Mothers And Daughters
Husband-hunting in Little Pakistan, Brooklyn
By Anju Mary Paul
The sticking point was the moustache.
Everything else was acceptable. The guy came from a good family; he was intelligent; he was well-off. But he had a moustache.
And 15-year-old Sana Khan doesn't like moustaches. She can't explain it, just shrugs her slim shoulders and says vaguely, "I don't know," when asked why she doesn't like them.
Her mother argues with her, "If the man is pretty but he has no job, no nothing, what are you going to do?"
But Sana refuses to budge.
Sana is at that age when Pathan girls like herself, from the northwestern region of Pakistan, are expected to get engaged. Even if they're American citizens and go to school in east Brooklyn.
And Sana is a good Pathan girl, a normally biddable daughter.
But she refuses to marry just "anybody." A girl has to have standards even if she is unable to explain them.
That boy from the rich family for instance. The one the Khans met in Pakistan this summer. There was no way Sana was going to agree to marry him. Even her mother had sided with her on that one.
That boy spent his days lounging around in his parents' home. He didn't have a job, wasn't going to school, wasn't doing anything useful. Sana's mother told his family, "If my daughter's getting her education, how come your son isn't? He's a man. He's supposed to be the man of the house."
The boy's parents had been offended. They accused the Khans of thinking themselves above the rest of the village just because the Khans live in America.
But Mrs. Khan refused to budge.
Fact is, a girl and her mother have to be careful whom they select for a husband these days. A lot of men in Pakistan are looking for an easy pass to the United States.
Sana says that's why choosing a man from a good family is critical. That way, even if he initially sees you simply as Miss American Greencard, he'll be honorable enough stick it out with you after marriage. Not like one of those low-lifes who abandons his newly-wed wife immediately after landing in JFK airport.
Her mother thinks Sana needs to find a doctor or an engineer. Sana isn't so particular. All she wants is for her future husband to have a good job that makes good money. "So he can support a family and stuff like that," she explains.
And he must be a Pathan, like the Khans. Doesn't matter if he was born in Pakistan or the United States, but he must be Pathan. A Pathan who speaks Pashtu, their native tongue.
And while Sana can become engaged now, the wedding will only happen a few years later, when Sana has started college.
On all this, Sana and her mother are in complete agreement.
But Sana also insists that her future fiance must not be too old or too young. Seven years is the ideal age gap between husband and wife as far as she's concerned. Her mother doesn't think there should be a ceiling on the age difference. This has caused some friction within the family.
When that handsome, young doctor visited them in Brooklyn to check Sana out, everything had seemed perfect initially.
He had studied medicine in Pakistan, topping his class. He was now in America to look for a job and a wife. One of Mrs. Khan's friends back in Pakistan vouched for his family.
But Sana refused his offer.
"He was too old. He was like 26. I'm only 15!" she says now, and laughs, embarrassed at being such a fusspot about this.
"He topped his school so he's making mad money," her older sister, Aisha, who is so much more easy-going, says in his favor. "He's a doctor, he's rich, he's handsome, but he's 11 years older. So there was this big fight between my mum and Sana."
Finally, the girls' father had to step in. If Sana didn't want the marriage, he wouldn't insist on it, he said.
"My dad gave up like mad easy," remembers 18-year-old Aisha (who married a 26-year-old, moustache-sporting, computer science engineer from Pakistan this summer). "But my mum is still working on it. The doctor's still here."
"He's a doctor, he's here, he's intelligent," Sana's mother lists out the boy's many good qualities in declining importance.
"And I think he's going to become a cardiologist. That's like millions!" Sana says. There's a hint of wistfulness in her voice. Maybe she will relent after all.
"He's very good. Very good!" Her mother presses home her advantage.
"I bet if my mum was young enough, she'd give herself to him!" Aisha jokes, and everyone laughs.
The debate is postponed for another day. Mrs. Khan knows when to make a strategic retreat. She isn't giving up on the cardiologist just yet.
He has one thing in his favor after all: He doesn't have a moustache.