By Rafia Zakaria
August 9th, 2014
All the little girls growing up in Pakistan have a single dream.
One day, when they are 18 or 19, a fat and old man dressed all in flowing white, will alight from the first class cabin of a Saudi Airlines plane and step into a black Mercedes with tinted windows.
Racing through the crowded, decrepit streets of crumbling Karachi or Lahore or Multan or Faisalabad, the prince untouched by dust and grime, would alight at their doorstep.
In their drawing room, over sips of Rooh Afza and Zeera biscuits, he would ask to marry her, and then whisk her away to the golden sands of Arabia.
No more, the impurities of an imperfectly Muslim Pakistan, no more the pressures of learning to make Dal and Biryani, driving through streets or attending school or college. Life in poor, angry, dirty Pakistan would come to an end; life behind a tall, walled compound somewhere in serene, pristine, Arabia would begin.
The dream has been shattered.
A few days ago, the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia made an announcement that has shattered the hearts of millions of Pakistani women devastating in a single blow the marital prospects of faithful females all over the country.
According to the proclamation which being from Saudi Arabia must be assumed to be holy, Saudi men are now forbidden from marrying Pakistani women.
The report, published among other places by the Makkah Daily, quotes the Makkah Police Director Assaf Al Qureshi saying that Saudi males must no longer marry women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad and Myanmar.
An estimated 500,000 women from these countries have already betrothed their dream men from the desert kingdom. No more, it seems, will Pakistani women be able to realise their fantasy of wedding a Saudi man; of living happily ever after in his walled compound with a collection of jeweled Burqas next to a gurgling oil well.
In the aftermath of this romantic catastrophe, it is going to be the responsibility of Pakistani men to attend to the shortfall; attend to the eviscerated expectations of the Saudi marriage ban.
In the absence of the real Saudi Prince, the much, much poorer Pakistani Prince will have to step in.
This pretend Prince is likely to face some significant challenges; first of which is the ineradicable taint of being a lesser Muslim and an ethnic non-Arab; all things everyone knows make you a lesser Muslim and perhaps even a lesser human being (why else would Saudis forbid marriages between Arabs and non-Arabs?).
Even if his potential Pakistani bride is able to overlook this glaring problem; other issues remain. How can a bank clerk or a small businessman produce a walled compound, a collection of diamond encrusted Burqas and most important of all; an oil well?
Once again, poor copies will have to do when originals are unavailable.
A single walled room instead of a compound.
A nylon Burqa with fake rhinestones instead of a silk one with diamonds.
A tap with running water instead of an oil well.
Some assistance in making it all seem more real can be obtained by the provision of a television that broadcasts shows exclusively in Arabic. If no one can understand, no problem, the sounds of Saudi Arabia are, after all, still better than the silence of Pakistan.
This then is going to be the solution for millions of Pakistani women yearning for Saudi Princes. With a little co-operation from Pakistani men, they can still make it happen, settle for the fakes if they cannot have the real thing. How the women of Bangladesh, Chad and Myanmar will deal with this blow is their own problem.
Given that Pakistanis are so used to illusions, it may even seem, from a distance and when the light falls at the correct angle, that the Pakistani princes, also fat, also old and also misogynistic, are exactly like the Saudi ones they ape and copy.
The nylon Burqa, the walled room and the Arabic recordings, all making our very own Pakistan into a pretend Saudi Arabia, so every Pakistani girl, can have her pretend Saudi prince.
Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times, Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.