A glimpse into a typical Pakistani household where customs and traditions take precedence over everything and anything. From the eyes of the narrator, Saleha, the 15 year old daughter of the Bandian’s family, writer, Shazaf Fatima Haider, paints hilarious scenes of how the process of arranged marriages work in Pakistan. A Pakistani society where tradition struggles to reconcile with changing times, where marriages are not always arranged and women may not be well versed in the arts of cooking and sewing.
Shazaf Fatima Haider needs no introduction since her debut novel ‘How It Happened’ has made prominent place on the book shelves in the market. By profession Shazaf Fatima is an English teacher at Karachi University but through her novel she has proved herself a great sociologist whose vigilant eye does not miss any change taking place in our society.
In ‘How It Happened’ Shazaf talks about the funny side of arranged marriages and how the various cultural backgrounds in Pakistan add more humor to the phenomenon. The genre of the book is satire and humor. And I love the way writer puts thoughts into words so effortlessly.
The characters in the novel are very real and if you are a Pakistani, you will feel already seen because you must have heard all these voices in your house too. Basically, the story revolves around the ‘Bandian’ family where ‘dadi’ (grandmother) the protagonist is searching for a Shia Muslim groom for her granddaughter Zeba. The author has put herself in the shoes of Zeba’s younger sibling Saleha.
All the characters despite of their eccentricity are lovable including dadi (grandmother), the imperious matriarch. Dadi’s mission is to uphold the family’s value and honor which she feels can only be done in form of arranged marriages that too within same religious sects. Haroon, Saleha’s brother, the apple of dadi’s eye, shocks her by proposing and marrying a co-worker but the real trouble begins with Zeba, Saleha’s sister who crosses all boundaries of sanity and sanctity by falling in love with a Sunni boy when she herself belonged to a staunch Shia family. The story revolves around the chaos that is created when both her grandchildren defy traditions she holds so scared.
While for dadi, these rules were the only way of living, Saleha and her sister looked at this ‘ancestral heritage’ in a different light. In fact, one could argue that the protagonist is possibly the most ill-portrayed character in the whole charade, one who functions as nothing more than a mouth piece for the novel’s events. Saleha is quite possible the least self-obsessed teenager to have ever lived, because no person in that age group could ever spend so little time talking about themselves and spend so much time interested in their sibling’s love lives.
”We Bandians from Bhakuraj we’re proud of our collective identity, but maintaining this identity could sometimes become a struggle, especially for someone like my sister who had a mind of her own. While she, too, loved to hear the stories of Bhakuraj, she treated them as obsolete anecdotes merely meant to amuse, but for Dadi they were a code of life’
The story has nothing extraordinary or unpredictable; a Shia girl falling in love with a Sunni boy is not unheard of or unusual. But even with all its predictability, the book is un-put-downable due to Shazaf’s brilliant narration, hilarious exchange of dialogues and her subtle satire on the undue family pressures, self-imposed social and religious limitations and social evils like the demands of dowry, fair complexion and display of wealth etc.
The book is light and an irresistible read that carries a heavy message. Shazaf Fatima organises her novel into chapters with tantalizing titles, making us turn the pages as we simply must find out ‘How a Phone Call Creates Complications’ or ‘How We Were Shaken Up by a Whirlwind Intervention’. Through it all, Shazaf also prescribes an almost foolproof method to avoid scandal whereby “a nonchalant attitude could keep the gossipmongers at bay.” For the portrayal of all the terminally anxious mothers and grandmothers itching to be able to declare their offspring “married and well-settled,” Shazaf must be praised. “A Pakistani wedding is no mean feat to pull off,” but How it Happened reminds us of the sheer necessity of laughing through it all.