- What the rishta aunties do
Maira’s parents have told her to get ready. A family is about to visit their home to ‘see’ their daughter. The guests, after a lavish tea, leave in a cheerful mood telling the host family that they ‘liked’ the girl and will revisit soon. Maira’s parents are over-joyed to hear that. However, the happiness soon fades away as the parents are later informed that those ‘guests’ were looking for a girl with an extremely fair complexion.
In Pakistani society, elders of families consider it one of their major responsibilities to get the younger ones married in their lifetimes. Therefore, the hunt for the ideal daughter-in-law or son in law is carried out as soon as they hit the ‘right age’. Even today, to find the perfect spouse for their child, the parents often prefer looking into the most convenient and trusted option, that is, the children of maternal and paternal aunts and uncles of their children. If there is no suitable match in the family, the matchmakers are contacted for help.
The matchmaking business is here to stay, particularly as long as the elders keep themselves in-charge of making decisions for the marriages of families’ younger lot
Often known for their notoriously callous ways, these matchmakers follow a typical process requiring their clients to fill a form stating their age, height, education, complexion, number of siblings, father’s profession, their own profession, size of house, caste, sect etc. A certain amount is also paid as part of the registration process. Along with that, the list of demands is also noted down.
Mr Mehmood has also been a matchmaker for quite some time. According to him, “Families of sons these days look for a complete package in form of a girl. She should be pretty, educated, belong to a well-off family, and must be the right age as well (The right age means 24-25 years). If the girl doesn’t hold all these attributes, then there is a problem. Securing proposal will be difficult and a lot of compromises will have to be made by the girl’s family.”
While the boy’s side of the family requires a girl who is beautiful, tall, fair, thin along with endless other expectations of her physical appearance, she should also be well educated, and in many situations, must belong to a wealthy family as well. For some, a highly educated girl is a requirement so that she can earn and bear the financial burden of her family after marriage; for others, even an educated girl would not be allowed to work. Basically, to step out and work is often not a decision the girl is allowed to take by herself.
Hina, who is a business graduate and works in a multinational firm, has had some awful experiences. “The ladies who once came to see me were wearing abayas; they were apparently practising Muslims. While I was sitting with them, one of them got up and told me to get up as well. After making me take off my shoes, she stood next to me to check my height. I felt weird.”
Age is a major factor in the entire rishta process. While the guy can be older than the girl, it is usually unacceptable for the girl to be older than the guy.
“It is not an easy job for us…,” says Mrs. Malik, a ‘rishta aunty’ who claims that she got into the business to serve the society, “And it is mostly because of the demands, by the boy’s side. Even a guy who is 35 years old wants a girl not older than 27. There are many girls who are 30+ years old and still unmarried. Where will they go if even a man of 35 years is not ready to consider them?”
But no one can ever be sure if the age being told is accurate or not. This is one factor that is, most of the times, shared dishonestly.
“I was told by the rishta aunty to not reveal my actual age before the family that was coming to see me, and pose as four or five years younger than my real age. She even justified her suggestion by saying that because it is for a good purpose, it’s okay to lie. But I was not convinced”, says 33-year-old Seher.
She also added, “My mother keeps advising me on various things for the sake of securing a good proposal. It includes taking care of my looks; losing weight; and instructions on how to dress up when some ‘guests’ comes over is just never-ending. If I don’t comply, I get to hear, “Kaun pasand karega tumhay?” Seems like being educated, belonging to an honourable family and having a good brought-up do not matter at all.”
Farah’s mother, who is now fed up with matchmakers, says, “They [matchmakers] are all the same. They come after you only for money. After you pay them money, they send one or two proposals, and if things do not work out, they totally vanish. Or else, they start referring proposals that are so unsuitable that one has to distance oneself from them altogether. It’s a vicious circle…
“A lady who was intending to visit our home asked me the size of my house during the first introductory call in a quite awkward way … ‘How big is your house? Is it one kanal? I’m asking because it’ll be easier for me to find it once I come over.’ Ultimately, she didn’t come because our 10-marla house was not the right place where she was interested in looking for a proposal.”
Today matchmaking has become a money-minting business. Rabia, who has been in touch with match-makers to find a wife for her brother, says, “Earlier, the rishta lady we had contacted seemed to be a very fair person. But then I noticed that she was intentionally dragging the case to stop us from finalizing a proposal for my brother. Somehow she started creating confusions between the two families. I realized later that she deliberately did that to retain her clients. And you know these ladies do not even let you bypass them and communicate directly with the families. So I couldn’t do anything about it. I simply stopped contacting her after this incident.”
In today’s age of technology, matchmaking websites are now becoming common, gradually decreasing the role of individual matchmakers. People are turning to web portals to gain more control over who they can approach, as opposed to the conventional process led by the matchmakers, who often tend to influence the decision of their clients. The only concern about these sites is that there is no guarantee of privacy of the information being given out.
Marriage is a life changing event. In Pakistan, where divorce is still a big taboo, there is always a big fear of making the wrong decision. Although the process has its flaws, the struggle to find the right person is real. There is a saying according to which:
“Marriage is miserable unless you find the right person that is your soulmate and that’s a lot of looking.”
Maybe the ‘lot of looking’ part is what makes it all-consuming. Nevertheless, the match-making business is here to stay, particularly as long as the elders keep themselves in-charge of making decisions for the marriages of families’ younger lot. Whether this conventional process helps the marriageable individuals find their ‘soulmates’ or not, remains a big question!