“You’re 25 now and still single. What a shame!”
“What is it you want in a man? You’ll get an old man if the right age surpasses. There won’t be any use of crying over spilt milk.”
“It’s a feminine issue, one shouldn’t be so careless.”
Khadija was immune to such comments. She was 25 and being single at this age in a Pakistani society was more like a sinful act for girls. It had been years since she had been listening creepy stuffs about her, but the good thing was, she had gotten immune to them all. Her family had been trying to set her up with someone for a few years, but she hadn’t gotten any luck yet. After experiencing three to four years of continuous torture, she was okay with what was happening around her and nothing bothered her anymore.
Well, that’s what is easier said than done! That’s what she told herself that she was okay and nothing disturbed her, but deep down, it was killing her. She felt herself draining in depression that made her ill-tempered and grumpy. She spent hours crying alone late at night and gave up on her situation. Being weak wasn’t an attribute of her personality. She was a strong and bold lady and she hated herself for being like that. “Nothing is more detestable than being unable to control your emotions.” She thought.
“He’s a good man with a good job and education. You asked for an educated man and he’s masters and doing PhD. What more do you wish for?” Khadija’s mom scolded her the 50th time for not agreeing to marry one of the guys in the family. She had demanded a well-educated man when her family asked her what type of guy she wanted to marry. That’s how conjugal things in a Pakistani family work. Her family had been trying to pursue her to marry that guy because he was “dekha bhala” (known in the family) and matched Khadija’s demands. But, she didn’t like him that way. In fact, she didn’t like him in anyway, but it was hard to explain it to her family members. Especially her parents wanted her to marry him because her dad feared to give her daughter to a man they didn’t know and her mom insisted because he belonged to her family. That’s how desi (Pakistani) parents are! But marrying someone she didn’t like was a difficult question. She knew what she wanted and that guy wasn’t that.
“Why are you guys forcing me? I don’t want to marry him means I don’t want to marry him. How can I marry someone I don’t like?” Khadija was full of anger and gave harsh replies to her parents. It had been months since the topic was being discussed and she refused every time and told them not to talk about it again. But, to no avail. She had reached her limits then.
“My dear, he likes you. He said himself that he wants to marry you. He’s a good man, his family is well-known for us, Then, what’s the issue?” Her mother didn’t stop persuading her. She tried her best to make her agree for him. Khadija felt herself crying inside. They didn’t understand her. They didn’t know what she wanted. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t what she wanted either. It was her life and she wanted to marry a guy she liked at least.
“What should I do if he likes me? I told you I don’t like him. I don’t understand why are you guys forcing me again and again.” Her voice trembled when she said that. She wasn’t a misbehaving girl, but she was stubborn, especially when it was a matter of her life. Sometimes, she felt like surrendering to her parents’ wishes because that’s what she had been doing for 25 years. But, marriage was something she wanted to with her interest. What if she marries someone now and didn’t feel interest later on? She couldn’t risk it.
“My dear, you can tell us if you like someone. We will have no issues if the family and guy are suitable for you.” Her mother had a thought she was doing this for someone she liked. She didn’t find a reason to reject that guy and only reason she could think of was someone already in her life. Khadija actually thought that was funny. She felt like laughing right after feeling like crying. She felt herself going crazy over the process because she didn’t understand whether to cry or laugh at what was happening.
“Do you think I would be single till this long if there were a man in my life? I would have told you guys and would have married long ago. Please don’t talk to me about this guy again. I have told you people before as well that I don’t want to marry him. There are many more guys out there waiting to get married. I will get one, too. But, please don’t force me for this one.” She gave her final answer and left the room. Her parents surrendered and didn’t bring that topic again. Khadija was thankful to them for that.
“A family will come to see you today at 6 o’clock today. Get dressed for that properly on time” Khadija’s mom burst into her room and gave instructions about the new “rishta (marriage proposal)” she had to receive. Every time she distracted herself with different activities, she got news of a “new family” coming over to “see” her. She had an outing plan with her friends that day, and she had to cancel it immediately. Her mom broke the news only when she was getting ready to leave for university. So, she brushed aside the emerging negative feelings and left as soon as her van arrived.
She had a usual day at university that day as she enjoyed the student-life shenanigans with her friends. It was only when the outing plan came up that her mood changed and she got a flashback of the news she got before leaving for university. Her friends were discussing which place to go and how to reach there and she was only listening to them quietly.
“I can’t go today peeps. You guys go please. I have to attend a marriage proposal today.” Khadija finally gave her input in the conversation and nobody in the group liked it.
“We planned it days ago dear. You should’ve told them you have a plan today.” One of her friends responded to the news Khadija broke just then. Since she was the backbone of her group, her absence was highly disliked by her group members.
“Come with us dear, we’ll come back in an hour; they’ll wait for you a bit.” Another friend tried to persuade her, but to no avail. The rishta thing was too serious and she couldn’t help it at all.
“You guys go please. My van is about to come, I’ll leave for home in a bit.” Khadija announced with a heavy heart because nothing excited her more than outings with friends. Anyhow, it wasn’t something unusual. Since it’s an all-girls group so things like that happened now and then; sometimes Khadija was the victim and other times her friends.
She went home, got ready for the guests and then waited for them. Her mom came in and gave her instructions as to how to attend the guests. She was told to put the dupatta on her head because girls who belong to modest families must do it. Secondly, she had to serve tea to the guests with all the desi (cultural) manners. She was accustomed to all these instructions and had become pretty much an expert in them. But, every time a guest was coming over, it was always replayed for her by her mother and she obliged to them without protesting.
She received the guests. There were three members including the guy himself, his mother and sister. She served them all with tea and then sat next to the guy’s mother. She asked her a few creepy questions such as “Do you know cooking?” “What’s your routine these days?” Answering them with a smile had always been the toughest part of the job, but she had mastered this skill as well. After spending a few minutes with them, she excused and left politely. The task was done perfectly!
When the guests left, Khadija’s mother and brother discussed the family and its credibility. It happened after every rishta. The family was analyzed right after they left and the match-making began right away. Khadija never took part in this; her only role was to get moderately dressed, serve them tea, and spend a few minutes with the family.
“You’re so pretty buddy; you’ll get any guy you want. What is it you worry about?” Batool said in response to Khadija’s story when she told her what happened the day before when she went to university the next day. It was a ritual among the group of girls to discuss such matters with friends. People always told her she was strikingly beautiful, but she never believed in such stereotypical ideologies. She never trusted the common societal logical of getting any man in your hands if you are good looking. She was a practical girl so she believed in truths and facts.
She wanted a man with intellect, morals, ethics, and religion. She was religious, too, but she kept her thoughts to herself only. She never liked imposing her beliefs on others and tried to show her credence with her actions only. Since her thoughts didn’t match with that of the society’s, it became hectic for her to pick a man from the list of proposals she received.
She was accustomed to listening to the rishta calls her mother received frequently. Every time she passed through her mother’s room, she listened to her mom repeating her bio-data for a lady. What had she studied? What was she doing at that moment? What were her age, height, and color? So on and so forth. It used to irritate her a lot when it was new for her, but after listening to such calls tens of times, it became a ritual for her. It didn’t bother her anymore, but somewhere deep down, it depressed her a great deal.
She felt like a displayed item at a store available for sale. People analyzed her just as they examine a product before buying and nothing was more depressing for her. “Do I have a good height? Am I fair enough? I hope I am not fat?” Questions like these began emerging in her mind despite all her practicalities and intellect. It seemed as though her mind and heart had surrendered to her experiences.
The rishta she received last time was the 12th formal proposal she got. It had been four years since all this was happening and the year’s long experience made her grumpy. Her patience had reached its peak and she decided not to accept any man anymore; no matter how good or bad it was. “I’ll stay single forever and adopt a cute baby and get myself a cat.” That was the plan she made. At the age of 25 when girls around her were having a baby, she was looking at her bank account and planning to travel the world alone and staying single. It was all too unrealistic being part of a traditional family where girls can’t move freely, but she believed in herself and made dreamy plans.
Her degree was about to be completed and she was struggling with deciding what to do next. Even though she had planned to stay single forever, she remained confused whether or not her decision was wise enough. Everyone needs a partner in life to share his or her life with and she knew it pretty well she wants one too. But, will she be able to get what she wants? That was a big question mark!
Was a man about to come to her life? Was she going to stay single forever? Should she start working somewhere or wait to see what was going to happen next? Was she going to leave her career behind if a man came in her life? What if the man who was going to be his partner asked him to stay at home? All these questions began disturbing her the moment she thought about marriage. The idea of a man to share her life with was a bit suffocating for her because she was an independent woman. However, she also had an Eastern charm in her and she liked being a bit cultural. Since religion was an important part of her life, she always kept a balance in everything she did.
She prayed to Allah to either give her a man who would respect and value her or keep her single forever. She either wanted the best or nothing at all. No in between! And that was the reason she never indulged herself in temporary relationships. It wasn’t like that she didn’t believe in love or didn’t want one. She just wanted a permanent, pure form of love and that was hard to find. That was the struggle she was going through and no one understood. People always have something to say; that’s the problem with people!
Only a few days passed when she got similarly disturbing news. Just when she entered home from university, her mother exploded bomb on her head of two more appointments for the coming day. That meant no university the next day. This time, it wasn’t just bad, it was actually nightmarish! It was hectic enough for her to attend one family in a day, and that time, she had to receive two guests back to back. She accepted the news without protesting and went straight to her room.
Every time she got this news, it disturbed her up to a level where she wasn’t able to do anything. She kept on thinking about both the guys as her mom gave her a brief bio data and she thought about them. It was gruesome for her to visualize the nominated candidates as her life partner and then throwing the thoughts away afterwards. It was 10 pm already and she decided to quit her thoughts and sleep immediately.
She woke up with a heavy heart the next day and began thinking what to do the moment she opened her eyes. Should I reject immediately or ponder upon them with care? Should I really get married now? Will I get an old man if I decide to marry a few years later? The kaleidoscope of questions began rushing her mind again and her head started spinning. The never-ending list of questions complicated her mind. She wasn’t herself those days and actually felt her mind went through psychological imbalance as she was unable to think straight. After idly wasting hours in bed, she got up to dress up. She got ready with a heavy heart without any genuine interest and then waited for the family.
She attended the first family in which there were three members- the guy himself, his mother, and his sister. She sat behind his mother and gave a brief interview then came back to her room. The family was then entertained by Khadija’s mother, sister, and brother and she herself waited for them to leave. When they left, her mother came in and asked about her opinion. Khadija didn’t like the guy so she honestly told what she thought.
“You’re 25 now; the right age to get married has already passed. Your attitude isn’t getting any better. He’s such an educated and wealthy marriage material type guy. I don’t know what do you want. You’ll remain single forever if your attitude remains the same.” Her mother scolded her when she told her she didn’t like the guy. This was also something she was accustomed to so it didn’t bother her much. However, she highly abhorred it.
After two hours, the secondly family arrived. This time, the guy himself wasn’t there as he was settled abroad. She repeated the procedure again and came back to her room. The same ritual was repeated and the possibilities were discussed soon after the family left. Khadija felt relieved as she was then free to do whatever she wanted. She opened her laptop, downloaded a movie, and started watching it in peace while trying to forget what she just experienced. She was half way through the movie when she felt thirsty and went outside to have a glass of water. Only was she was passing across her mom’s room when she heard her talking to someone on call. She got curious and tried eavesdropping.
“No, my daughter is 5’5. She is an average height girl, but yes, your son might need a tall girl. Okay, there is no issue. You better see another girl.” She heard her mom talking to someone. “Okay, its good you didn’t take long in responding. We’ll find someone else.”
She immediately got an idea who she was talking to. The family who just left needed a girl with a tall height. Khadija felt a rage passing through her blood because they shouldn’t have come in the first place when they needed a tall girl. Every time a family was called, they were provided with the complete bio data along with physical features. She hated what was going on and started detesting getting married. She forgot she came out for water and went back to her room. She didn’t cry because she wasn’t sad. She was angry, full of rant and rave. I am not going to get married. This is final. I’ll earn money and go on a world tour with some friends, but I can’t do it anymore– She decided, firmly.
“My dear, get dressed at 9 o’clock today. Another family wishes to see you.” Her mom came into her room only when she was trying to overcome her fury and gave her the news she detested the most.
“Mom, can you please ask them to come tomorrow? I have already attended two proposals today, please.” Khadija requested her in a low voice. She really didn’t want to get dressed again and repeat the process.
“They can’t come tomorrow, dear. Their daughter is here from Islamabad, she’ll go back tomorrow.” Her mom replied to her. Khadija didn’t protest anymore. No matter how bad she felt, somewhere deep inside, she knew how important it was for her to get married so she didn’t want to close options either. She didn’t like the two guys that came earlier so she decided to let this one come and see how it goes. Somewhere deep inside, she immediately got positive thoughts. Even though it took a lot of effort for her to get up and get dressed, she did so anyhow.
The family arrived and the guy came along as well. She repeated the same process that she had mastered after doing it a dozen of times and came back. She saw the guy when she went to attend the family. It was hard enough for her to look at him with all the family members around her, but she knew she had to do it to make a decision. The moment she saw him, she had nothing but positive vibes. He was a confident yet highly decent person. She judged it by the way he sat there. He didn’t even dare starting at her out of respect. Since Khadija’s mom and brother were there in the room, he couldn’t look at her properly.
This was something she felt deeply. He didn’t lack confidence at all because he talked to her father, bothers, and mother without any hesitations. It was the respect and decency that made him do that. Khadija came back to her room and she was all positive. Her brother asked her about him and she said she had no issues with marrying this guy. His credentials and other details were then shared with her and she was okay with that, too. She wasn’t a gold digger, she only needed someone who would respect and love her. She observed his decent personality and trusted for the latter.
Without even knowing his financial status, she decided to spend the rest of her life with him, if her family would agree of course. The family left just after the usual rishta chit-chat and then Khadija’s family sat and talked about it. Both positive and negative reviews were given and the gathering ended after some hours. Khadija’s mom was all positive about it, but her father and brothers had some doubts. The topic emerged now and then, but Khadija herself never took part because it wasn’t something new for her. The only new thing about this was she herself liked this guy, but didn’t want to be serious about it until things finalize. So, she brushed away any thoughts about it and continued following her routine. It took a few weeks for Khadija’s family to discuss the issue and Khadija herself tried to remain calm and didn’t indulge herself in it, no matter how much it provoked and interested her.
All this keeps happening. If everyone agrees and ask me about it, I’ll say yes. There’s no use of thinking much about it. They way things are being managed, I am pretty certain things will end and they will reject– Khadija had pre-sleeping thoughts those days. She didn’t even have the guy’s picture because she didn’t ask for it. She was so tired of this rishta thing that she was out of interest in pictures and all. She just wanted something to finalize soon.
After a few weeks of discussions and hotchpotch, Khadija’s mom came to her room one day and asked for her final approval.
“Dear, your dad is asking about your final answer. We have decided to say yes to this proposal. Do you have any issues?” She asked her politely.
“No mom, I don’t have any issue. You guys can finalize this proposal, I like it.” Khadija gave her final approval. She had mixed feelings at that time; she was both happy and sad. Happy, because she was finally able to find the guy, and sad, because she didn’t know how that was going to be. That bittersweet feeling was pleasant and felicitous, but it was complex, too. Anyhow, she had to go through it and she did.
The next day, her mom told her that the guy’s family would be visiting the other day. She was told to get dressed for that and she did as she was told. The family came with sweets and delights to make things official among both the families. All the ladies were so happy and it was all very surprising for Khadija. She hadn’t had an idea that things would went that fast. She thought it was just a visit to talk or something, but it was actually an official meeting to finalize things. Pictures were taken, sweets were distributed and it was an extremely happy moment for both the families. Khadija was awestruck and sat in silence throughout the event.
“Do you know your cell number?” The guy’s sister asked Khadija when she sat next to her for the picture. Khadija felt a wave of joy rush through her body. In an instant, she went exactly where it was coming from. It was the guy’s message to her and she liked it a great, great deal. She never thought an eastern arrange marriage could ever go that way. In her mind, an arrange marriage was always something conventional and conservative. But, it had become an adventure for her; a really pleasant adventure.
“Yes, I do.” Khadija replied politely, without revealing her joy.
“Give it to me, please.” She asked and Khadija obliged.
The refreshments were served and the sweet talks were exchanged afterwards, and then, the family left. There was an air of joy in the house and everyone was so happy. All the family members congratulated Khadija and it made her so happy. She didn’t even know the guy but it still made her happy. It was a good day and she was finally out of that traumatizing period of seeing rishtas. Her Mr. Right was there and she had found him! She was unable to believe it actually. How could she believe it when she had decided to remain single forever? It was so overwhelming for her, but more was yet to come!
She was out in a family gathering when she received the lucky text from the guy the next day. He asked her if he can call her. She had goose bumps the moment she opened the text and read it. It felt so good. She always needed a guy with such interest. She replied that she was out and will text when she gets back home. It was difficult to explain everyone who the call was from in a traditional Pakistani family. She immediately lost interest in the gathering and wanted to go home quickly. She texted him as soon as she got home and he called her a few minutes later.
“Assalam-o-alaikum.” He began the conversation with formal greeting.
“Walaikum assalam.” Khadija replied.
“How are you?” He asked her very politely and Khadija starting feeling butterflies in her belly.
“I am good, Alhamdulillah. How are you?” She asked in response and began feeling happier with each passing minute. The guy was sounded so cute.
“I am fine, too, by the Grace of Allah.” He replied and then waited a few seconds before his next questions. He knew he had to continue this conversation.
“Are you happy with this decision?” He asked her so adorably that she felt her heart starting melting for him. She actually felt some chemical imbalances in her body but it was so good. His voice and words were spell bounding on her; making her loose for him.
“Yes, I am happy.” She tried her best to hide her feelings and reply formally.
“Sure?” He continued throwing magical spells on her and made her lose herself for him.
“Yes, yes, sure! My family has asked me before proceeding. Don’t worry.” She reassured him politely and felt even better. The guy wanted to know if she was really happy or not. He wanted to be sure it wasn’t a family pressure that she agreed to marry him. She appreciated it a lot that he wanted her willingness. It was the first key to a having a sound relationship and she thanked God for it in her heart.
“Alright then, Congratulations to you!” He replied to her, satisfactorily. It was as if a burden was relieved from his heart.
“Congratulations to you, too.” She congratulated him back.
“Are you happy?” She asked him and continued the coversation. She actually liked the guy and felt comfortable talking to him immediately.
“Me? I wanted to get things finalize since the time I got to know about you. I was out of city when I received your picture and got to know the details about you. I told my family to be ready to meet your family when I come back. Anyways, some issues arose after meeting your family. I felt hurt, but thanks to Allah everything is fine now. Only me and one of my family cousins in the family were single. Now, I am on the list of taken, too.” He added some humor to the conversation.
Khadija couldn’t resist falling in love with the guy upon listening to what he said. Someone with a decent personality was actually interested in her, and it was really a dream come true for her. What made her fall for him was his honestly and lack of ego. Guys normally have ego issues upon revealing such information that they actually liked somebody. My Mr. Right is actually right for me- she thought. She didn’t know she would fall in love at first call. She also had no idea such romanticism actually existed in the real world. The realities of the world had made her stoic, but that time, she felt her heart melting and hormones flowing in the bloodstream.
“Anyways, what are you doing these days?” He asked after a few seconds of silence. Khadija was awestruck after what she heard and came back to her senses with this question.
“Just enjoying the last semester before the university ends. I spend evenings in university and mornings in school. How is your job?” She replied meanwhile trying to remain as calm as possible.
“Hah, we are government employees, just doing our works. It’s good though.” He replied casually.
“At what time do your leave in the morning?” She asked in response. It took just a few minutes for her to become friendly with him. Both of them were easy-going.
“Me and dad both go together and leave at 7 am. I used to go by bike earlier, so went alone then. By the Grace of Allah, we have car now, so me and dad go together.” He gave a detailed answer to her question. She liked how easy he was to talk to and she actually admired his talkative nature.
“I see. And, when do you come back?” She continued the conversation. She was enjoying the conversation even though she was nervous.
“umm.. We leave around 5:30 and reach home at 7 approximately.” He replied casually. Both of them were quite then and couldn’t bring up anything to talk then.
“Anyways, allow me to leave now. See you later.” He said after a few seconds of silence. That was enough for the first time. Both of them hung up and sat in silence for a few seconds. Khadija felt her heart pounding. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. Love in the real world was actually possible and she didn’t need to spend the rest of her life single. She had the partner she always wished for and was joyous to have him. She got up and said prayer of thanks to Allah for the gift. She thanked him for giving him a man with honesty and no ego, a man she always wished to have. She also prayed to make their relationship sound and loving. It was a dreamy start for her and she feared anything happening against it later in her life.
He texted her the next day at night and asked about her routine. They begun chatting casually then and Khadija started adoring his affable nature. It was as though she knew him for years as it took only a few days for her to know about him. She had found a friend in her partner, and that was what she always wished for. Unlike men in her society whose machoism is characterized by bossiness and detective nature, she found a guy who became more of her friend than her husband. He told her everything about him and asked about her, too. Both of them didn’t believe in keeping secrets from each other and vowed to live like lovers and friends together. After a few weeks of preparations, they both got married and lived happily ever after.
I couldn’t imagine this happening to me. After all that I’ve been through, I never thought I would be able to find a man like him. Allah really has the best plan for us; all we need to do is trust him completely. I thank Him to take me out of that torturous rishta period and blessing me with the best man in the world- Khadija thought when she sat in silence after getting married. She couldn’t forget the day he talked to her first because that was when she fell in love with him. 9th September 2018 was the best day of her life. She couldn’t be happier.