Here, in this part of the world, the ancient practice of calling upon families with daughters of marriageable age and taking along eligible sons is still as despicable yet customary as ever. Some of us realize the systematic exploitation happening here. Others play right into its hands. Still others deny the horrid objectification standing right under its nose.
Let me take you to a random home where some random middle class family is having its daughters examined for desirable qualities. They are all waiting, breaths hitched, to see which one gets picked. Today can be their lucky day.
Maria, the oldest, has the firmest hand while pouring out tea. The girl must be good with cooking and handling the kitchen. That is one of the main problems solved right there. She has appreciable eyes, pink lips and a fine nose. A little grooming and she would be as presentable to the society as anyone. Her dupatta stays set on her head. That gives away modesty and character. Her gaze rarely lifts from the ground and even when it does, it never meets her eye. The Examiner sees obedience and it makes her feel good. Everything is perfect except the curly, uncontrollable hair creating a mess under that dupatta. The Examiner fears the dupatta itself might be a little too much for her friends but she also hopes she can convince the girl to get rid of it when necessary. ‘Oh no, the way she holds herself while standing is a disaster,’ thinks The Examiner and spends a minute on whether that can be gotten rid of. The whole package, nevertheless, is acceptable.
Satisfied, she moves on.
The middle one, Zara, fidgets with the hem of her shirt and does not care enough to sit crossing her legs like a lady. She appears bored and is not paying attention to anyone. She is about to be discarded when Samiha notices Zaid staring at her and realizes that the brooding lips do make her look even more beautiful than she is. That ought to justify the boredom too. Being that pretty justifies much. But Samiha also worries about whether it justifies the thinly veiled anger in her eyes.
“So, Zara, is it? I hope you are studying somewhere. A college?”
“Yes,” she says and then adds “Ma’am”.
Samiha thinks obedience can, indeed, be taught. The girl’s beauty makes up for it all.
The third one, Samiha has forgotten her name, has an innocent look on her face as she gazes up at her parents trying too hard to make small talk with Zaid and his two sisters. She presses her hands together when she feels Samiha looking at her and blushes. Lucky for her, Samiha finds it sweet. Her eyes, like her sisters, are not bad to look at. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of her nose. Proportionally, it covers way more of her face than it ought to. Someone chokes on their biscuit and the girl rushes over to pour a glass of water. Eager to please, then.
The examination is complete. The girls’ mother thinks this family are God’s perfect miracle. The father knows his daughters will never get a better chance. “Pick one,” The Examiner whispers in her son’s ear, “whichever you want.”