Noon. Mr. R is getting ready for a mid-day nap. His phone begins to ring.

“Salam! Is this Rishta Uncle?”

“Rishta Uncle??  No I’m sorry! - you must have the wrong number. This is Mr. R, the research guy.”

“Oh, I have the correct number, alright! Rishta Uncle is your new appellation - apparently, you have some very interesting research on rishta-hunting. You see, I’m your prototypical Rishta Aunty. I’ve been setting up young men and women together from my social circle for some years now. However, I’m left in complete despair. A large number of the marriages I arranged have fallen apart. Most are ridden with affairs, some have even resulted in divorces. I wonder if it’s all been a waste and I should just stop.”


“Irvin Yalom. His 1989 book, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy. Add in Max Weber’s concept of ‘elective affinities.’”

“Noted. I’ll be done within the day. Come over tomorrow morning to my parent’s house for a session.”

*The next day, at Rishta Aunty’s family home*

“Well, it looks like I’ve been arranging meaningless rishtas. Good rishtas are only found as a by-product of commitment and engagement.”

“Wow! You’ve absolutely nailed it.”

“Oh it was right here! Let me quote from the book:

‘The search for meaning.. must be conducted obliquely. Meaning ensues from meaningful activity: the more we deliberately pursue it, the less likely are we to find it; ..In therapy, as in life, meaningfulness is a byproduct of engagement and commitment..’” (Yalom, 1991, Love’s Executioner, p.12)

“Elaborate! How does this theoretical jibberish have any significance at all for rishtas that engender unsuccessful marriages?”

“It has overarching significance! Consider this: I, like other Rishta Aunties, tend to think of weddings as my playing field. Only, matching people up if they’re attending the same wedding is an almost completely futile endeavor.”

“But, socializing through weddings is how people in our society meet!”

“Yes. And that’s probably counterproductive. Any such interactions are devoid of meaning. Consider this: what is the former predicated on?”

“Hey, come on. There’s a commitment: one is at least remotely connected to the either the bride or groom.”

“And I’m supposed to expect that acouple who later have a major fall-out are going to be saved by that mutual commitment to their distant social ties with the bride or groom?

“Surely, there could be other major convergences of ideas or interests between them?”

“Yes but for likely 90% of the people you meet through a meaningless engagement, there are going to be not. My clients would actually have been better off without my intervention, because if there’s nothing that was going to hold them together through times of crisis, then leading them to an environment where they’ve all come together to sharing in joy and laughter was actually digging a hole for them.”

“You’re leaving me overcome with a sense of fatalism. What constitutes a ‘meaningful’ interaction then? Does there even exist such a thing?”

“Of course there does. Think of something - some idea or interest that you’re wholly committed to. Now, if you proceed to engage with this idea - let’s say you’re inclined towards psychology, and decided to pursue a degree in the field - everyone whom you meet in the process is necessarily appearing in your life by virtue of your shared commitment with them.”

“So… how can a Rishta Aunty bring good now?”

“What I need to do now is help people realise that, rather than ‘deliberately pursuing’ candidates for marriage, they should look to invest more attention and resources towards the pursuits of life they feel most strongly about. Say, going to a gym. Or joining a religious institute. Thereafter, leave the job to ‘elective affinities.’ The sharper and more sophisticated the commitment identified, the more meaningful any subsequent engagement with a person; the more reason there is to hold together later on when there’s a catastrophe in your marriage with them.”

A long silence.

“I’m really rather amazed.”

“Thank you. By the way, forgive me for my frankness, but you look a little young to be known as Rishta Uncle!!”

“Only if you’ll forgive me for saying you look quite young to be a Rishta Aunty..!”

“Ah well. You see, a few years ago, my husband died, leaving me with a large inheritance. My marriage had rescued me from the worst years of my life and brought me my happiest. I have all this money, and no worries in life. I want to bring the same kind of joy that my marriage brought me to the lives of other people, given that, living in Pakistan, I can’t expect to get married again myself.”

“A widow?”

“Don’t you dare say you feel sorry for me. My bereavement greatly matured me as a person. Enter God. Enter the pursuit of knowledge. I would never have read the book you suggested otherwise. I would never have sought you out for counsel.”

“‘Sorry’ is not what I was thinking. Not at all. Actually, there was this publication recently in The Nation - ‘Widowhood in the Land of Virgin Fever.’ I think you may find it very palatable.”

“The title sure rings a bell! Well, thank you, it was very pleasant meeting you. Very meaningful. Ha-ha.”

“Do let me know what you think of the publication?”

“Absolutely. Thank you for your time. May God be with you. I hope we meet again.”

..And they were married and lived happily ever after.

n    The writer is the head of Scholars by Profession, a local research-initiative. Scholars by Profession is a research workshop that initially came together as a research club on the eve of 2011.