“Sensible Bandian women know that this love – shove business is all nonsense. We must do our duty to please God and our husband. That’s it!” – Shazaf Fatima Haider
From Mrs. Bennett to Dadi, the overzealous and domineering matriarch of the Bandian family, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” and thus it is a duty of mothers and grandmothers to procure “…suitable husbands for her female offspring. Needless to say, they were all arranged marriages.”
Funny, witty and sarcastic, How It Happened is a humorous take on marriages and more so, the arranged marriages where overzealous elders take upon themselves the task of match-making to create the “happily ever after” world for their children and grand-children,
“She repeated the tale of her marriage often because it illustrated a philosophy she had ingrained in her daughter and her daughter’s daughters: there was greater romance in arranged marriages than in the irrational immorality of love marriages.”
As cupid is seized, attacked and thrown out of the window, cultural propriety and traditional ways of arranging marriages in drawing rooms comes in.
Narrated by ubiquitous and the sharp eyed Saleha, the youngest sibling, How It Happened chronicles the saga of the Bandian family, a staunch Shia Syed family ruled by the domineering matriarch of the family who “…was a woman of steely resolve and, no doubt, had a uterus made of the same material, having given birth to six daughters and three sons”. In How It Happened, Fatima Haider narrates the often sassy and at times frustrating tale of two marriages, Haroon Bhai – a favorite grandson of Dadi and Zeba Baji, a subversive and disobedient granddaughter. As Dadi resolves to find a suitable bride for the apple of her eye, Haroon, the author takes the readers’ into the revered and callous world of the marriage market where women are often presumed as commodities and a potential candidate has to fulfill “a series of rules and conditions” to be eligible like “fully female”, “full virgin”, “qualified to get a good job” but “must not want to get a job” and most importantly, “she mustn’t be anything but dazzlingly fair”.
However, underneath this humor, the author doesn’t shy from making a social commentary on the traditions and culture that consider women as nothing more than a commodity to be sold at the time of marriage for the best price, “’It’s so mercantile! It’s like we’re going shopping for girls!’” The book analyses, criticizes and debunks the tradition that allows its women to be treated like a chattel to be paraded and inspected by strangers with complete impunity and indifference. A social satire; the book denigrates the ideal of arranged marriages in the guise of humor and is a sad portrayal of the society where women are not even considered as human beings, let alone the dignified ones, “Even when you go shopping, you see at least five or six samples of clothes before selecting one, don’t you?”
With the conclusion of bride shopping, the resolute and persevering Dadi launches another mission in order to defeat Qurrat Dadi whose granddaughter engagement puts her “…in the enviable position of having all her female descendants married off while Dadi still had Zeba Baji, me and Rania Phuppo’s two daughters to deal with.” Thus, begins the search for the bridegroom for Zeba whose not so traditional ideas on marriage becomes a hurdle for Dadi to “…earn a place in the hall of fame of The Matrimonially Fortunate.” As tenacious Dadi marches forward, the author now portrays the another side of matchmaking, a rule book to catch a suitable groom like “she should be brought in with a dupatta on her head”, “She must not wear red, which would make her look too eager to be wed”, “should never have strong opinions of their own, only those of their husbands or in-laws.”
As the rule book changes, so does the behavior, “The girl’s mother, as a species, is very different from the boy’s mother. The former is as passive as the latter is active…She must convey that her daughter is a prize to win, but must never seem to outwardly anticipate the distribution ceremony.” As Zeba is put up for a “grand display and auction”, the author provides a comic respite in the form of Alam who very much like Mr. Collins is a caricature of men who believe that women are incomplete without men, become “raving lunatic” “without a man or children to satisfy her”. Like Mr. Collins, he perceives Zeba’s refusal to marry him as a symbol of women’s meekness and humility and is a firm believer that “’the harder the climb, the more satisfying the journey!’”
With much melodrama and hysteria unfolds the story of Zeba’s marriage. Written in simple and lucid conversational manner, How It Happened is a sharp, comic, hilarious and sassy take on marriages. The book conjures flesh and blood characters that can be found in almost every Pakistani and Indian household like impervious Dadi for whom tradition holds great sway. However, beneath the façade of humour, Fatima Haider raises pertinent questions about the reverence of arranged marriages, “What a legacy you’ve given us, to suppress all natural emotions and think that loving someone is impure. How can you expect me to be quiet and let you decide my future when you show absolutely no regard for what I want?”
A remarkable and entertaining debut where Jane Austen comes to Karachi and unsettles the quiet and traditional world of Dadi.
Title: How It Happened
Author: Shafaz Fatima Haider
Publisher: Penguin India
About the Author
Shazaf Fatima Haider was born in Islamabad in 1982 and received her master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Karachi in 2006. She is a writer and teacher and is currently based in Karachi, Pakistan. How It Happened is her first novel.