Match-making: the Pakistani way

matchmaking-pakistaniBy  M. Amer Morgahi      Migration has its own dynamic of bringing people together in situations or locations where they otherwise might not have thought of. However, migration sometimes also compels people to take certain steps, occasionally out of sheer desperation, otherwise just to make use of new possibilities created.

Such is the case of the match-making event among Pakistanis in Amsterdam in which I participated last week. ‘Pakistanis in Amsterdam’ may sound strange to some ears: are there Pakistanis in Amsterdam? Indeed, there are – and in some thousands in the Randstad. Now when their second generation is already touching their thirties, there are more worries, mostly among Pakistani parents, to speedily find a jor or life partner for their kids. For these parents the economic instability in their home-country, limited options for a cousin-marriage, and varied wishes of kids born and raised in Europe, are making it difficult to bring a bride(groom)from abroad.

When entering the Pakistani restaurant where the match-making event took place in Amsterdam, it were the women of the first generation who were more visible. I came in contact with the organization of the event through a lady who is quite involved within the Pakistani communities. For her it was the first occasion to organize such an event among the Pakistanis. After a couple of meetings the organization developed a plan to structure the event. Through such a structure they wanted to keep a grip on the whole event in order to prevent chaotic situations. As part of this structure they created profiles of the candidates, anonymize their names, thus providing an apparently equal chance to the candidates.

There were more than sixty guests and among them forty forms for registration of candidates were distributed. However, only fifteen forms were returned, nine from guys and six from girls. It showed not only an unequal proportion of the male and female candidates, but it also did not reflect the reality in the hall where more women/girls were present. Obviously, such a poor response made the planning of the organizers ineffective. However, the organizers came with other ideas. They proposed to re-arrange the tables and provided the potential candidates ten minutes each to chat and to know about each other. This speed-dating was a ‘Bollywood inspiration’, in the words of a young organizer. All this was happening under the gaze of the parents.

The poor response of registering with the organizers could be explained through the motives of the people at the occasion. Many parents, mostly women, came via individual networks of the organizers. These women however were also conscious of their privacy, they have their inhibitions about the exact nature of the event, though still anxious about the happening. Thus, one finds a category of women who were serious about the prospects of the event, and they were actively looking for some date for their kids. They had registered themselves, and also brought their kids, mostly daughters, with them.

Another category of women has registered themselves but they did not bring their kids with them. Perhaps they were not sure about the event to expose their kids, mostly daughters, to it. Others were interested but their kids did not show much interest in the event where ‘those aunties’ were going. While certain parents were not sure about what the organization was going to do with their profiles, they were reluctant to openly express their wishes through such an experiment.

There was another  group of women who just came to see how things will go. It turns out that they did not have kids of a marriageable age, however they were just interested to ‘meet and see’ what the event was all about. For them it could be an occasion of ‘fun’, which was predominantly organized by a network of women.

If the event succeeded in creating new matches and relationships is hard to know, however it did succeed in expressing the hopes and desires of a migrant community that is worried about the future of its next generation. They found themselves in a condition of dislocation, life in an individualized society, and situations of personal uncertainties. They are looking for new bonding where the certainties like ‘cousin-marriages’ are no more an immediate option. The event also gives an impression of the diverse nature of the integration process, as someting that cannot be enclosed through the exclusive boundaries of a community or inclusive structures of integration regimes.

M. Amer Morgahi is finishing his PhD at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, VU Amsterdam. His research interests are Islam in Europe, multicultural issues, Pakistan and Pakistani migrants in Europe. He has written on the war against terror and the politics of names.

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