Lifestyle/ Sunday Rambles

The problems with Desi small talk

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, 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:

  1. When are you planning to get married? Shadi kab ho rahi hay?
  2. Is your mother looking for a prospective husband for you? Kia tumhari Ammi tumhare liye larke dhoondh rahi hain?
  3. You really should get married. The clock is ticking. Tumhe juldi say shadi kar laini chahiye. Umer jaa rahi hay.
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. No one’s going to marry if you don’t know how to cook. Gol roti banana zaroori hay.

For married woman:

  1. When are you planning to have a baby? Bachon ka kia plan hay?
  2. You are still working? Tum abhi bhi kaam kar rahi ho?
  3. Oh, so you are just a housewife. Tumhari kia masroofiat?
  4. You are pregnant and working? Haye. Rest karo. 
  5. Do you know how to cook, most importantly make gol roti’s?

For married woman with children:

  1. Just 1 kid? When are you planning your second or third one?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Instead of being a simple hi hello, Desi small talk can be intrusive, personal and irritating especially for women. Here's my take on this subject.

Because marriage is the sole purpose of women in Pakistan.

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.

Instead of being a simple hi hello, Desi small talk can be intrusive, personal and irritating especially for women. Here's my take on this subject.

No boys yet? So many girls and still no boy?

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.

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  • Reply
    October 24, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    So true, all of what you’ve said!

    • Reply
      October 25, 2017 at 1:15 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    This is such an amazing article, the photos work nicely with the theme as well. Our culture needs a ton of work to be done and it’s only through awareness like this that it can be accomplished. Being silent and complicit while you’re boiling inside is far too common an emotion in every desi girl and I hope that it’ll be rarer among us and our kids as we take action. Little and “jaaney do” as they seem, stuff like this chips away at you until you feel small as an ant by the end of the day.

    • Reply
      October 25, 2017 at 1:15 am

      Thank you!
      That’s true, plus it’s important to make people understand because once that anger boils out in a flurry of emotions, it has the opposite reaction. I hope people learn and stop getting intrusive.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2017 at 12:56 am

    One should muster up the courage and say something that isnt rude but conveys that the question asked is inappropriate.
    I have had many instances in my life, both personally and professionally, that made me dumbfounded, hurt, sad. Just recently I have started to tell people if I don’t like some question or comment, but I don’t succeed each time.
    E.g Stepped in my elevator with my kids, my neighbour quickly asks me: Where are you going? I mean why does she need to know? I’m just an aquaintance for her.
    A IBA grad relative of mine came to see me when I delivered my first baby boy. She asked so what are the plans now? I said, Id like to start my MBA and she discouraged me. With the support of my parents and my husband, I actually did my MBA. Had I actually listened to her, I would not have been able to fulfill my dream. So in a nutshell, your article clearly depicts this problem in our society and also makes an effort to create an awareness which is much needed in our society. Good job !

    • Reply
      October 25, 2017 at 1:10 am

      Thank you! Totally understand what you mean, and I wish people would learn to just stick to general topics if they want to talk about something. Congratulations on your achievements, and I am sure you will be even more successful in the future. InshAllah.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2017 at 3:39 am

    This is so true i had 2 miscarriages i dont know why ppl cant see a couple complete together..always haye Allah bachay de de….daikho na is k bachay nhi hain 2 saal hogaye shadi ko..bachoun se he toh ghar ghar lgta hy damn…half of my life is made miserable by them..haye pta nhi kaise hngay ye miscarriages aik bemari hoti hy…i really dnt feel comfortable going to family gatherings..i m working on myself to over come my depression in this situation and ppl are like making you feel more down…

    • Reply
      October 26, 2017 at 1:03 am

      That is so wrong! People should realize how insensitive they get, and how wrong they are. I hope you feel better soon. You need to ignore others, and focus on yourself! That’s the most important thing.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Such a nice post!
    Comments on weight, age and complexion are also desi small talk essential as well as comparisions with others.

    Marks kitnaye aye? Kiya sirf 89%? Bashir ki beti nay tu 97% leya hain!!

    Thori kamzoor hogai ho. Haye ankhon k neechaye chaiyan ban gai hain.

    Kam khaya kero. moti ho gai ho.
    Haye, itnaye pimples doctor k pass jao.
    kiya engineering ker rahi ho…Afia ki larki tu doctor ban rahi hai!
    button lagana nai ata? Mae jab tumhari umer ki thi tu poori kameez si laiti thi!!

    • Reply
      October 28, 2017 at 8:45 pm

      Thank you!
      Oh yes. It surprises me how many of such questions that people can ask out of the blue.

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