A Ryerson student from Pakistan tells of her notions of love and what she discovered when those notions turned sour
By Fatima Najm
I have always been in love. In love with the way crimson silk drapes over a bride’s body, enamored by the fragrance of flowers that float out to greet guests as they step onto the stage to congratulate the newlyweds. The smell of henna, it’s intricate patterns tracing delicate veins on the back of her hand around her wrist, ending in a flourish. Bollywood music blaring from rented speakers while my cousins choreographe their dance for a showdown with the women in the groom’s family.
The groom. He was collateral damage. I wanted the perfect wedding, and he came with it.
I was also in love with the idea of an ever-lasting love when I got married, although secretly. It was the hardest way I can think of to learn that there is no such thing.
Around the age of 23, I had resolved to marry. I decided to settle down. After six proposals and two religious conversions (I was only willing to marry a Muslim), I arbitrarily decided to accept the next proposal that came along.
He had to meet the criteria of course. He should be Pakistani, Muslim, from my neighbourhood (Karachi suburbs: think manicured lawns and tea served ceremoniously at 4 p.m.), with a background like mine (educated abroad and possessed of a fairly liberal bent).
Was I serious? I’m not sure, but a man walked into my life with all the above-mentioned credentials and I thought, ‘this is destiny!’ He was great fun to go clubbing with my friends loved him (initially at least), and papa didn’t seem inclined to shoot him on sight. However, as soon as I had accepted the proposal, and the parental units moved in to negotiate wedding dates, I felt like I was losing control of the situation.
Was my marriage arranged? Yes. Entirely by me. Papa and mama were completely confused. They had been in love for nine years before either set of parents permitted their marriage.
Why was I getting married to someone I barely knew? Because I had already been in and out of love so many times, the act of ‘falling’ had taken on a certain banality and this stranger who was showing up everyday at my doorstep was beginning to fascinate me. I decided I was actually falling for him. It is with hindsight that I realize the bizarre workings of my cerebral cortex somehow contrived this entire scenario.
I am part of a 300-strong conservative Muslim family. Everyone expected me to marry out of the religion, into another culture, out of… whatever. They warned my parents that I would immerse myself in evil hazing rituals when I moved away to university (to this day I am not certain what university that person’s son went to where he witnessed such horrors).
Despite all of this, I was set off to broaden my mind, get an education and enjoy myself. The University of Connecticut is a party school, and I lost focus and fell in love. Then I heard all these voices in my head, decided I wasn’t going to disappoint my family and ran away from relationship after relationship every time something got serious.
For an 18-year-old at school, it was a lot to handle. At 21, I returned to the United Arab Emirates, and after a two-year career in travel journalism, I decided to get married.
The wedding preparations were incredible. We celebrated from October to January.
There were Dholkis (song and dance sessions with drums) and dinners to attend. There was the bridal outfit to be designed, the photographers to be found, caterers to be arranged, flowers to be ordered. All of it was enough to keep me from questioning myself.
My father tried. He even offered to call off the wedding two weeks before the event. The only argument I could muster against the idea was, ‘the cards have already been sent out!’
I thought I was doing the right thing. Getting married, settling down. I was certain love would follow. Night followed day in such quick succession as I waited for my wedding day that I never questioned what was coming at me. I never felt fear till the morning that I woke to the responsibilities of being a wife, dealing with the expectations of my in-laws and living in a joint-family system with a man I barely knew.
When the wedding infused my senses with the idea that this was the promise of romance that every book I’d ever read implied would be mine, I questioned nothing.
Today I thank God I am divorced. At the time that I signed my life over to a man who hadn’t heard of women’s lib. I was in love with the idea of being in love. Today, I am divorced and in love with my independence. Most of all, I love not having to wake to the reality of planning my day around a man who believes that my every happiness should be inextricably linked to his.