She has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree: five years of struggle and study. She was a top scorer; her spotless transcripts, with the straight A’s (and an occasional A minus or B plus), are proof of her continuous dedication to the field. Every teacher envisioned her role in contributing towards Pakistan’s development in medicine and medical research. They spoke highly of her, highlighting her capabilities and emphasising her potential. She was a gem, a rare find, an absolute one-of-a-kind. She would succeed.
She participated in debates and won several of them. Her artistic half wasn’t neglected either; her paintings adorn her house’s walls and her clay figurines are quite popular with friends and family. In fact, she even started selling the figurines online to much acclaim. They garnered a large fan base, until she decided to stop during her fifth semester at college – the courses at school were too demanding and she knew she had to get her priorities sorted if she wanted to succeed. She learned how to swim, ride a bicycle and speak French, all by the age of thirteen.
Scared of no one, she would scale trees to get marooned kites that her older brother and his friends were too scared to retrieve. She was a great help around the house too: from making rotis to dusting the excruciatingly expensive sofas in the drawing-room, she could handle it all if she were left on her own.
Here comes the grand finale. The culmination of her 21 years has led her to this one stage where it will be decided whether she has been a success or a failure. This is her defining moment. All her struggles: the all-nighters spent studying while her brother snored nearby, the scuttling to and fro from teacher to teacher to understand a convoluted biopharmaceutical concept, the assignments and quizzes and presentations: this is it. If this one moment is ruined, those five years would have been a waste. Not just a waste of her time and toil; it would be a waste of her parents’ money and a waste of their dreams. They had chalked up a complete plan for her, and destroying that would be destroying 21 years of their lives. 21 years of their sweat and their honour, down the drain. She would be unsuccessful.
Adjusting her dupatta, she glances at her sister, who gives her an encouraging smile. She manages to nod back. She picks up the silver tray of chai cups (the most delicate ones in the house, of course) and tea biscuits. Taking a deep breath, she forces a smile on her face and heads towards the drawing room, where the guests wait to pass their final judgment.
Confused? Javeria’s ordeal is a pretty common one in Pakistan. A lot of Pakistani parents enrol their daughters in higher educational institutes so they can get better marriage offers. The mother of the potential groom (and sometimes, his other family members) pays the girls’ parents a visit. At times, the would-be groom tags along as well. They are given VIP treatment and are seated in the living room (in most Pakistani households, an entire room of the house is especially dedicated for this highly productive purpose, with costly furniture and an attached bathroom), where they are served the evergreen chai by the prospective bride. The mother-in-law (who is elementary school educated and likes to spend her time reviewing her neighbours’, friends’ and family members’ actions) then attempts to glean everything there is to know about the girl in the space of thirty to forty minutes. She knows Javeria has studied to be a doctor so she can expect a generous dowry from them.
But what she doesn’t know is that Javeria is kind, generous and passionate. She doesn’t know that Javeria likes Sia and Maroon 5, and enjoys a bit of opera at times as well. She doesn’t know that the girl has written poetry that has been published in magazines and newsletters. She doesn’t know these things because they are irrelevant to the woman’s purpose. The woman is here for a fair-skinned bride with a college degree for her son who can spend her time cooking rotiyan for him.
This is all true and it is happening. A young girl with an MBBS degree will spend the rest of her life cooking and cleaning for a man who works for the Coca-Cola Company. I cannot observe this disturbing trend from the side-lines anymore. It’s distressing and what’s more, it is not restricted to the middle class. Many elite Pakistanis still slave for this custom, for this abhorrent culture. If we as Pakistanis don’t start to realise that there is something seriously wrong with what is going on here, we’ll fail to prosper as a nation, as an economy, and as a people.
‘No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.’
– The Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, at Aligarh, in March 1944