MARRIAGES IN PAKISTAN
By Tahir Hamid
Pakistan is a Muslim country nestled close to India. Unlike in the West, where men and women are openly allowed to date and court one another for marriage, in Pakistan such acts are frowned upon and can earn you the anger and displeasure of your parents and relatives. Love marriages are today more so common amongst the upper cadres of the society.
It is unfortunate that there have been frequent incidents in Pakistan where men and women eloping together are often hunted down by their families and relatives and killed in cold blood. So many times, the police have proved to be ineffective in providing such couples with suitable protection.
There have been several heinous cases where small girls have been married to men many times their age. The marriage of women to the Holy Quran has also been reported from some areas of the country. These acts are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Quran. 80 percent of Pakistan's populations of 190 million people live in utter poverty. Most young girls are married off in rural areas as soon as they achieve puberty.
On the other hand in the higher stratas of the society, marriage is a difficult proposition. Mothers do the work of locating brides and grooms for their children. Often marriage bureaus are used for locating suitable brides and grooms. There is an increased focus on marrying children within the same caste though marriage outside the caste is not uncommon. Different people look for different things within prospective brides and grooms.
It took my parents about a decade to locate me my wife. I had given up on marriage by then and things had been so desperate that my mother had been even considering marrying me off to an unmarried lady seven years my senior.
When a marriage bureau provides you a suitable prospect for marriage, the next step involves ringing up the mother of the prospective bride or groom. The general conversation that follows involves an introduction to who you are, why you have called, inquiring of what the boy or girl has studied, what line of work is the boy in, what the father of the prospective groom or bride does and setting an appointment to visit the mother of the bride or groom.
On the first visit by the parents of a boy to the parents of the girl or vice versa, the prospective groom or brides rarely accompany the parents. It is only if the first meeting between the two families is successful, that a second visit follows. Usually the mother of the groom wishes to see the girl through a picture or, at her college or university. In that way, she can forgo the visit to the house of the girl if she does not like her looks and appearance. Usually the groom and his parents are very particular that the bride should be someone charming, well educated, well mannered, attractive, fair, pleasant, willing to cook and much more. Similarly the parents of a girl are more concerned about how much the prospective groom earns and about his education.
On the few times that I accompanied my parents to the prospective brides house, I have been positively shocked a few times. When you are thin and slender you expect the prospective bride to be thin as well. However I remember accompanying my parents to a house where I was disappointed to find that the young woman they showed us was very very fat. I still remember her sitting in a corner playing coyingly with a handkerchief wrapped about her finger.
There was this one family whom we met and they decided to give it some thought and time before they made a decision in giving the hand of their daughter in marriage to me. It was a two month long wait before they told us that they were not interested. And I was majorly pissed off.
Similarly there was one time when I visited the house of the prospective bride accompanied with by mother and a common friend. The future father in law was a very nice and friendly man. I was surprised when he decided on the spot that I was going to marry his daughter. And I remember my mother giving the girl an engagement ring. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of photographs of my placing a ring about the girl's finger. However it seems the mother of the prospective bride was unhappy with her daughter marrying someone out of the caste. So the next day, she rang my mother up and told of her decision to annul the engagement. It was yet another rude shock for me.
Marriage in Pakistan is more about the union of families. It is about what a bride's family can provide as dowry. And this is a gross practice which continues till today. The prospective groom's parents at the time of marriage often pay a certain amount of money which is announced when the marriage agreement is signed. The concept of dowry spells multiple problems for poor parents looking to marry their daughters.
A lot of folks over here turn to spiritual men and soothsayers to check whether the marriage would be successful or not; numerologists are also approached for this matter. Therefore marriage is at times a very delicate and difficult time.
Marriages are events full of festivity, fun and food over here. There are numerous functions that precede the marriage such as the 'mehndi' and 'dholki'. Prior to the marriage, the 'mehndi' is an event full of color where gayily dressed men and women turn up. There is a lot of singing, lot of music and dancing on this day. The dholki is also an event prior to the mehndi function where most often female relatives from the grooms' side and the brides' side gather together and they sing songs.
The most expensive marriage that I attended was of a nephew. Over a thousand guests assembled for the ceremony within the confines of a posh marriage hall at Hotel Pearl Continental in Lahore. It must have cost over a million rupees which translates to roughly ten thousand dollars. Notable politicians and businessmen in Pakistan were present at the occasion.
I have seen marriages dissolving on the day of marriage. In one such incident, my female cousin was to wed a noted doctor in Lahore who was also a well-known television actor. However owing to the lengthy list of things that the parents of the groom had demanded, my uncle decided that the marriage was simply not worth it. Apparently the groom's father had been more concerned about what was to be given in dowry than anything else.
Today the divorce rate is high amongst the higher cadres of society. Women are unfortunately not willing to compromise and their demands of their husbands are unusually high; women nowadays prefer to be married to older men; men who are rich and wealthy.