The wedding season has brought with it a drought of rishtas. It’s been three months since the last time you were approached about your daughter and then they had turned instead to the daughter of those rich neighbors you were warned about. Sigh.
It’s not that you’re nervous, exactly. No, your daughter is smart, hardworking, dedicated. It’s just that those qualities can’t exactly be captured in a photograph. So here she is. The woman who makes
miracles rishtas happen.
She sits across from you, legs crossed, flattening out her printed kameez with red fingernails, covering her large thighs. The fingernails reach out to her bleached hair, smoothing out invisible stray strands. She clears her throat and then smiles at you, baring a row of uneven white teeth.
“So, baji. Where is she?”
“She’s still at university but she should be home any minute now.” You lift a plate of cookies that has been sitting untouched for a while now and offer her one. She takes it and nods approvingly.
“Ah, good. Then I can ask you some questions in private.”
It’s your turn to nod. You’ve prepared for this, having mentally conjured up all flattering information about your daughter the night before. For the first time in your life, you will overlook her flaws.
“How pretty is she?”
The question catches you off-guard. Pretty? Every daughter is pretty to her mother, isn’t she? You try to think objectively; she has a slightly larger nose than most girls her age and perhaps her acne is more visible too.
“She’s… quite pretty, I guess.”
Lips purse, slight raise of the eyebrows. “Mm-hm.”
“Well, I mean, she is tall and-“
“Tall?” She leans forward, smile returning. “Tall is good. But not too tall, I hope? We don’t want her towering over her husband, even in heels. Can she walk well in heels?”
You think back to the Barat you attended last week, where your daughter almost tripped at the entrance, wearing six-inch heels for the first time in her life.
“Good, good.” She relaxes into the sofa cushions and casts a glance about the living room that you dusted frantically that morning. “Do you have a maid?”
“No, just one cook.” You wonder if this is the right answer.
“Oh don’t tell me your daughter does all the work. Calloused hands are so unattractive on brides.”
“Oh no. I usually do the cleaning so-“
“But at the same time, I hope she doesn’t let you do all the work. There is nothing more offensive than a lazy daughter-in-law.”
“Oh no. She helps out sometimes when-“
“Good, good. Now, about this cook – does he make all the food or is your daughter capable of some work in the kitchen?”
Images flash in your mind of the numerous times you dragged your daughter into the kitchen; burnt handi, charred kebabs, bland sabzi and the worst: oddly square rotis.
“Well, she’s not an expert but-“
You are interrupted by a loud clucking sound coming from her mouth. “That’s not good. Not good at all. I have gotten many girls married, all sorts of girls, but the ones who suffer the most are those who cannot cook a decent meal. No one is happy with a girl who can’t cook. Think of your own family. Would you want someone who couldn’t cook?”
“Of course not! But don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul, as long as you start training her right away.” She glances at the clock. “What time will your daughter be back anyway? This university business is making girls so busy nowadays.”
“Well…” You feel a strange mix of shame and pride. “You know, my daughter is a great student. Top of her class for the last three semesters. 4.0 GPA.”
“That’s great.” The teeth are back and her smiles strikes you as as false as her lashes. “By the way, is she fair?”
Think back to a month ago, bleaching formulas and whitening creams littered across your daughter’s dressing table and you reaching out, smearing the solutions across her tinted cheeks as she tried helplessly to concentrate on the pages of notes before her.
“It’s winter, you know. Complexions are so unpredictable this time of year.”
She gives a slight shake of her head and you backtrack.
“But, yes, she is quite fair, I suppose. For the weather.”
There is a slight pause in the conversation and, hesitantly, you ask, “So can you tell me anything about the boy you have in mind? Is he educated?”
“Yes, yes. Rich, educated, handsome. Don’t worry, don’t worry. Just be hopeful they take a liking to your daughter.”
You nod, trying to ignore the twisting in your gut. Is he caring, you want to ask. Does he seem polite? Considerate? Open-minded?
She seems to read your mind. “Look, baji. Our job is to get your daughter married and then she will be happy. That is all you owe her, to have her settled.”
Midnight conversations come to mind, hours spent chatting in front of muted television dramas, shelling peanuts as your daughter confides in you her dreams, her secret wishes for the future. And thinking back now, none of them involved gol rotis and blemish-free skin, or a family of in-laws surveying her every move.
“This is all I owe her,” you repeat, unsure if you’re questioning or reassuring yourself.
The sound of the front door swinging breaks your trance and your daughter’s cheerful salaam fills the air. You notice a stark change come over the woman in front of you, a look strangely hungry.
As if in slow motion, you watch as your daughter enters the room before her eager gaze and realize how reminiscent the scene is of a vulture eyeing its prey.
“Salaam-alaikum beta. How pretty you are.” Too sweet, too soft. “But tell me, do you always dress like this?”