(WOMENSENEWS)--It is a universally acknowledged truth that all Asian parents want their children to get married and settle down. It is the final and most important duty of the parent toward their child. It is also an Islamic responsibility to help your child find a suitable spouse.
Only when the offspring are paired off can the mother and father sigh with relief. So momentous and significant is this obligation, and so huge is the impact of the choice of partner, that parents fret about finding that spouse from the moment the child is born. It is the job of parents, mothers-in-law and Aunties to network furiously and line up candidates. The girl and boy do not necessarily need to be involved. They can just turn up on the day, if they are required, in order to attend the communal meeting, as Ali and I had done.
Cultural norms dictate how the meeting of the two parties will play out. It may involve members of both parties being present, along with tea and civilities, and a subtle but rigorous scoping out of the other side. Or the boy and the girl might not even be there. The only certainty is that the meeting could change significantly the lives of the two people who are at the heart of the discussion.
The Buxom Aunties, those round matriarchal women in nylon shalwar kameez (a tunic- pant set) with their chiffon dupattas (a long scarf that covers the hair) pulled deftly over their heads, therefore wield enormous power as matchmakers in the lives of young men and women and their parents who are searching for a partner for their child to build a life with.
Sharing Wisdom and Experience
Behind closed doors, over cups of tea and crispy just-fried pakoras, the seasoned mothers-in-law and the nylon-clad naanis--the grandmothers--all of whom function as matchmakers alongside the Aunties, talk with the authority of wisdom and experience to those women who are wannabe mothers-in-law in search of a wife for their son.
Wannabe: "I'm getting too old to look after Ahmed on my own."
Nylon naani: "It's time you got him a wife."
Wannabe: "I know, but where do I find someone suitable? Someone who can cook, look after the house properly like we used to do and who will give me grandchildren and not go out and about abandoning her responsibilities. Girls these days are just all about themselves. They don't have the patience and tolerance that we had. You're a naani already, a grandmother, and you've sorted out your daughters-in-law so well. So hard with girls these days."
Nylon naani: "You're right, it's very tough. So many couples getting married and divorced willy-nilly. And your Ahmed is such a good boy. Have you talked to him about going back home and choosing a girl? They are the best you know, well trained and obedient. They know how to look after a mother-in-law."
Wannabe: "Talk to Ahmed about going back home to find a wife? Pfha! He doesn't want to even talk about getting married. He doesn't know I need someone to help around the house. Besides (and her voice softens here), he needs someone of his own and I'm getting old. Who will look after him when I'm gone?"
'Boys Are Never Ready'
Nylon naani: "That's your mistake. Boys are never ready; you have to just surprise them. Show them a few pretty girls and even the one who says no, no, no, he will fall for one of them. Boys can't resist a pretty girl. You might need to encourage and persuade him a little bit or perhaps even push him. But he'll thank you in the end."
Nylon naani pauses, and then looks furtively in all directions, Godfather-style. Even with no one in earshot, she leans in conspiratorially.
Nylon naani: "I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about finding a daughter-in-law. Only four things and you will be laughing, laughing, so happy. First, do not involve your son. He does not know what he wants and will only complicate matters. Next, avoid girls who are oh-so independent. This is not a good quality for a daughter-in-law. They will not be committed."
Wannabe: "Hmm, yes, hmm. So wise, so wise, yes, you are right. Such wonderful wisdom."
Nylon naani: "Three, make sure she is pretty and she can cook. And the younger, the better. And last, look for a girl from the same culture, so that she can 'fit' with you."
When I am older, with many sons, fretting about finding them wives, I will write a sequel to my book. It will be called "Love in a Nylon Dupatta."
Reprinted from: "Love in a Headscarf" by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed. Copyright 2010 by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed. By permission of Beacon Press, www.beacon.org.
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Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is an award-winning author and blogger. She is a columnist for The National, EMEL Magazine and writes for The Times, The Guardian and the BBC. She was named by The Times newspaper as one of the U.K.'s 100 most influential Muslim women. You can follow her blog at spirit21.co.uk. "Love in a Headscarf" is her first book.