A Rose By Any Other Name

Why are desi boys prone to abandoning "foreigner" girlfriends? Fayes T Kantawala speculates

A Rose By Any Other Name
Saturday nights are not my favourite time of the week. This is particularly true of where I live in downtown Manhattan. Come the weekend, the usually placid streets are overrun with shouting college students chanting frat slogans, or groups of scantily clad girls (named Brittany, Kendra or something equally depressing) stumbling home carrying their heels in their hands. The restaurants are all crowded and blaring, the taxis are taken and the subways look like Jackson Pollock’s puke.

Given my hostile relationship with the weekend, I usually try and stay in and watch movies between fistfuls of Chinese takeout, which is a holy and entirely life-affirming experience. But this week one of my friends here prevailed on me to meet her at a nearby watering hole, citing the fact that Chinese food is not a substitute for a social life and that I owe her some quality time, both of which are sadly true. I put on my gladrags and waded through the crowds of revelers (them: “Ohmigod! He was so sketchy I was, like, literally dying, like, no joke…” Me: “Then why are you still alive? WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD INSTEAD OF BLOCKING THE SIDEWALK, KENDRA?”)

I arrived at the place a little after midnight and (through a combination of innate dexterity and confidence techniques I have learned from TEDx Talks) I found myself with two empty seats at the bar. All around me was the bustle of pre-coital predators and drunken confessionals, so I did what everyone else does now in public alone and began to involvedly read my phone. Right away I saw a text from my friend, saying she was going to be slightly late. As I tapped off a furiously terse response I sensed a pair of eyes on me. To my right, two seats down, was a woman slumped over the bar in a comedic pose of abjuration: arms splayed, head to one side, mouth agape, teary eyes on me.

Where relationships can be immaterial in the
face of a family's preferences

I went back to my typing but she kept staring. Eventually she rearranged herself, sat up, and swiveled rather unsteadily in her chair until she was facing me.

“Scuse-me,” she said.

I kept typing. She took a breath.

“Es-Escuuuuse me. Hey Misserrrr. Ah’m talkin to you. You…heyy!”

“God!” I said, putting down my phone. “What? What is it? What do you want?”

“I had a question.” She looked so sad that I immediately felt bad for my impatience.

I waited for her to say more but she kept staring at me through glazed eyes.

“What’s your question?” I finally relented.

“Where,” she began, “are you from?”


She kept staring at me. Then, with a dexterity I hadn’t thought her capable of, she sprang up and landed on the stool next to mine.

“You’re serious?” she said, suddenly without the slurs. “You from Pakistan? Malala’s country?”

“What? Well, yes, I suppose. Listen, I was actually saving that...”

“I knew it,” she said. “You rilly from Pakistan?”

“Yes,” I said, getting uncomfortable and looking around for some help. I was not going to be killed in a hate crime by a woman with bangs. No!



“Where in Pakistan?”

“Um, Lahore. Do you know it?”

“La…hore,” she repeated darkly. “Yeah. Yeah I know it. You want to know how?”

“No,” I said, trying to smile and leave. “No, I really-”

“Because I just got dumped by a guy from Lahore. Tonight. Not 30 minutes ago. Fiance actually.”

The statement caught me so off-guard that I sat back down.


“Really,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

She ignored this and took a deep breath. “Three years we were together. He’s met my parents. He came to my sister’s wedding. We were about to move in together and he said he was going to go home for a bit… to La-hore” – she looked at me reproachfully and hiccupped – “and he just came back and told me – tonight! – that he got married while he was there. To his cousin!”

“No!” I said. “That’s just...”

“His godamn COUSIN!” she shouted. “I mean, who does that?”

“Well, you’d be…” but before I could finish she flung herself at me and began crying in earnest. I didn’t know what else to do so I sat there in shock, patting her head as one would a small woodland creature. But something about her state stirred a vestige of sympathy in me. Hers is not the only story like this I’ve heard. Not even the only one this month, actually.
He treated her badly before dumping her unceremoniously and marrying a girl of his mother's choice

More times than I can count I have told a foreigner I am from Pakistan and they have replied with a story about an ex who was from there. Two times out of three, he treated her badly before dumping her unceremoniously and marrying a girl of his mother’s choice. I’m not sure why I seem to hear it so much, or what it is about the desi boys abroad. Maybe it’s the appeal of sowing wild oats, or that somehow relationships abroad don’t ‘count’, as if the feelings that are nurtured here wither away in the reality of aaloo palak. Whatever the case, believe me when I say it brings a lot of unresolved feelings. As far back as when I was editor of my high school magazine, I remember getting a long five-page article addressed specifically to me to print for the school. This woman had been similarly dumped by an alumnus, and after comparing notes with other Westerners who had similar experiences she wanted to know what specifically they taught us at the school that turned all its graduates into infantile, lying commitment-phobes. I mean I’ve read Bridget Jones’ Diary but even I didn’t know how to respond to this woman, so I showed the letter to my principal, who read it and told us to ignore it – which, in retrospect, answered the article’s question entirely.

Since then, whenever I hear the familiar tale, I nod in sympathy and say sorry for crimes I didn’t commit, which is what I did for this woman. I even told her the story of the high-school magazine, hoping that to feel it’s a larger problem would offer her some closure.

“Thanks,” she said and hugged me again. My friend walked in and saw this scene with a confused look on her face. “Umm, hi? Sorry I’m late,” she said.

“Hi,” I nodded. The woman straightened herself up and swiveled to greet my friend. “Sorry, I was just venting. Your friend was being nice to me.”

“This is my friend A,” I said, getting up in a show of manners. “Let me introduce you to… I just realised I don’t know your name.”

“Kendra,” the woman said, sniffing and wiping away the mascara running down her cheek. “My name is Kendra.”

Write to thekantawala@gmail.com