There were no good girls in Canada. And I don’t mean no girl is good for my mother because she sees me as Imam Mahdi. No, good as in – well – good. I am not even counting the girl who said she wanted to work for the CIA or the girl with bad oral hygiene (who, ironically, was studying to be a dentist). Those were superficial issues. When I (rather, my parents) started looking for a girl for me, this was the general problem with Bengali girls in Canada.
They were too old. Let’s face it, I didn’t want a wife immediately after I graduated from college. I wanted to take it easy, go on road trips with the guys, chill and enjoy life a little. I was 24 or 25 when I started to think about marriage. And the girls, it turned out, had the same mentality. So here was a 25-year-old guy looking at a 25-year-old girl’s biodata. Seriously, how many guys in an arranged marriage scenario marry a girl of the same age? An arranged marriage is where a guy gets a girl he would never have a shot with in real life. And, for most guys, that means someone younger than themselves.
His post provoked a huge response because his words jammed a finger into a large gaping wound in our community, and the community stung by these words, responded. So did I, revising a post I wrote years ago on the issues with the desi marriage situation [ironically, as a response to a post he wrote years ago as well]
But some were furious for a different reason. They were upset a post like this was given a platform. And while their reasons for this frustration may have been varied and complex, this touched a nerve in me. Because it’s a criticism I’ve heard time and again in the nearly ten years I’ve written at this site. Writing about cultural issues is not the main focus of this blog but anytime I do write about desi or faith-based concerns or issues, I inevitably get harsh e-mails, comments, and sometimes face-to-face lectures. So the world hates us and you want them to hate us more? Is the common refrain.
I can understand this to a certain extent. Isn’t it enough that we make little old ladies [and some not so little. or old. or ladies] flinch when a brown man with a beard walks by them on a plane, that we have to now add this to the list of things wrong with us and worthy of condescension, derision and suspicion? Posts like these, I’ve been told, are best not aired so publicly. We have enough problems with how we are perceived by the mainstream world and we don’t need to make things worse by broadcasting our own issues ourselves.
I understand the frustration. But staying silent about our stories isn’t the solution.
Talking about things that are wrong does not invalidate all that is right and beautiful about our culture. It does not negate our rich history, our architecture, our music, literature, cuisine, spirituality, or the inherent goodness in the overwhelmingly vast majority of desis. Our culture is is a vibrant one. It is a beautiful one. I also believe that our culture is a complex one, and a culture, like all cultures that can benefit from introspection and conversations about how to make it a better one than it currently is.
I am tired of people telling me not to write about or talk about the things that are broken and in need of fixing. As my friend Ayesha has said to me on our numerous conversations about this topic: we must own our truths. We must take ownership of our stories: the bold, beautiful, inspiring ones and yes, the uncomfortable, ugly, and tragic ones too. We have to talk about what hurts. We have to talk about how it hurts. And we have to talk about why it hurts. And then, we have to talk about how to fix it. We may not always agree with each other, but with respect as the baseline in how we interact, we must strive to find solutions. And we have to do this publicly so we can shape the dialogue and so we can create solutions.
And how do we fix these issues? I know at the micro-level, with the particular issue of the desi marriage crisis, I am going to raise my sons to see themselves as equals in the process of finding a loving partner. I will teach them differently and insh’Allah they will do differently. I know on a macro-level more must be done. Do I have the solution? Absolutely not. But we do need to talk about how we approach marriage, side-entrance mosques for women, and all our issues and challenges and struggles as a culture and a faith so we can come up with what the solutions are. We can’t shut each other down for daring to address real issues hurting real people. We have a beautiful culture but we do have a bit of dirty laundry to attend to. It’s time we talk about it. It’s time we get to work on washing it clean.