Do you remember your initiation day? Every woman’s experience has its nuances. Some were told to set aside their exam revision for the day and help out with the preparations for a dinner party they had no interest in while their younger brothers lay around watching television. For others, it began with a comment in the pre-teen years: ‘You ought to get your head out of that book and learn how to make daal – what will you do when you’re living with your in-laws and they expect you to cook it?’
You’d think comments like this one would be directed at an adult with marriage prospects – not to mention the actual desire to be wed – but no, it seems that a girl’s upbringing is incomplete without the constant reminder that she will one day make a very lucky man very miserable indeed with her lack of haleem cooking skills and inability to sew buttons onto shirts. It would only bring shame to the family were a man not to acquire a maid and a missus all in one!
The first time you genuinely come to understand your proper role as a woman is when you overhear the conversation that takes place when the other women of the house return from a visit to “see a girl”. Though the nature of this trip may make little sense at the time, the things that are said tend to stick with you:
‘The girl is a teacher, which means she can also do the housework and care for the kids!’
‘Apparently she knows how to cook all of our favorite dishes!’
‘Haan, larki bohat achi hai na?’
That last one stings the most. What does it mean to be achi? To be able to cook, clean, knit, pick out jewelry and sit at home while one’s husband goes out to work? Or is it all of these things crammed into a physicality that is the very epitome of feminine beauty? Most importantly, you wonder: ‘Am I achi?’
Is it really any surprise, then, that as you grow older and are molded into the ideal wife, you slowly become the very monster that so frightened you as a child?
The occupation of choice for bored middle-aged Pakistani housewives who have graduated from child rearing seems to be that of the matchmaker – or the ‘Rishta Aunty’. The art of arranging a rishta is a complex one that cannot be undertaken by just anyone; it is a procedure that requires a bossy disposition and absolutely no self-consciousness.
To begin, you must drape yourself in heavily embroidered shaadi attire and obnoxiously large jewelry, and attend as many weddings as possible. Here, you must focus, not on the couple being celebrated, but on all the unsuspecting young girls ambling about, confused and unaware that they are being scrutinized within an inch of their lives.
You have your pick of the herd; ensure that the calf you select is the healthiest, most desirable specimen who is most likely to produce the strongest offspring. Here are a couple of things you ought to consider: is her skin fair? If not, can this be solved with that haldi mixture your mother painstakingly scrubbed you with prior to your own wedding? Is she well dressed with cleverly applied makeup, but not too scantily clad or overly done up? Does she seem well educated but also exhibit the potential to be domesticated into the perfect bahu? For best results, consult your husband about his selection methods at the bakra mandi prior to Eid.
If you like what you see, start making inquiries. Just latch onto the nearest Rishta Aunty, point out the girl of your…sorry, your son’s dreams and find out who you must approach in order to take the next step. It is absolutely imperative, by the way, that the two people you are plotting to shackle to each other for the rest of their lives are not involved in the deliberations until and unless the last stage is reached.
Now, once you have expressed your interest to your prize specimen’s mother, aunt, next-door neighbor, fifth cousin twice removed…, arrange a date to visit, bearing the rishta. During the time leading up to that day, ask around extensively in order to ascertain that other people think that the girl’s family is respectable – it is crucial never to forget: ‘log kya kehen gay’ is our prime concern! In case of the affirmative, now is the time to inform your son to prepare to sweep a total stranger off her feet.
On the appointed day, make sure you (and your shehzada, of course) look your best, and head over with your Aunty Squad. Bestow the girl with your condescending motherly smile as you judge how well she serves the refreshments. Then, turn your hawk-like gaze onto the large sofa intended for the couple – it is essential that you check to make sure that a cushion has been strategically placed in the centre; how else will you prevent the potential bride and groom from getting a little too wild when they are seated side by side for the very first time?
The wedding day is your time to shine – you’ve accomplished your rishta arrangement. Don’t forget to bask in the glory of a match well made; you have excelled in your role and your transformation from docile bahu to overbearing saas is now complete.