Living Pakistan/ Scenes from most weddings

Be husband and wife in Pakistan. I confess I did not understand well yet what the deeper meaning and what in fact it is in everyday life.

After more than two years of living in the country, I enjoyed both in big cities than in rural areas have seen numerous engagements, weddings, family relationships and conflicts. I could say anything different from what I see in my home or in Europe, but no: not taking anything away from our relational crisis (we are talking only of women and men because gay and lesbian couples certainly do not see in and around, however they do not get married) – during Eid-ul-Fitr, the feast that celebrates the end of Ramadan and outrageously gives five official days of vacation – I witnessed and also a participant of scenes and stories of ” family “ life that I have brought back memories of a very old history of women’s right at the time of the Italian Historical women Society workshops; or even “Fanny and Alexander” by Ingmar Bergman, short of something that goes far back in time, but institutionalized in the present, where the movies seen are “Jurassic Park” and “Mission Impossible”.

Family. You can not talk about marriage if you do not understand the importance of the family institution, which already in Italy I have always seen as a precept to be abolished by royal decree, and that here it seems to me rather a noose put on babies from which only death mercifully frees them.

The kinship here means everything: the clan, the possession of land and other assets; they still get married first of all between first cousins ​​or scions of families of friends, thus so dirty clothes are washed in a single washing machine. Mothers, queens of the prisoners’ home, decide the education of sons and daughters who will take home (if you are rich and have more space you deserve an apartment in the same house or stable, if not a room, maybe the same as when you were a teenager and then divide with your wife). The family emigrated, you emigrate, a member of the caste argues with a cousin or a brother: well, they meet in separate groups or, to put it modern, the householder will declare officially banned. Her husband works in another city? His mother is ready to reveal any lack of daughter on his return at the weekend. And if her husband runs into some transgression who controls it? No one, of course. In big cities the girls at the first meeting with a young man of their choice immediately ask if the poor guy is serious and if wants to go home with his parents: reaction that results in public places full of groups of boys and girls going out on their own. I believe it, I would do it too …

Engagements. I have already written in the past but I go back again because this time the engagement (not official yet) I followed concerns a boy who almost became an adopted son. He always swore I never ever would have married a girl selected from the family (must be said to be fair, that when you are presented with the candidate or the candidate the individual concerned can say no and then the family pastry again Daisy clan to choose the next, think a little luck that … And so the young man did: he met a colleague of the same age in the workplace (emigrated bravely alone in Dubai) and chose her as a girlfriend. The first contact with the girl’s family was a phone call of politeness made to the future mother-in-law. Then I, as a mother in the second and confidant of the family, I met her during a trip to Dubai: she seemed nice , elegant and determined, with very clear ideas about the future. She believed that I wanted to take the defence of the godson who hesitates on his transfer and instead confessed to being amazed because I suggested not to wait but to look ahead, Dubai an ocean of opportunities, not just work. When we reviewed in Pakistan for Eid, she had already met the future mother and sister in law: the first is very skeptical, finds her too elegant, too much educated and even ugly, to stand the comparison with the other wives of the family. Fears, especially that she does not face drive as it should and that she might make it hard to exercise the role it deserves, namely her husband that law. Lunch was returned home to her: very nervous girl, mother worthy of a novel by Jane Austen engaged in hunting in-law, who had access (maximum of chance) in the room where we women were gathered, to get by the opposite side to where his girlfriend was sitting silent and observing. This will be nothing when it comes to talk about the wedding: she has already decided to get married in a simple ceremony in Dubai, giving up expensive three days of celebrations in Pakistan almost almost make even the homeless. Family going to need a good cardiologist.

In fact, the engagement is not just establish a welfare state (here if you’re still single at 35 you’re pretty to throw, not to use the vulgarity with which men use to comment on): I’m going to marry-my boyfriend is part of- I’ll have the house and clothes, and I will have the power that falls to me as the guardian of the domestic cell. It also means much an economic transaction in favour of the initial bride’s family: the family of her boyfriend must in fact lead to “pay” gold and jewels, women lands and annuities and everything is obviously equated with economic status. Something that I realised over time, when I wondered before excessive attention that my friends showed men in looking at my (non-precious) jewellery and it assessed stones and metals. The engagement is established by a ceremony in which he announced when the wedding will be fixed. Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones today betrothed you send photos and selfie, chat at night and obviously control each other. It is a long time that I try to figure out where is at least a faint sense of true happiness in all this (besides start a regular sex life, granted only after the institution of marriage). And thanks to the Internet now the app Muzmatch get in contact girls and Muslim boys in search of the ideal partner: in addition to the physical, tastes, hobbies, studies, it is asked first whether the chosen ones are Sunni or Shiite, so just to avoid losing time with impossible encounters.

Weddings. Actually more varied and complex. Dictated by many variables: we start by saying that those who do not marry or decide not to get married is seen as a serious case an exception hopeless. And of course as not to tie the institution to pressing and natural desire for a sex life? Obvious that sex is practiced in Pakistan out of wedlock, but it is not easy: the young lovers and do not want to “jeopardise” the girls they love, and if not then the families would agree on what would happen? The prostitution ring is huge and at various levels; but there are also and lovers, internet, chat, secret meetings, the guest house complacent that for a bit of money breaking the law and rent out a room.

This is the scene outside. That includes, as we said, the preparation of the wedding, social event, display of wealth, luxury and ostentation, of course creating new possible relationships for future weddings (and business).

Interior scenario. The famous incipit of “Anna Karenina” – “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” –  often comes to my mind. This is not a criticism of the crisis of bed (it is variously afflicted Europe), as a questioning of myself, as gendered subject that comes from another culture and fought other battles and try to understand what that sometimes it is not easy to understand in its impact with this part of the Islamic world. In my experience meeting young and old couples, all of these in a long time and only one (over 50) has always given me the idea of ​​the union of two grandparents still in love, happily dependent on each other. All others often give me the creeps. That wives, working or not, have the right of life and death over the kingdom of the house and the daily education of the children; for the rest of the interaction with the spouse proceeds on parallel lines, simple and essential: men always know where are the women, the latter not. Men do not give you an explanation if coming in late, where they go and with whom, if they decide to live in another city and not bring his wife with him. The construction of the marriage union is based on the sacred bond of lie: one mind for the smallest things, the women on the family budget, for example, the exclusion of husbands by some social events or even by chatting with other men met who knows where; men of course if they have a mistress, they are free to go home in the middle of the night. Some argue that, sure that the voltage is transformed into a daily war (is a game between me and my wife, tried to explain me one evening a friend; a massacre game I think, that lets alternately always exhausted). And most unhappy, as the majority of them declares, unhappy and somehow sick, depressed, frustrating consequence of the lack of freedom and self-determination, which is obviously not only due to the quality of interpersonal relationships, but rather they are are suffering from a society that leaves no room for relativism and secularism in many aspects and for certain social groups, to personal freedom.

Polygamy. Phenomenon in slow decline. Among young people, engine of change although very slow, the idea of ​​having more than one wife is not even considered. Having two wives is however still widespread practice, most in rural areas but not disdained in the city. Muslim marriage is underwritten by a contract that must be strictly adhered to, then if the wives are two, time, money, property, everything has to be distributed equally between the two spouses from her husband, sex included. I know three bigamous, very different, unhappy and confused and their stories are still able to surprise me. The first lives in Dubai for over twenty years with the whole family: sharing a large house, including wives. The second, he said once, was chosen under pressure from the mother who was always in conflict with the first daughter in law: the old lady has thus suggested the arrival of a younger second wife, in order to “distract attention “ from the family disputes. My friend agreed, the girl was found and chose his own free will and so he is a bigamist: he changes bedroom on alternate nights, on Thursday having the right to rest because he sleeps in the room of the children. I confess that when he comes back tired from work has to fulfil his duties as a husband because the morning after “lack” would soon be made public (I confess that the night he told me about it I drank up as much, even for him , teetotaler for religious choice). The second, after 14 years of marriage and five children, dirt poor, fell in love with a young colleague and married her: now he is certain that his diabetes has worsened after a few months when he suffered screaming and fighting, glass broken and crying children, until the second wife has found a lover, she was discovered and has at least taken over her life. The third is fresh second husband a few months ago: the second wife wanted at all costs, the approval of the first wife (and four children) is not binding, but anyone you ask, everyone will respond that the first wives finally agree provided that their love “to be happy”. Nothing further from the truth: the fights are violent and often the first wives are variously punished them for this “inexplicable” behaviour. The last I saw was unrecognisable, lost weight, swollen eyes, always silently tormented hands during a day of celebration where the mother’s house the first and the second took turns in courtesy visits with clear and different states mood.

The only variable that I’ve never seen contemplated in this medieval imposition that does not grant women the same right to have more than one husband, is happiness.