Shattering The Façade – Anonymousnotyourwife1214
It plagued my family for years, undoubtedly generations, and led to so much
unnecessary shame and secrecy. The never-ending concern over other people’s
opinions, the constant consideration of ‘log kya kayenge’ – what will people think –
looming over every moment and decision. It meant the possibility of a ruined
reputation, a tarnished image, or worse, an unmarriable daughter.
Being too bothered by what others thought was what led my parents to hide the state
of their crumbling marriage, at the instruction of my grandfather. ‘No one must
know,’ he had said. I’d recoiled later, as I’d stood beside my mother at a family event
and she’d told some random, inquisitive aunty (you know the kind I mean) that Baba
was in Pakistan, when really, he was 20 minutes away at home. It’d taken all my
willpower to keep my gobby 15-year-old mouth shut as I’d stood beside my mother
and dug my elbow into her side.
I wish now that I’d opened that gob and spoken up (partly just for the memory of the
look on everyone’s faces). I wish we hadn’t had to hide our pain or been made to feel
like we should be embarrassed. But we needed to save face, maintain the happy
family façade. It didn’t matter what we were all really feeling. What mattered was
how things looked on the outside, how others saw us.
But while I knew it was difficult, I accepted it was the way things were. It was how
we did things, and there were still many life events to come that I believed had to be a
certain way. After all, our lot was already diluting, already one or two generations
away from our beloved mother and fatherlands. It was important to maintain our
customs, traditions, languages and ways of life… wasn’t it?
I’m throwing in a caveat here that my parents were a lot more forward-thinking than a
lot of others I saw and heard about. But it didn’t matter. One day, I would marry a
man who, on paper, met the criteria. We all know the drill: same religion, same
culture, from a ‘good’ family, background, blah blah blah… ‘Marriage is hard,’ they’d
say. ‘But it can be easier if you share common ground.’ Whether I’d find him myself
or through the network of aunties who knew nothing about me was still undecided,
but one thing was clear, the old adage of ‘you can’t choose who you fall in love with’
wasn’t true. Everyone was choosing, and very carefully, whether they realised it or
After a handful of (mainly Pakistani) boyfriends (the non-Pakistani ones knew there
was no chance of a future because I told them as much), marriage awaited me at 26. It
was my choice, my decision, and while it lasted just three and a half years, they were
possibly the most formative, life-changing years I’ve experienced, so far.
I always had a plan. Marry in my mid 20s, have a child, maybe two before turning 30.
But instead, at that point, I was on the verge of divorce, and childless. Suddenly,
everything I’d once thought was ‘right’ unraveled before me, and I was subjected to
an endless barrage of questions and unsolicited opinions.
I often say if I met 20-something-year-old me, I really wouldn’t like me. I was
opinionated in all the wrong ways, I believed I was right (even though I clearly
wasn’t), I was brainwashed. I cared about log kya kayenge so much so that when
someone very dear to me wanted to marry outside of our culture and religion, I didn’t
support them. I saw the stress it put the older generation through, because they
worried about family backlash, and instead of quashing it and telling them it was no
one else’s business, I made it my business.
At some point, I woke up and what people thought became the least important thing
in my life. I put my hands up and surrendered. I’d been wrong, we’d all been wrong.
It had been so easy, had felt so natural to believe in it all. To fall into line, to fulfil
people’s expectations, to take fierce pride in our traditions and history.
And there is nothing wrong with that. I still take pride in many things about my
heritage and culture, but I’m not afraid to call out the destructive notions we’ve
carried for generations.
It was a steep learning curve, full of regret, but at least it happened, and in the
process, I took others along with me. I watched as my parents – divorced themselves,
with one divorced daughter and another married to a white man – learnt lessons too.
Out of their mouths now came ‘live your life and don’t give a damn about anyone’,
versus ‘so-and-so was asking when you’re going to get married and I didn’t know
what to say’ just a few years earlier.
Don’t get me wrong, they have a long way to go and some hang ups are harder to
shake off (just ask my 40-year-old unmarried brother about the comments he hears)
but progress takes time and people will always have opinions. We just have to remind
ourselves that’s all they are – opinions. They aren’t rules or laws, or even the right
way to do things, whatever that means.
What’s the worst that will happen if we choose to live our lives the way we want to?
We might piss someone off, offend them or heaven forbid, disappoint them.
But think about the worst that could happen if we let them choose for us.