Noreen was a sworn enemy of ‘love marriage’ for a myriad of reasons. To begin with, it was against her religious and cultural tradition – this was the reason Noreen mentioned most often, even though she herself did not believe it to be the most important one. It just happened to be the one most people understood and agreed with. There was also the question of suitability, of bride and groom being matched to each other on social, intellectual and – let’s admit it – physical levels. And here again most people just couldn’t help nodding their heads in agreement with this rationale. But what really motivated Noreen’s extreme dislike of a marital union based on mutual affection was she believed love doesn’t exist. Noreen had no doubt about it.
Of course it all depends what you qualify as love, but if you think it has something to do with quickened heartbeats, butterflies in the stomach, and blind admiration, then in Noreen’s eyes you are simply a hopeless romantic synonymous with senseless daydreamer and believer in make believe. The heart is simply a pump driving blood in circles throughout your body. Sometimes it works faster, for example, when we need more oxygen for our muscles to cope with extra exercise or our brain with extra emotions. But to think that emotions, namely love, could drive our life, and to let it take control over our decisions, well that is simply senseless. It is especially senseless when it comes to marriage. After all, it is a decision that will affect all aspects of your future life. InshaAllah it is a decision for life. How can you make it based on such a fleeting and unstable thing as love?
Let’s face it, love – like any other emotion – is short lived. You feel this high for a maximum of a few months and then the fuel for passion begins to burn out. Also, being so infatuated you hardly notice the world around you; everything is suddenly beautiful and the ugliness becomes either unconventional beauty or invisible. And the same process is applied to the faults and shortcomings of your object of attention. Simply said – you become love blind.
And let’s just suppose that someone goes ahead and makes a decision while stupefied by this so-called love. What is the guarantee, that after the intoxicating emotion evaporates from their body, they don’t regret it? Or even worse, what if the thunder of love strikes twice and each time burns the forest? “You know if a guy wants to marry you, because he’s in love with you, what makes you think that after a year he wouldn’t marry another girl, because he falls in love with her?” asked Noreen of her girlfriends, some of them fatally affected by love, in hope of pouring some sense into their heads. Soon though, the girls learnt it was better not to confide in Noreen, an otherwise great friend, but who when it came to love issues her advice would either kill the joy or kill the friendship.
Being so skeptical about love, how did she anticipate her future marriage, wondered all Noreen’s cousins, aunties and friends. But Noreen wasn’t worried in the least, because she had a plan. She would trust her parents in finding the best possible match for her, having thoroughly instructed them in some of the more precise elements of compatibility factors. Noreen let her mother know about what she considered to be good-looking. She would either say, “Yeah, ok,” to agree with her mother’s opinion on someone’s good looks or roll her eyes saying “Mum, please,” when she disagreed, knowing that this was enough for her mother to get the idea. With her father, she had discussed the suitable professions of her potential husband, and she asked him to make sure the candidate’s professed dedication to religious duties would be checked and confirmed. Otherwise she left the decision fully in her parents’ hands. She didn’t even ask to see photos of the suitors and she declined meeting them during official applications of the groom’s parents for the girl to be given in marriage.
She was a beautiful, modest, pious, well-educated girl from a good family, so her parents were really spoilt for choice when it came to her engagement. After being approached by a respected family living in the neighbourhood and after meticulously screening the candidate through direct questioning as well as intelligence reports from friends and neighbours, and after imploring their daughter’s permission to which she responded, ”I trust your decision will be the best for me,” Mr. and Mrs. Adam Khan had finally agreed to betroth their beloved daughter Noreen to the son of Mr. and Mrs. Iqbal. The prospective son-in-law was two years older than Noreen and had just obtained a degree in law. He was good looking, and not only in the eyes of Noreen’s mother – in fact she had heard from some of the ladies in the neighbourhood that his looks attracted quite a lot of female attention. After a few chats Noreen’s father had with the young man, he deemed him reasonable and intelligent, as well as well-rounded and respectful. Based on these reports, Noreen believed that he actually was the perfect candidate and the best possible match. She didn’t want to discuss the issue much though, because she was afraid to be mistaken for accumulating some affection for her future husband, or – God forbid – falling in love!
Nay! When it comes to love, the real love, Noreen had another plan. Her heart was not made of stone or sculpted in ice as some friends suspected. That was not the case. Noreen might have not believed in love in the popular, cheap sense of the word, but she believed in love cultivated within the sanctioned frame of marriage. Just as some snob gardeners believe that wild roses are not respectable roses and only those fostered in nurseries under the vigilance of expert eyes really deserved the name, so Noreen believed that love could only be developed meticulously between the spouses starting from the day of their marriage, not earlier. She planned to open her heart the moment he lifted her veil, all the time keeping her eyes open to learn to love him with all his faults, but focusing on his good side. She believed that their love would grow slowly and steadily until it reached perfect harmony after several years, and from then on they would share a life full of marital bliss. This vision had nothing to do with the romantic ideas of Noreen’s friends, oh no, it was thoroughly rational. And wasn’t it the way the things worked in the past? And everyone knows that things did work best in the past.
Noreen didn’t waste much of her time or attention on the wedding preparation; she had more important things to do such as finishing her degree in Islamic studies and reading self-development books. Noreen let her mother do everything, including choosing the dress, the jewellery and the makeup artist. Some people thought that she must have been dragged into this union if she behaved like this, but she met their accusations calmly explaining that she simply trusted that her mother would know what is best for her. When prompted, she did choose emeralds over rubies for her wedding necklace and decided on the model of the dress from the catalogue. But she didn’t engage in the rest of the preparation, perfectly content to act as a spectator until the big day, when she would step up to play the lead role without rehearsing.
And finally the big day had come, the guests had arrived and the show was to begin. Noreen was much more nervous than she expected she would be, but she explained to herself that this was just because she would have to face such a crowd, something that always made her nervous. She let her mother and cousins help her dress in a heavily embroidered traditional Desi red wedding dress. She let the hairdresser comb her hair and attach the veil with the hairpins, and she let the makeup artist do her job. She then looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise herself – how differently did she look in the make-up she never wore before and dressed in a princess-like dress instead of her usual simple black abaya. Strangely enough, seeing herself so altered had further calmed Noreen down, as if in this costume of a bride she was not truly herself – she was now a bride, and should and could act as a bride. Her role was not rehearsed, but she had chosen this improvisational style of acting. She would play it cool, what she imagined to be ‘old-style’. Like the modest brides of the olden times, the ones that didn’t dare lift their eyes from the ground or exchange a word with anyone. She had heard that her grandmother during her wedding ceremony did not even open her eyes – she just sat there like a beautiful monument – a perfect bride. Noreen pondered on doing the same, but decided that nowadays it would be considered overacting and instead fixed her gaze on the tips of her golden court shoes.
The wedding was a whirlwind of colours, faces, voices, wishes, blessings, and smells. To keep her composure Noreen revised in her head all the short surahs that she had memorised and repeatedly asked Allah for strength and courage. It was her wedding, yet the enjoyment was for all the others. The groom sitting next to her in the scene smiled and chatted with the family and guests and from time to time stood up to join his friends at a table or to pose for a picture. His place in the chair next to Noreen was quickly taken up by ladies eager to have a photo taken with a bride. Finally all the rites had been performed, the food had been served and eaten, the guests took their leave one after another and Noreen had been escorted to her husband’s car to be taken to her new home.
All the way home she did not lift her gaze nor speak a word, not even when he took her hand in his or when he asked if she was alright. She couldn’t shake off the role that she had adopted. I’ll be myself again when I take off this dress, she thought to herself. When they arrived she was greeted by all the female members of the household and extended family and led inside by her husband and her father-in-law. She mustered a smile, but her face, pale even under heavy make-up, gave away her tiredness and she was allowed to retire to her room. She closed the door and looked around the bedroom, her bedroom now, that she was to share with that stranger she met only a few hours ago. She sat on a stool in front of a dressing table with an ornately framed mirror and began to unpin her veil.
The door cracked open and her husband – how strangely this phrase felt on her tongue! – entered the room closing the door behind him and locking it. “Let me help you,” he said standing behind her as he started to remove the pins from her hair. She looked down, but not fast enough to not catch his reflection in the looking glass. He was indeed very handsome, just as her cousins said, but what really attracted her in his face was this look of caring affection. He smiled to her in the mirror and she couldn’t help smiling back to him – a shy smile, expressed more by the eyes than the lips. Soon her veil was off her head and safely placed on the sofa and she stood up to her husband, not because she felt like doing it, but because she thought she was supposed to do it. He squeezed her arm lightly and she called to her heart, Come on! Open up! It’s time!, As her husband took her by the hands she followed him to sit on the edge of the bed. Bravely she lifted her eyes and looked in his handsome face with a smile.
“You know I fell in love with this smile” he confessed. ”I’ve seen you so many times walking in the market with your mother, I’ve seen you in the uni, even though you might have not seen me – you never really looked in my direction. And I’ve seen your smile and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with you. So I asked my father to ask yours for your hand in marriage and when he said yes I was – I still am – the happiest man in the world! My beautiful bride.”
He stroked her chin as she looked at him in disbelief. A love marriage! How could that be! Yet this love – this silly passion putting unnecessary strain on the heart – proved not only to be irrational but also contagious. Because Noreen felt dizzy from emotions and this dizziness, she forgot all her principles. Her heart’s door was wide open and she no longer cared that her husband loved her because she loved him, as well!
Klaudia Khan writes to find out what she thinks and to say what she couldn’t speak out. Her work has been published in several print and digital magazines.