Such is the conversation I often endure and barely manage to get through at tea parties, weddings and dinners. The tongue-clucking, heavily-accented inquiries and sympathetic glances while milk cream is poured into golden-rimmed tea cups leave me nauseous, if not half-suicidal, half-homicidal. My crime? I’m 21 years old and unmarried in Pakistan.
When I was a mono-browed seventh grader in the Convent, almost every classmate had mentally organized an extravagant wedding for herself. Red roses were to be thrown over guests with plastic smiles, delicacies had to be stuffed into the mouth of a gruffly-looking groom and everyone vowed not to cry at the time of rukhsati. You should seriously check their faces as soon as the baraati car arrives. It’s something like this:
We advanced (if not intellectually) to tenth grade and several girls were rumored to have been engaged to mysterious men from extended families or to clean-shaved, CK-drenched sons of pompous tycoons. Soon after the rings were exchanged, their gait became proud, their bosoms swelled with confidence (and over-padded bras), adolescent moustaches were threaded to reveal hairless upper lips and classroom discussions shifted from grades and canteen snacks to clothes and men. Socially awkward brooders like me would sit in the back of the classroom and preoccupy the mind with “diabolical” writers and artists such as Saadat Hassan Manto and Saadequain. In simple words, I was a ringless bookworm with sideburns.
Fast forward to high school and I was less of a hirsute, more of a plucked hen. But I was single. Of course I had my crushes and infatuations but I never thought of engagement. Neither did my parents: they thought, “Mehreen? Engagement? Right now? Naaaaaw.” This has to be one of the very few notions Team Kasana and Team Kasana’s Parents agree upon. More girls were engaged and some even got married at the age of 17. By the time I graduated from high school, half of my class had entered the realms of commitment with husbands in the valaiyat or, in English, abroad (the allurement level of a rishta is doubled or tripled if the guy’s settled in USA, UK or Canada). The other half of my class was left admiring those “lucky bitches.” As for me, well, I just thought I was lucky to remain safe from the clutches of spouse-related expectations and a domesticated life I, at that age, could not handle. I mean, you’d be crazy to think I’d pop a baby at 17.
I fell in love and had my blood-pumpin’ buddy broken. But I still didn’t perform the engagement ritual. When I turned 20, the influx of proposals gained acceleration and my mother began hinting at potential partners. She conjured up images of a lovely reception, educated in-laws and an HSY dress women would kill for. I did not give in. Of course, in order to keep stalkers and bullies away, I would say I’m engaged. Everything is fair in love and war. This being a war of keeping mentally-challenged, foul-mouthed twerps out of my base. (Innuendos galore).
However the pressure of getting engaged increased. My class-mates have babies and I’m still the laconic, library-loving, complex virgin. At a reunion recently, one of my peers, aged 21 with a son, slid in a subtle hint at my single status.
Her Highness: Bhai, mai to kehti houn kay shaadi jaldi honi chahiye.
Her Highness: Meray miyaan jee ne itna khush rakha hai mujhay. Itna baraaaa ghar hai humara. Mashallah Mashallah.
Her Highness: Yeh jo single shingle rehti hain na, yeh barri kharab hoti hain.
Kasana: Pata nahi lekin aap ke pyaray shehzaday nay tatti kardi hai.
Her Pwnedness: …
The kid’s poop saved his mother from a genuine bashing via my words. My arguments are refuted with traditional reasoning. In the modern-day subcontinent, senile concepts related to marriage continue to thrive. If you are 21 or 22 and still single, you are fresh meat in the market. But if you decline marriage proposals, you’re a rebel in the making. Vultures and hawks at family gatherings will keep an eye on you. If you’re 23 to 25 and single, you are upgraded to mafia level. Suitors might be a little scared of you since you have maintained an air of superiority and independence (two factors Pakistani suitors usually dislike). But God help you if you’re 25 to 30 and still unmarried. You are most probably regarded as a demi-goddess by your similar-but-nubile kind. Aunties don’t dare question your single status or the absence of a ring on your finger. Hell, you might even have your own cult following.
It’s just a tad bothersome for me, at least, since I have always been reluctant to answer personal questions. Interrogative statements concerning my single status are often devoid of empathy or basic understanding or even respect for privacy. Maybe I’m a little too young for marriage? Maybe I need time to settle down? Maybe I’ll just get engaged when I’m 22? Maybe I have my own set of priorities and goals to achieve before I tie the knot? Maybe I’d like to become someone successful or just accomplished before I say I do. Christ, maybe I’ll just get engaged to shut the running mouths of these aunties. Maybe.
But I know one thing for sure: When I get married and I’m pouring tea for a young single lady, perhaps 21 years old, I won’t needle her brain with a question like, “Ay bibi, teri shaadi kiun nahi hui abhi tak?” or “When am I receiving a shaadi card from you, heh heh?” I’ll just pour tea in her cup and ask if she’d like a lump of sugar or two.