Tales of Marry-making
Kajalie Shehreen Islam
A recent request for a random joke via text message elicited one exploring the deep philosophical debate over love marriages and arranged marriages. The apt conclusion was that comparing the merits and demerits of the two is like comparing those of suicide and murder.
Yet, century after century, generation after generation, we continue to choose either one of the two for ourselves and others (perhaps in the belief that death is inevitable anyway). Some people, inundated by the romantic films and love songs on television and the love in the air every February 14th, are convinced that “someone, somewhere is made for [them]”. Others more cynical, practical or just plain passive, take a leap of faith in their near and dear ones -- loving parents and siblings, helpful friends and family friends, concerned acquaintances and complete strangers -- to arrange on this Earth matches made in heaven. Needless to say, women bear the brunt of these divine machinations.
For those under the assumption that checking out women like cows on Eid is no longer in practice, welcome to the new and improved “viewing ceremony”. Asking the prospective bride to walk, talk, sing, serve tea, etc., to make sure that all her body parts are functional, may have been replaced by asking what she studies, what her career plans are and so on, but don't be fooled, there is an underhanded investigation going on here. The viewers attempt to gauge the girl to see whether she is “too ambitious”, “too independent”, and of course, “too fast”. Beauty, that is, a fair complexion and long hair, is well and good (“MaashAllah!”) and the father's wealth is an added advantage; but will the family be her priority and her job only a pastime until there are kids, are the sorts of things some people look for even today. Others are interested in everything from a woman's favourite colour to whether or not she believes in God.
Whether at home, a handicrafts outlet, a fried chicken chain or a five-star hotel, the essence of the occasion is the same. The candidates sit awkwardly in a corner picking on their difficult pieces of greasy chicken while the families watch eagle-eyed from a distance to make sure that things are going well. If not, there is the food to rave about, the family members to make fun of between each other and the next candidate suggested by so-and-so-bhabi to mull over in their minds.
That's the traditional version. The modern “meeting up over coffee” takes place between the candidates themselves among the urban middle-class and above. Suggested by the aforementioned range of matchmakers, a sometimes interested, often helpless, pair of young adults meet after work to decide their own fates in one or more meetings. The pair seem perfectly matched in terms of “family background”, “height/weight/complexion” and “monthly income” (of the man to sustain the woman, of course), but the reality that cannot be explained can only be felt by those considering spending their lives with the person across the table.
|Some people, inundated by the romantic films and love songs on television and the love in the air every February 14th, are convinced that “someone, somewhere is made for [them]”. Others more cynical, practical or just plain passive, take a leap of faith in their near and dear ones to arrange on this Earth matches made in heaven.
There are significant concerns which will be “understood” by the man's family, such as if the woman works in the media. Because, while a celebrity is fascinating to drool over on screen, the thought of others drooling over the same is not as pleasant. A woman working in the banking or telecommunications sector with the industries' long hours may not have time or energy for the family. Imagine all the places a journalist has to go to and all the people she has to interact with . . . Basically, the “free bird” attitude is a no-no in a prospective bride.
The male optimists think they can change things once the vows are exchanged, they just need the girl to say “yes”. So much so, that some men persist even after the woman admits to being in a relationship and having been forced by her parents to meet the man in question. Others, however, object even to their prospective wives having male friends, and men who reject women over their professions, passions and positions in life have the last say.
The woman's family is more difficult to convince -- there is hardly ever anything wrong with the Chosen One. His demand that she stop singing professionally is not unreasonable. Neither is the suggestion that she give up her life here and settle abroad with Prince Charming. Well, of course her PhD is a problem, why did she have to be so educated? Subtle matters such as a man's expensive but reeking perfume, his orange and purple floral print outfit or, alternately, stiff corporate appearance and the deafening “Zara zara touch me touch me touch me” ringtone on his cell phone are not issues for parents who simply want an “established” son-in-law. Neither is his overdone accent, the way he looks at her or the fact that he picks his nose.
In all fairness, despite all the challenges, some lucky women actually end up finding their soulmates in these stage-managed set-ups. Others, fed up by the whole process, invite the guys to go smoke up with their friends or share their scandalous photos on Facebook to ward them off. Still others just charge their parents financially for every guy they are forced to meet and then marry someone of their own choice. After all, suicide or murder, death is the only guarantee in life.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010