Janu, Jani, Jaan and the Pakistani arranged marriage bride.

As you sit there fluttering your eye lashes at the man who is going to be your keeper from now, you sense another pair of eyes, unflutteringly looking at you. You look in the direction of this shameless looker and realize that it’s the housekeeper. As she is caught witnessing the less than sordid affair between you and your proverbial God AKA husband, she gives a toothless smile and busies herself with cleaning the coffee table.

You are somewhat off-mooded by this and therefore focus on your nail polish. It has only been a week since this goddamn manicure was delivered to you with promises of it being everlasting but it’s chipping. It’s chipping and exposing the hideous nail polish that you had been wearing before you put this red one on. The hideous one is incidentally purple in color because just a week before you turned into an eyelash flutterer you were actually the college goth and loved to wear black lipstick, purple eye liner and obscenely red mascara. You also had some body piercings which actually were mere clip-ons but your loyal followers didn’t have to know that. As you blasted Alice In Chains and looked like Marilyn Manson, your very own posse trailing you where ever you went, you were blissfully unaware of your fate being decided in a shady living room of unparalleled syndicated dealings in the name of culture and marriage. Soon you were woken up one morning by your mother repeatedly kissing your forehead that until last night was covered with a self-tanning bronzer. You find out amidst her cries of joy and tears of happiness and relief that you have been successfully matched. You don’t know what to make of this information except sex appears to be the biggest part of this holy matrimony and therefore, as described previously, you set about obtaining hitherto scant and unavailable sex education.

But now you’re here. Sex has happened and left you wondering if that was what the whole trademarked anxiety was for. The romance however continues to feebly spread through your newly married life and even though initially your husband had promised that romance would precede sex by many days, you both gave in to the sheer peer pressure that you felt and consummated this marriage. You had hoped to feel light after, having crossed another chore from your married life but turns out that doing it once leads men to believe that there’s the possibility of a second, a third and many times. So now your life revolves around avoiding sex.

But romance you’re ready for. Romance is actually something that should be at the forefront of a marriage in your opinion. Not for nothing did you grow up watching Richard Gere and Julia Roberts dallying and toying with each other and the idea of love and romance. It wouldn’t be fair to all the sleuth work that you did to obtain copies of B-rated movies just to get some more insight into the mysteries of the universe. It would all be in vain and you’re nothing if not someone who likes to put every ounce of learned information to practice.

Therefore you have been quizzing close friends who got married before you and are now considered in a comfortable phase of their marriage, with a child in tow, a husband with a pouch for a belly and an attitude of “I have an insanely successful marriage”.

Unfortunately your friends haven’t been helpful. They’ve actually really complicated it all for you. They’ve introduced you to the honeymoon, the slow evolution of disinterest and eventually the phase where you two would only come together to have sex and then act like strangers during the day.

This is alarming news to you and therefore you immediately scratch it from your memory. You belong to the generation that believes that if something isn’t thought about it doesn’t happen.

You get so alarmed that you blurt out one night after a particularly painful session of avoiding sex,

“I think we have no love. Only lust “.

Your husband is stopped in his tracks predictably. He frowns. Then he sighs. You finally decide that this is way too much nonverbal communication for a chatterbox like yourself to ever understand and therefore try to gauge his feelings by throwing another curve ball,

“Do you ever think of me with love? All you ever want to do is have sex with me.”

Now he’s straightening up and for now embarrassing this situation is for him, there is a certain vindication in it for you. You realize the power you exercise by casting aspersions on his malicious intent towards you and the weight of the ulterior motives that you’ve supposedly accused him of.

“Do you think I have sex with you out of lust?” He asks quietly.

You don’t know what to say therefore nod. He contemplates this answer for a full minute before saying,

“You’re right. I can see how you’d reach that idea”.

You’re smacked around the head with a bat at this sudden acquiescence and therefore assume a deep silence while he tries to come up with ideas which would forge more love and less lust.

Your head is spinning by the time this is done. You fall asleep soon after.

When you wake up in the morning you notice the warm smell of breakfast toast wafting in your direction. You blearily open an eye and notice it’s your loyal husband sitting on the edge of the bed, trepidation written all over his handsome face, waiting for you to pass the verdict on his questionable cooking.

Surprisingly it’s well-made. You eat it with relish and then decide that your husband has been very insightful and introspective to take a minor critique that you had made in passing so seriously.

Both of you go downstairs and are greeted by your in-laws who consider your fifteen day old marriage to be a relic at this point and can’t understand why you are joined at the hip.

Your husband however has had the whole idea down pat. He won’t be deterred. He has actually thought about it, it appears, and will be nothing from now on if he isn’t at all times embroiled in an all-consuming romance with you.

You decide to play it coy. After all he’s an adult and therefore responsible for his own raunchy actions . You don’t have to take any responsibility for how he is going to be towards you from here on out.

Things however quickly become concerning and you decide that may be romance novelists were right. There is something like too much romance.

First of all, the nomenclature of “my dear beloved” is absolutely embarrassing in colloquial Urdu. And your husband, you can see, is quickly becoming comfortable with the many variations of it. He has taken to calling you Janu which is a pretty standard term of endearment in Urdu and was coined in the eighties, only to retain its overwhelming appeal in the current times as well. Your dad called your mom that and now your husband calls you that too. Whereas this term is met with blushing and pride by you when he uses it in the presence of his folks, it soon becomes downright shameful when he proceeds to address you like that in the presence of your folks too.

Well, for some people in your family who are so unsophisticated that they can’t let a couple be, you aren’t so concerned. Like your siblings. As soon as they hear your husband addressing you as such, they lapse into fits of laughter. You can hear them pealing off in a distance. You want to strangle them and stop their piglet-like squealing but there is more serious damage to control. Your father was there when he called you Janu and now there’s no turning the clock back on that one.

For a somewhat rambunctious lover that your father has always been to your mother, you can’t understand his sudden sanctimoniousness. But then you realize that just as you always convinced yourself to believe that your parents didn’t have a sexual relationship in order to look them in the eye comfortably, your parents also probably view you and your husband as siblings. This gives you a whole new perspective on the lack of sex talk that occurs in Pakistani families.

Your father assumes a solemnity that is his concerted effort at projecting an image of himself as a virginal boy and not the father of five kids. Like he procreated by no physical means. Like all it took was looking deep into your mother’s eyes.

You’re caught in the moment and you can appreciate that. But someone who is caught even more is your poor husband. He looks from you to his father-in-law, finally mumbles an apology and exits as fast as he can.

Walking shamefully in his wake, you make an exit also and sit in the car, trying to catch your breath .

The ride home is one that’s pregnant with pregnant pauses. You’re not sure how you’ll ever make eye contact with your father but more pressing matters demand your attention like “why the hell he chose to call you Janu?”

Your husband however is not in the mood for any more reprimands, you can tell, and therefore you both go home and sleep like strangers.

However he wakes up with renewed vigor. He wakes you up with a loud voice and then proceeds to apologize about what happened the evening before. According to him he can understand why your father was so cross and why you got so embarrassed. It’s hard for him to go back in time, he tells you, but the future belongs to him, he reassures also. Somewhat blindsided by this sudden vehement realization you traipse down the stairs with him for breakfast.

You’re all eating breakfast. You, husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law, sisters-in-law’s husband, a few distant relatives who have come to see how you’re settling in, some children who belong to various homes in the neighborhood and sister-in-law’s own kids, your husband’s three brothers with their wives. Everyone is eating quietly when suddenly you hear your husband’s voice and the repetition of that salacious word with a little improv,

“Jani! Can you pass the jam, please?”

Your insides freeze. There is a snowstorm of epic proportions inside you and even Elsa from Frozen would’ve found it quite disturbing. You steal a sheepish look around the table. Everyone’s eyes are on you.

However, there are a few different reactions instead of the generally humiliating reaction that you had encountered at your parents’ place.

Mother-in-law is openly ignoring with a super huffy expression. She can’t be bothered to ever brand her memory with the day when her precious son showed a sexual interest in his life. Or worse, a love interest. So she’s trying to get past it regally.

Father-in-law is not making eye contact and basically stealing glances at his wife to share a private joke of his own days of young debauchery but mother-in-law is adamantly giving the toast her undivided attention.

Your sister-in-law is the only person who has shrieked and covered her kids’ ears, exclaiming how you two should control your open expression of plain rude love which is rich considering her kids have watched Basic Instinct with the rest of the family the night before. Sharon Stone crossed her legs in plain view of everyone.

Your brothers-in-law can actually see this for what it is, a spectacle, and are openly guffawing.

Their wives have triumphant smiles at another “bad girl” who has turned yet another gem of a son of this family.

This is humiliating, you think. There must be a way to turn back time on this one surely.

Breakfast becomes heavy. Your husband is so embarrassed that he can’t raise his head to ask for butter and a sadistic part of you is happy.

You finally retire to your room after having a heavy morning. You notice he’s trailing behind you.

“That didn’t go well”, he observes as he enters the room.

You stare at him and try to telepathically tell him how much you hated that moment but hold your tongue. He has learned his lesson, you reason with yourself. And besides, he has run out of all the embarrassing terms of endearment anyway. It won’t happen again.

In the evening you get dressed for a party with your husband’s friends and soon find yourself enjoying a couples-only get-together that is refreshing.

Your husband is sitting across the table and silently complimenting you. You blush and feel warmth creeping up your face. You think about sex at night. May be it will be more natural.

As you’re saying your goodbyes your husband is saying his and suddenly, without any warning, like a trumpet in your ear, he says the dreadful,

“Jan! Did you give them the present we got them?”

There is silence as you’re repeatedly doused in buckets of shame. There’s quiet laughter and sniggering while you feel cold and mortified. Finally there is shameless speculation of the things you two must have done to get to this level of intimacy. Oh God! How did you forget this one? The infamous Jan!

“But you can’t call her Jan”, the lady of the house says with some fluttering of her own lashes at your husband , “That’s our word”.

You frown. So she named the word as her own? She is making you feel like Rumplestiltskin and like you’ve stolen her first born.

“And don’t call her Janu either”, another lady is wagging her finger in his face, “That’s our word”.

Another claim to his borrowed romance has been made.

“And forget about Jani”, a third one piped up, “That’s ours”.

“Yes!” Your husband’s friend who is hosting this party says seriously, “It will get very confusing. Why don’t you call her Janam?”

“No!” Before anyone can respond, you shriek, “No way! Not that word ever.” Then you turn to your husband, “I like my name. Why wouldn’t you just use that?”

“I can use that”, he says mildly, trying to hide his fear at your sudden impassioned reaction.

“Thanks”. You heave a sigh of relief, walk with your head high and sit in the car.

Your husband sits after you.

“So many words and we can’t have one”, he says ruefully but you notice he’s smiling.

“Even if you had called me those awful names I would’ve called you by your name”. You say, shy at this open sexual brazenness but owning it all the same.

“Yeah?” He says leaning towards you as you inhale his musky perfume.

You smile and take his hand. He looks at you with surprise and squeezes yours.

You reach home and after being tortured by your in-laws about the details of the party you reach your room and change into your pajamas.

“So our romance won’t work”, he says with humor in his face. “How can I make sex legitimate between us now?”

“You don’t have to”, you answer with laughter in your voice too, “I think when it comes to sex, it’s okay if a husband and wife lust after each other”.

3 Comments

  1. Very interesting. You have captured everything beautifully. You know I sometimes feel that we may have gotten great college/university/professional education, but in human terms, we are more backward than our ancestors. We have yet to learn human ways to live. It is really sad how fake most of us are. The beauty of life lies in simplicity, honesty, practice of human values, care, love etc. etc. However, it appears we are devoid of all these things. Our education is nothing but a money making venture. It has not and cannot change us. What will and can change us is our desire to become a true human being. But we do not such desires around us. Anyway, your story tells us that we are highly uncivilized and women are merely sexual objects/tools in the eyes of men. What a shame? Women have yet to be recognized human beings. So sad.

    Like

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