As a girl who was born and raised in a South-Asian society, I have attended a fair share of wedding ceremonies and have observed many of them unravel in an entirely different manner in front of my eyes.
For the sake of respecting everyone’s privacy, the characters in this story, though real, have been provided fictitious names.
Before I begin, it is crucial to understand that nothing truly is completely right or completely wrong. As long as it is put in the right manner, using the right context, it is comprehend-able. That being said, I am not a believer of the fact that arranged marriages do not succeed, all I am saying is that arranged marriages have their share of risks and concerns. But in South-Asian culture, these dark sides are protected from exposure to keep the truth hidden and allow a certain stigma to prevail in the society.
Let’s take a trip down the timeline — sixty years ago, arranged marriages were given preference over “love”. To be honest, love was a concept that only had to be shunned. A sin that was your pathway to be hell and there was no amount of explanation or pleading that could get you redemption in the eyes of society or your own family for that matter. So, women and men were not permitted to choose their partners. Parents controlled every aspect of their children’s lives and evidently, your life partner was chosen by the parents. And according to them, no time had to be spent learning about each other’s lives. There was no need to see if the two are even compatible, mentally or physically. Marriage was just another chore that had to be taken care of without putting much thought into it.
As adventurous it may sound to spend your life with someone you have never seen, heard of or known of, a sense of uncertainty lurks around the corner, that will either make you or break you. Once the booming ceremonies have come to an end, the festivities have been silenced, then comes the life that you had been anticipating so anxiously.
You are just beginning to learn about your person, their likes, dislikes, anger, calmness, past traumas, fetishes, emotional triggers — the list goes on. At this point, you both are learning to just wake up next to each other without starting the day roughly. You are treading on eggshells to avoid hurting the other person. And before you even know, the marriage is turning into poison.
Shall we move on to some real-life stories?
Anaya is a fresh graduate, just sitting on the veranda of her house when her mother comes walking through the front door with a box of sweets, “laddo” they are called. “What is the occasion, Ami?” Slipping out of her chappals, Ami sits next to Anaya and says with excitement, “You are finally going to your own house”. At that point Anaya is confused, is this not her home? But she does not dare to ask a question that will ruin her mother’s happiness.
“What do you mean Ami?
“You are getting married, my sweet girl. Taha’s parents are coming next week to see you and finalize the dates of the ceremony.”
Perplexed, Anaya tries her hardest to form a smile on her lips. The news has left her in a state of confusion should she be happy about the fact that her mother has found a partner for her that she has never even seen or should she be concerned about the thought of not pursuing her future goals and aspirations because now she has to be a devoted wife.
Fast forward, Taha and Anaya have been married for fifteen years, with two beautiful daughters. To an outsider, their lives are the epitome of happy marriage. They invite family members over for dinners on Eids, host birthday parties for their daughters and even join friends for outdoor activities. But as soon as the night falls, and their daughters go to sleep, the couple sleeps in separate beds.
Taha has not touched Anaya for seven years now — as long as the age of his youngest daughter. Soon after marriage, Anaya had found out that Taha and herself did not get along. Taha was a serious man, who did not believe in affection or romance; marriage was a responsibility he wanted to fulfil for his parents. He worked 12 hours a day and Anaya stayed in the house, waiting on him. He never came on time, and when he did, he did not wish to sit with Anaya and share his day’s shenanigans.
They both loved the daughters, but that was also another responsibility that required fulfilment on both their parts. Three months into their marriage both sides began the speculations, “when is the good news coming?” So, they decided to become parents for the sake of their parents.
Taha and Anaya are just very two different people, that could not find love for each other. They never smile at each other, never go on dates, never call each other by nicknames. She prepares the grocery list, and he pays the bills. They don’t make love to each other, he does not feel the need to touch her, kiss her or even hold her in his arms. Even though she tried that for many years, he was just incapable of providing her with that physical connection.
Eventually, Anaya gave up. According to her, she is now only in this marriage for her two daughters. Taha and herself are not even close to sharing what a couple of shares in a marriage.
Daniyal has been trying for months now to hold off his parents from getting him married. A friend of his mother from Pakistan has found a girl that according to her will be a perfect fit for Daniyal. Daniyal is an entrepreneur, thus, his life revolves around travelling and hanging out with a bunch of people who are from different ethnicities. He goes occasional drinking while he is attending meetings and goes to clubs for after-work parties. His parents do not know about this. And there is no way he will ever let them in on this part of his life.
“You have to get married at some point Daniyal, you requested four years to dedicate to your business, but it’s been almost five years now. We have shown you so many girls, but you keep rejecting each one of them.”
“Why don’t you say something to him?” says Daniyal mother to his father.
After hours of heated arguments and emotional manipulation by his parents, Daniyal agrees to speak with this one girl from Pakistan, named Roha. Three days later they talk for fifteen minutes over Skype. Learn about each other’s names, colleges they graduated from and summer plans. Fast forward, these fifteen minutes Skype sessions go on three more days and then comes the hour, Daniyal tells his parents that he would like to marry Roha. What a delight, right?
So the family travels to Pakistan, a big wedding is planned and executed phenomenally. Roha’s paperwork to American immigration has already been filed and she should be with Daniyal within few months. Roha and Daniyal decide to wait on consummating their marriage till she arrives in America. The couple does not wish her to get pregnant while she is in Pakistan, to avoid any delays or complications in her travel. Daniyal travels back to America after the wedding and four months later Roha joins him in their beautiful home in Texas.
Roha’s mother-in-law and father-in-law invited some friends over to celebrate her arrival, everything goes as planned. She is a social butterfly and everyone is delighted to finally meet Daniyal’s wife. Roha’s fairy tale is finally coming true. After a long night of never-ending conversations with the guests and unpacking, Roha wishes to be in Daniyal’s arms and sleep away from her tiredness.
She changes into comfortable clothing and gets under the sheets, patiently waiting on Daniyal to bid farewell to his friends and join her in the bedroom. Soon, Daniyal enters the room.
He walks past the bed and reaches to open the bottom drawers of the study table. A bottle of scotch in his hands. Roha stares at him in bewilderment.
“Would you like some?” he whispers.
“You drink?” she asks with a quivering voice. “I just don’t drink,” he utters and sits in a chair.
It was that night Roha discovered that her husband was not only interested in drinking but was also not interested in women at all. He was in love with a man who happened to be his business partner. His parents did not know this reality and he was never going to tell them either. So, she was just a trophy wife. A pawn in the game of chess that had been played by Daniyal so he could live life in secret while Roha remained his beloved wife in the eyes of our society and his parents.
Roha stayed in that marriage for years, before she finally dared to file for divorce and move on with her life without informing anyone in the family about her whereabouts.