Arranged Marriage:Dear (Not So) Suitable Boy

Contrary to the Indian movies that often portray every young girl’s goal in life as securing that Suitable Boy’s proposal, most girls just wanted to have fun.

Dear (Not so ) Suitable Boy,

I have been meaning to write to you for some time now (about 20 years) but somewhere along the way, after I realized you most certainly were not my knight in shining armor, I married someone else and had five kids. So yeah I was a bit preoccupied. No, I didn’t end up marrying the knight in shining armor. He still hasn’t shown up. Curse you, Disney. Curse you.

I remembered you and your audacious proposal yesterday night as I was scooping fat cat’s dehydrated poop out of the litter box. Please don’t be offended, you do not in any way remind me of dehydrated cat poop. I just get random thoughts scooping poop.

I just want you to know that it never would have worked. I was done the second I realized I was about to be shown off like prize cattle, when I saw you sitting there in my aunt’s drawing-room with your mom, your dad and your female sibling. I am surprised you didn’t bring your grandparents. I stopped at the door and I checked you out. Sorry I wasn’t raised in Pakistan, yeah I checked you out and you did not even make my “last guy in the world list”. But let’s be honest, you were there with your family to do the exact same thing. I just beat you to it.

Yes, in those few seconds I was able to sum you up and sweep you aside. I was a narcissistic nineteen year old what could you expect? I knew I was on every eligible bachelor’s mom’s list, most likely first or second, because I fit what every desi mother-in-law wanted. Tall, thin, fair, but most importantly, Canadian National. God bless our hypocritical, stereotypical desi double standards!

Besides being turned off by the fact that I was about to be paraded in front of a guy I did not know (why can’t people just arrange a normal lunch with lots of people?) it was the moustache. That ridiculously thick moustache that made Tom Selleck look like a fuzzy lipped female. Had you never heard of Johnny Depp? Apparently not. You looked like a forty-five year old, (yes I am aware that you were not actually forty-five, but damn that was some ‘stache!) a forty-five year old who was accompanied by his parents and little sister to check out a nineteen year old chick. That is not a good first impression.

I did my utmost to be as obnoxious as possible to your mom and little sis. I refused to go into the drawing-room to meet you, I didn’t see the point since I had already decided we were most certainly NOT meant to be. So they came to meet me in the other room. I disagreed with everything your sister said, I mocked the fact that she didn’t enjoy Jane Austen which she was required to read for school. I love Jane Austen. The second a tray of drinks was brought in I hopped up and rudely grabbed a drink for myself to the shock of both my aunts.  And your mom. I wanted her to realize what Canadian National meant. It meant I was not the standard docile girl who had been embedded with the concept that I had to marry whichever Suitable Boy thought I met his mom’s standards. I would not be cajoled into an arranged marriage just because everyone thought you were a Suitable Boy.

Fourteen hundred years ago my religion gave me the right to decide if I liked a guy enough to marry him, but along the line somewhere all that got lost in stupid cultural backwardness. Up till the point where girls were displayed to be evaluated by a boy and his family. To see whether or not she was good-looking enough, submissive enough, to make a good daughter-in-law and wife. Then the poor girl waited, hoping not to be rejected as Prince Charming went on to check out the next eight girls on Mama’s list.

The point of all this is, you probably have kids now. Unless you jumped off a cliff in a fit of drama, your ego bruised by a girl who had the impudence to refuse.  If you have a daughter please don’t parade her in front of dozens of young men and their families. Let her peek in the drawing-room first. And if she doesn’t want to go in and meet them, don’t make her.


The Canadian National you are so lucky not to have gotten hitched to.

P.S. Do remind her however, that the knight in shining armor rarely shows up, she should not waste her precious time waiting for him.


Apartment Life in Karachi

When I was living in Karachi (which I just googled and found is no longer on the most dangerous cities list since we moved) we lived in a large comfortable house. But I also had the opportunity to live awhile in an apartment or ‘flat complex’. It was ….an experience.
Link for article in Dawn newspaper:
meet the neighbors
Flat out: Meet the neighbours

By Khaula Mazhar

People who prefer living in a house rather than in a flat have absolutely no sense of adventure. Where else can you find so many different types of people living in the same place, constantly getting on each other`s nerves? Where else can you find such an interesting environment?

For starters, look at the amazing artwork that goes into the décor of even the most average, normal, everyday flat. Notice the dramatic red streaks in corners and on the lower parts of walls? You may call it disgusting, I call it artistic. Only a paan addict can truly appreciate its beauty.

The leaky plumbing is another amazing aspect; the designs caused by the water slowly seeping out of the pipes and into the walls give the place a lot of character. And there`s so much to talk about once your tiles start falling out due to the water damage; at your next family get-together you can hold the audience spell bound as you narrate how a chunk of plaster fell on your head while you were in the loo.

There is constant activity in the complex parking areas, and if you live on the ground floor you`ll never be far from the action; be it the Peeping Toms, who always appear at your window the second you open your curtains, or the cricket crazy delinquents who keep the window makers in business. But all this pales into insignificance once Eidul Azha draws near. The sights (animals of all shapes, sizes, personalities and all of their recycled food lying around in cute lumps), sounds (baaing, mooing, moaning, groaning, screaming, pleading, all seasoned with a few spicy swear words) and SMELLS (let`s just say `organic` shall we?) Who needs a vacation to exotic locales when so much is happening at their doorstep?

Living in a flat also engenders a feeling of togetherness with your neighbours. They know everything about you, you know everything about them. For example, I know the timetable of the lady who lives upstairs. She starts cooking when it`s my bedtime. The second I fall asleep I am awoken by the gentle scraping sound of her `sil butta` and I can picture her grinding away at all those aromatic spices. She`s so considerate, she always brings me a plate of her Bihari kebabs, making sure I get them no matter what — even if she has to pound on my door for twenty minutes, while I try to drag myself out of bed, at a quarter past midnight. Her persistence amazes me; so does her timetable.

There`s a very caring family in the flat opposite ours. They care about what I`m doing, why I am doing it, who has come to visit me and why; what I have cooked and, since it smells so good, can I send some over? Of course, they keep me informed of all their goings-on as well. I feel like I`m part of their family. When a baby was born at one of their relatives, I felt like a proud aunt. A family feud left me indignant. I now have more things to worry about than I need and I doubt I will ever run out. Isn`t that great? They also keep me from getting lonely as someone is always dropping in. If “Bhabi” can`t come by, she`ll be sure to send over her four different sized children to keep me company, no matter how much I insist that I don`t need it.

No flat would be complete without the `been there, done that` family. I know they are very popular, and they are a real favourite of mine. No matter what you have seen, heard, done; no matter where all you have been, you`ll find they have seen that, heard that, done that, been there, and of course, all on a much grander scale. It really boosts your spirits to be associated with such sophisticated people.

Life in flats is never boring; there`s always something going on to keep you distracted. Either it`s an aameen or a birthday, sometimes even a mehndi in the reception area. If you don`t feel like cooking you can always attend one of these functions without the hassle of fighting traffic or driving a distance; just skip downstairs.

So, if you are bored of your large living quarters, your privacy, your beautiful lawn, your own, undisputed parking area, your peace and quiet, don`t despair; excitement is just round the corner! Pack up and move your family to the nearest flat complex.

Immigrating Granny

This is an article I wrote for July 1st’s Dawn newspaper, the editor asked me to write about settling in a new country. Since I was moving back home and it was not a new experience for me, I wrote from the view point of an old lady moving abroad from Pakistan for the first time. If you want to read about interesting things that happen when you move out of North America go and visit this great blog :

Multicultural, confused and enjoying it.

I was feeling kind of homesick, which is confusing, because now I have two homes (Canada and Pakistan). If I stay at one, I’ll always be missing the other. This is a post I did for Karachi tips. Ever feel homesick?

Click to read:

Answer Me

Answer Me (Click on link to read on Dawn)

In Pakistan you feel lucky if you have  electricity and a land line phone that actually works. This article is dedicated to those who have the wonderful everyday experience of lacking both.

It is hot, humid and everyone is going nuts. A lady moves out of the kitchen to collapse gratefully on the sofa under the fan. Just then there is a loud, startling noise and the electricity goes off; the telltale blast announces an indefinite power failure. Oh dear. Husband didn’t change UPS battery either, no power, no fan!

She frantically dials husband’s number.

“Sorry the number you have dialled is not responding, please try later.”

Wait for two minutes… Two minutes are too long, thirty seconds are enough. Dials husband’s number again.

“Sorry the number you have dialled is not listed. Please check and redial again.”

Extremely irritated now … dials again, very carefully.

“Haylo, kown hay bhai?” Unfamiliar voice.

“Assalam o Alaikum, I need to speak to Junaid sahib please.”

“Eh? Wo kon hai bhai?”

“Who is this?” Asks the wife, now at the end of her tether.

“This is Ghaffar Supariwalla”

“Oh, sorry wrong number.”

Dials again, ever so carefully, checking each number.

“Sorry the number you have dialled cannot be connected. Please dial again or contact customer services”

This is not working. She reaches for her new ‘don’t know how to use properly’ touch screen mobile.

Dials carefully, trying not to tap screen too hard. Tapped too hard, back….oh, oh! Back again. Should have saved number. Yes! Success, finally.

“Hello kiya hai, I am in a meeting.” Husband obviously not in the mood to chat.

“The transformer just blew out! I’m dying in this heat, do something!”

“Would you like me to come home and fix it?” asks husband, patronising tone obvious.

“That would be nice, it’s hot as hell.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Husband not amused.

“Well can’t you?”

“No dear, that is what linemen are for. Now I want you to think, who should you call?”

“You think you are so funny! What I mean is can you get someone to come down and fix it? When I phone all I get is ‘Thank you very much for calling, your complaint has been recorded. Your complaint number is 52678, we’ll send someone out just as soon as we can… blah blah blah!’ And no one ever comes. You phone them up, scream your head off, threaten them with your colourful language tell them you’re going to call what’s-his-name-director-friend and there you have it! The KESC truck is there in 15 minutes.”

“Well right now it’s not possible so humour me and phone them up, 118.”

“Are you going to be late for din….” Click. Call ended.

Darn, men are so inconsiderate! Dials number from landline.

“Sorry your line has been temporarily disconnected due to non-payment. If you have paid your bill please call customer service for more information.”

Now fuming she dials customer service.

“Hello this is customer care service, for service in English press 1. For service in Urdu press 2.” Bleeeep.

“For phone line press 1. For broadband Pakistan press 2. For …” Wait a minute…what the heck! This is a prepaid phone! How can it be disconnected for non-payment? Oh, never mind. Have to use complicated touch screen mobile phone, to hell with the landline. Dials 118 … no, no, not 1118! Go back, tap the screen lightly. Yes!

“Assalam O Alaikum respected customers; electricity is a precious resource for all of us. Let us preserve it so we can all benefit from its use. You can do this by turning off fans when not in use, switch off all lights during the day. Remove mobile chargers from the socket when recharging is complete. Don’t waste water, and in this way avoid unnecessary use of motor to fill up water tanks. Encourage your children to be energy wise and turn off all electrical appliances when not in use.

Encourage your neighbours to be active in their energy management. You can also ask your in-laws, your best friends, your children’s best friends and their relatives as well as the people you meet on the street to use electricity wisely. In this way, with your cooperation, we can spread the message to the whole city. Bijli bachayay apne liyay, quom ki liyay. Shukria. An operator will be with you shortly. Thank you for waiting.”

Waiting … still waiting… sickening piano music in background.

“Hello KESC complaint centre.”

“Oh thank God! I thought no one would ever answer, the transformer outside my house just blew up and…”

“Sorry Ma’am hold on for just one minute.”

“Oh wait I …” More piano music. Click . Another click, hope is reborn.

“Assalam O Alaikum. Please wait for an operator to attend your call, or dial 1 if you don’t feel like waiting. Dial 2 if you want service in Urdu. Dial 3 if you want to report electricity theft. Dial 4 if you are not sure why you called. Dial 5 for the latest fashion updates. Dial 6 for …”

Presses 1, can’t wait any longer this is ridiculous.

“Thank you for calling; when you are ready to wait please call back.”

Click. End of call.

Slaps forehead. Hard. Dials again…

“Sorry you do not have sufficient balance to make this call.”

Competitive Moms

Competitive Moms (click to read on Dawn)

(This is an article I wrote for Dawn Newspaper’s Sunday Images. It is dedicated to women with competitive friends. )

Have you ever enjoyed lunch with an old college friend who you haven’t seen for a couple of years? Isn’t it great to reminisce about all the great adventures you had together, the long hours of studying and pigging out on junk food, the tension of exams, the anxious waiting for results, and sharing each others’ victories? Then exchanging the latest changes and developments that have occurred over the years… sigh!

This, however, is where the lunch starts to turn sour, when you realise the only thing she now has to talk about is her child. What a bore; you’d much rather talk about yours. So the conversation goes something like this:

Friend: “You know Ali was only 10 months old when he took his first step! It was so incredible! Everybody was shocked, I mean 10 months! Have you ever heard of kids walking at 10 months? Of course I always knew my child was definitely gifted, but…”

You: “Well…you know my daughter was walking at 10 months too, it’s not really…”

Friend: (in a patronising tone) “Oh no! You misunderstood me. I mean running all over the place at 10 months not just stumbling around. He actually started to try to walk when he was only eight months so he was an expert at 10! Of course, it was kind of expected; he was rolling over at only four months and practically crawling everywhere at five. You won’t believe what a hard time he gave me. You are really lucky you had your daughter first, girls don’t get into that much trouble and they aren’t that active. I had to be on my toes 24 hours a day…”

You: “Actually my daughter was quite naughty so I know what you have been through. Sarah was only three months when…”

Friend: “Oh I know you are just trying to make me feel better. Believe me girls are a lot easier to handle than boys. My nieces are little angels, my sister never had a hard time with them. In fact, I’d say all three of them put together on their worst behaviour couldn’t compare to what Ali could do. But of course, it’s a small price to pay when you have such a brilliant child. We were so confused when it came to deciding on the right school for him…”

You: “Yeah, I know what you mean. But I am really satisfied with Sarah’s school; the teachers there are really…”

Friend: “Yes, yes it is after all the fourth best school in this area. But you know my husband is such a perfectionist and when it comes to education, only the best was good enough for Ali. Of course, you do have to consider these things when you have an extraordinary child like Ali. Sometimes you know, I almost envy mothers with average children, they are so much easier to handle. You can’t imagine what it is like to keep up with Ali. Just the other day his teacher was telling me how confidently he recited four nursery rhymes in a row in front of his class without any help at all.”

You (starting to get really bugged and wondering if this is actually the same person you knew in college): “Sarah is more into colouring and drawing, she just loves to…”

Friend: “What a coincidence! So is Ali. His drawings are incredible, they seem to have been made by a much, much older child. And so neat! All the colours are inside the lines, he just never ceases to amaze me.”

You (starting to get up): “Oh my gosh, look at the time! I’ve really got to go Lubna, it was great to see you, but I’ve got to run and pick Sarah up from her piano lessons. Of course, you know how it is with little geniuses. Always on our toes! Let’s do lunch again some time, bye.” (Glad to have got the last word!)

Friend (a little stunned at finally being outdone): “Yeah, sure. Bye.” (She quickly composes herself and takes out her mobile and dials a number.) Hello Nazia! How are you darling! You know how busy I am, it’s not easy looking after such an active little prodigy. Just the other day the maid had finished ironing and folding all the clothes and Ali just couldn’t resist dumping the basket over. Then he got into the kitchen and…… (listening to the speaker for a second).s Oh no, you can’t begin to imagine what I go through! Why your little Zaid is such an innocent little sweetheart. He isn’t half as active as Ali, who, by the way….”