As a brown girl living in Pakistan, who didn’t get married till the age of 30, I have been subjected to a lot of ‘Desi small talk’ aka extremely personal questions from the most random people around me. Mostly female, but not necessarily aunties. Questions about my salary, about my weight, about my hijab and of course when I would get married and start producing babies.
When we meet people abroad, small talk revolves around the weather, hobbies, what the person is doing, perhaps family or pets. In fact, Dictionary.com defines small talk as a polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions. The keywords being ‘unimportant’ or ‘uncontroversial’
It’s always made me wonder why Pakistani small talk is one or more of the following.
For unmarried woman:
- When are you planning to get married? Shadi kab ho rahi hay?
- Is your mother looking for a prospective husband for you? Kia tumhari Ammi tumhare liye larke dhoondh rahi hain?
- You really should get married. The clock is ticking. Tumhe juldi say shadi kar laini chahiye. Umer jaa rahi hay.
- Where do you work? Will you continue to work after marriage? Kahan kaam karti ho? Timings kia hain? Kia shadi ke baad bhi kaam karogi?
- If you keep on studying all the time, no one is going to marry you. Her waqt kitaboon mein lagi rahogi, to shadi kab hogi?
- No one’s going to marry if you don’t know how to cook. Gol roti banana zaroori hay.
For married woman:
- When are you planning to have a baby? Bachon ka kia plan hay?
- You are still working? Tum abhi bhi kaam kar rahi ho?
- Oh, so you are just a housewife. Tumhari kia masroofiat?
- You are pregnant and working? Haye. Rest karo.
- Do you know how to cook, most importantly make gol roti’s?
For married woman with children:
- Just 1 kid? When are you planning your second or third one?
- If only kid, then you should have another kid (of the opposite gender) so family is complete. Aik beti hay? Arre, beta karlo takeh family complete ho jaye.
- Such a small (or long) gap between the children. Did you do (or not do) family planning? Itna chota gap bachon kay darmiyaan. Family planning karni chahiye tha na?
And there’s a special place in small talk hell for women who are divorced.
I wish that people would realize how intrusive and insensitive personal questions are, especially when asked by people who are basically strangers. I am not going to tell a random relative when I am getting married, and I am definitely not going to sit where the bride sat in the hopes of getting married. I am not going to tell a neighbor who I bumped in the elevator when I am planning to have a baby. I am not going to tell my bank’s relationship manager if I am pregnant or not. I am not going to tell my colleague if I had my period last month. I am not going to tell that distant relative if I am planning to go to the doctor.
Unfortunately, the most common reaction to show to such questions is ‘jaanay do’. Let it go. Log to kehte hain. People say stuff like this all the time. It happens with everyone. But the thing is questions like these are not just irritating, they are hurtful and painful. They make us rant, scream, cry and may even cause depression.
How do you think a question about babies would feel to someone who is going through fertility treatments? Or who may have had a miscarriage? Or is in a long-distance relationship? How do you think a question about marriage would feel to someone who just got rejected for having dark skin? Or one who got out of an abusive relationship? Or one whose engagement broke because her parents couldn’t afford the demands made by the groom’s family?
Not so good, right? Which is why ignoring it isn’t the solution. Being rude or angry isn’t the right approach either.
But developing empathy, and explaining empathy to other people is. Next time there is an occasion for small talk stick to simple topics like the weather, shopping, hobbies, pets, entertainment or what the other person is up to. And if someone around you has a habit of asking such questions (like your mother, father, brother, aunt, sister, cousin or friends) tell them. Sometimes people don’t realize how their behavior can impact other people. But if you explain to them that’s one less awkward question asked in this world.
Have you been a recipient of this kind of Desi small talk? Let me know how dealt with it in the comments below.