Rishta Diaries: How culture steals love - by Ovaish Fatima

Dear Diary,

August 18, 2018


Visit number 10. Double digits today.


This was the 10th family to visit me. The same circus ensued. My morning began with the crisp sizzle of my mother ironing my new cotton dress in the next room. The sun was out, the birds were chirping, my morning tea and anda paratha awaited me. It was a day like any other but everything could change today, at least for me. Or that’s what I had thought. And hoped too. Maybe even prayed for.


‘Hamna, make sure the sofas are dusted properly, and there’s no trace of your paints on the table,” my Amma said, as she dabbed itar on my dress Abba got from his visit to Saudi Arabia. Yes, I should smell like an exotic, spicy blend. Maybe this will help them look past everything else that was, is wrong with me.


Like an obedient daughter, I agreed and fulfilled Amma’s orders. I filled my day with boring and unnecessary chores until it was time to dress up and wait for the family to come to see me.


At 5 pm, the bell rang and my father rushed to greet them. A series of customary exchanges and hollow words made up most of the conversation from the gate to our drawing-room. From behind the curtain, Haris, my little brother, counted the number of people and Amma rushed him to get aloo samosas as she arranged the exact number of plates and cups in a tray.


I knew I’d be called in soon. I reapplied the kajal, and fixed my dupatta, and even left a little hair showing. I have always been proud of my hair.


Frankly, I don’t care about the conversations that take place inside the drawing-room anymore. I just wanted the show to start. My name to be called out. It’s a circus honestly. You wait till your turn and then you get one chance to redeem yourself. A lot depends on you, really. Actually, everything depends on you. The last family to visit us was very disappointed in me. They even asked Abba for the fare back because they complained how this trip was a waste of their scarce resources. I cried myself to sleep that day.


Anyhow, my dear diary, I entered the drawing-room. And as Amma had drilled into my brain, I kept my head low and face hidden behind the dupatta. And so, I was greeted by a pair of brown shoes, a blue, worn-out sandal, and golden flats. I knew the way around the room well, and so, I found my way to the sofa I usually sat on.


Silence. I still hadn’t seen their faces. But boy, was I proud of my cleaning skills. The sofas looked speckless.


Behen, please ask any questions you have. Hamna will answer them for you.’


I nodded enthusiastically. Q&A time. I always did well here.


Blah blah blah blah… more blah blah. Same questions. Rotten old answers.


I was bored and wanted to have some samosas. But before I could even express this desire, Amma nudged me to leave. I obeyed once again.


I think my life is becoming very predictable to you, dear diary. But you tell me, where do I vent? I need to tell you this. Yes, again.


That night, my Amma was pacing up and down the hall, eyeing the telephone. Abba was his usual nonchalant self, sipping tea as he watched TV.


‘I think they liked you. You looked beautiful too, waisay. Good, you kept your hair out, I always tell you to do it.’ I felt happy hearing this. A little appreciation from Amma. She hardly does this.


Honestly, dear diary, I thought they liked me too. That’s the thing. You can never be too sure of these people. How do I know what goes in their minds?


The phone call came and I waited with bated breath.


I was ready. Amma wasn’t doing much of the talking. This could only mean one thing: explanations, apologies, and best wishes at the other end of the line.


Click. Receiver down. Cue Amma’s crying.


You see, dear diary. I am fat. It’s as simple as that. I have a few kgs here and there. But for as long as I can remember, I have always been a little heavy. But this is just one thing about me. I am not just fat. I am so much more.


Have you seen my paintings? I wish you were a real person so I could show you. Have you seen my cleaning skills? No wonder this rusty old house is still standing. I keep it tip-top.


The families almost always like me. There’s nothing to really dislike about me if I am being very honest to you. I could be the perfect wife and bahu. But damn this weight. It gets in the way of my dreams. Yes, I dream of being a housewife. There, I said it.


I should have just had that aloo samosa.


Anyways, I’m onto double digits now. And you still have a lot of pages. 273 more to be exact. So, let’s see how many more pages to write till I find a suitable husband. Or even less than suitable.


I just want the circus to end.


Love,

Hamna



Dear Diary,

August 18, 2018


I bought something for myself. No more waiting for buses and rickshaws.


I BOUGHT A MOTORCYCLE. It took me two and a half months of salary and a little loan, but it’s so worth it. I feel free.


You might not think of this as a big thing, but believe me, when you buy things from your own sweat and labor, it becomes more precious.


Should I name it? Perhaps, it would be too much. I think I am a bit tooooo excited.


I have more to tell you. Ammi’s insisting on seeing this family for rishta purposes. I wouldn’t mind getting married. I think it’s nice to have a partner, someone you can share stuff with. Honestly, I crave that sometimes.


But I don’t want to be insulted once again. I’m not sure if ‘insulted’ is the correct word. Maybe, 'defeated' is the right word. I’m not sure. I don’t want my confidence to shatter once again.


Last time, everything seemed to be going okay. I liked her. I’m not sure if she liked me enough to see past my small income and absence of wealth. I honestly don’t fear rejection. Reject me for being a smoker. I can quit that because it’s a bad habit I picked up in my teens.


But I can’t quit being a middle-class man. I was born into this. I can’t change that about myself.


‘But Sarim, how will we find you a wife? You don’t have a car.’


‘Listen Sarim, ask your boss if he’s giving you a promotion. The girl’s family will like this prospect.’


Sometimes, I see these sentences swirling around the ceiling as I lay in my bed after a long tiring day. Nobody asks me if my day went well or what I had for lunch. If I had it at all. Most days, I feel like a machine, working non-stop, and coming home to what? Nothing. No love, no warmth. Just reminders of how I need to achieve a standard for someone I haven’t even met yet. The next day is the same as the day before. Coming home to nothingness.


You know, I just want someone who can stick by with me. Maybe this family will be different. Maybe they’ll like me for the things I am most proud of myself.


You see, dear diary, I am not just my job and salary. I am so much more.


I make the best chai. She won’t ever have to make it, for me or for herself.

I also know this city so well; I can make a little trip on my bike feel like a 5-star vacation. Don’t believe me? You never do, just like all the others around me.


I give the best head massages. In fact, I am famous for this in my family. She will never have to take a Panadol for a headache. Don’t know who this ‘she’ is, but I promise to take care of her, despite whatever little I have.


But this time, I am not going to be too hopeful. I think I thrive on rejections now. The last time the family called it off, I got a better job. And then this motorcycle. But I am 33 now. I know, dear diary, for men, age is never an issue. But if I am not aging physically, then that doesn’t mean I haven’t aged mentally and emotionally.


Maybe I’m 80 mentally. And dead emotionally.


Anyways, Ammi tells me her name is Hamna. Maybe she will like me for my new and shiny motorcycle. I will only know when I meet her.


Bye,

Sarim






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