, you’ll be ready to tear your hair out (don’t though — that’s a desirable characteristic right there) convinced that you’ll either die alone with seven cats or that you must resign yourself to marrying the first chota, mota, kaala, underemployed guy who has the stupidity to accept you as his bride.
If your self-esteem is taking a hit, we suggest you look at some of the typical requirements chalked out by the ‘larkay walay’ to find a match for their sons. When the wish list takes shape, you’ll begin to understand why you haven’t yet met Prince Charming.
Back in the 90s, Junaid Jamshed was bashed for singing Goray Rang Ka Zamana but if we think about it, poor guy was just saying what he probably always heard at home. From Fair & Lovely advertisements to rishta ads in every C-grade newspapers, isn’t a fair complexion our biggest yearning after world peace? We like women whose pictures do not require brightness adjustments and whose skin does not need too many layers of pasty white foundation. Matchmaker Rubina Khan, who draws clients from upper-middle income localities in Karachi, says, “Even the darkest guys ask for fair girls. I blame the media for totally ruining the mindsets of our youngsters.”
And if one tries to persuade the larkay walas to be a little more reasonable? “The boy’s side is usually extremely demanding and if you shift even a little bit from their rigid requirements they refuse to meet the girl’s family after the first meeting,” says Nusrat Anjum, founder of the Defence Women Welfare Society.
Thanks, guys! I should probably go dip my face in peroxide now.
The day I was born, my daadi decided I’d be a doctor. Sadly for her, I became a female journalist which, according to my grandma, are “women who go out in the field without dupattas and come back home at inappropriate hours.” Despite my continuous questioning she would never tell me the reason behind her obsession with doctors but rishta expert Rubina sheds some light: “The larkay walas have this inexplicable obsession with girls who are doctors or are studying to become doctors.” Nusrat adds that to the demand of the typical slim, fair and tall girl has been added the requirement of earning money. The families who come to Nusrat often demand rich in-laws because the job market is unstable and they want their bahus to meet their own expenses and not be a burden on the ‘poor son’. “A wealthy background and professional career have made their way to the long and sometimes unrealistic list of traits the larkay walas want in their bahu,” says Nusrat.
Oh hey, you might want to add ‘should know how to walk upside down’ to your list!
Caste and creed
Rubina Khan expresses concern over the increasing sectarian divisions which is gradually making match making extremely difficult. “Previously people wanted girls and boys from their own sect but now the demands have been narrowed down even more,” she says. “Urdu speaking people now prefer Urdu speaking families from Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow and Moradabad which makes it difficult for us to meet all these specifications.”
Now we know why the Egyptian Pharaohs married their sisters: their requirements were so specific, that they eliminated the ‘panga’ and went for their ‘behnas’ who were equal to them in every respect. The next I know, I’d probably get rejected because I like cheese sticks better than chicken wings.
According to rishta aunties, larkay walas sometimes also have an issue with the number of members in the girl’s family. “The mother of the potential groom wants a small family because she doesn’t want her son spending too much on his in-laws,” says Rubina.
Heads up girls, the next time you have a proposal committee coming in for you, make sure you hide your siblings, burn their birth certificates up and use them for potpourri. And if God forbid they get spotted, just pretend they are avant garde furniture.
The rishta aunties have bad news for all you curvy girls out there: size 0 is hot. The subcontinent may be notorious for its pear-shaped women but when it comes to the rishta scene, boys and their mothers are looking for that elusive ‘dubli patli larki’. If the starved look is not your thing, you can forget all about finding a suitable boy.
Dear potential mother-in-law, if you’re reading this and if it makes you feel better I look much better in Photoshop — I’m just not real-ogenic.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, January 20th, 2013.
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