The drawing room culture: Girls on parade

Published: February 3, 2011

Guests may come and ogle at you and never return again.

I am one of the many girls who have been through the archaic and bizarre tradition of the drawing room ‘parade’. It involves carrying a tray of tea and goodies to a roomful of strangers and being put on display.

Here is how the drawing room scenario unfolds:

You are informed by your mother that guests are coming to “see you”. As unwilling as you may be, you to give in to your mother’s orders, or this cliché line may be thrown at you,

“Beta, apni ammi ki baat mano. Mein akeli maa nahin, sab hi maayein karti hain,”


“Listen to me dear, I am not the only mother who does this, all mothers want this.”

Inspect my house, why don’t you

Then comes the cleaning of the house; every nook and corner of the drawing room is dusted and cleaned, snacks are cooked at home or bought fresh from bakeries. Sometimes, only soft drinks or juice is served. Your mother pulls out a nice outfit from your closet and tells you to wear it even if the clothes you are wearing at the time would do just fine.

Bombarded by questions

When the guests arrive, they are seated in the drawing room. You are told to enter, so you mentally prepare yourself and march to the battalion of guests. You take your place at one side of the room, after which you are bombarded with millions of questions. These queries vary; you may be asked what you have studied so far, or what your career plans are. You may also be asked if you are “aware” of all household chores.

Tola of guests

These guests may only include the boys’ parents but will often be accompanied by the whole family; sisters, brothers and even their khalas and chachis. There are those funny guests that roam around your entire house, without permission, as if they are on an investigative mission. Some guests choose not to ask so many questions, but are there to simply catch a glimpse of the girl.

After all this, they go and disappear into thin air.

Shaadi by numbers

It is often said that marriage is decided by fate – that almighty Allah sent two people in this world and that He will help them meet at the right time and right place. I once heard an old lady say that “finding a soul mate is just like finding a home without any address.”

If it is true that matches are made in heaven, the culture in Pakistan is terribly inappropriate.

Mothers of these daughters start contacting relatives or neighbours who are known to help find suitable grooms for their daughters. Today, marriage bureaus are a functioning businesses where you register and pay the initial amount which can be between Rs500 – Rs3,000 or more. These marriage bureaus give your number to the potential groom’s family, in accordance with the information written on the registration paper.

Shopping for a bride

Mostly, candidates picked by the bureau are quite the opposite from what you have specified on the form. A girl’s mother will receive a phone call where her complexion, height and qualification are discussed. If the boy’s mother is satisfied with the information, she expresses an interest in a face-to-face meeting the girl.

Sometimes the boy’s relatives will visit several houses on the same day in order to see several girls. This is beyond my comprehension; it’s almost like they are going shopping and reaching out to different shops to find one suitable article to buy. How demeaning!

Everyone wants the perfect girl

Then come the demands. The girl has to be perfect in every respect; from looks to household chores and of course, the ‘age factor’. Somehow they expect you to have a degree in medicine or engineering, but still not be older than 19.

If guys can make these demands, do girls not have the right to make expectations of their future husbands? Mostly, girls want educated men who are highly qualified. Next on a girl’s list is financial security and lastly, whether or not they are compatible in the ‘looks department’.

The drawing room display culture should be strongly condemned.

Most people are incredulous, they think that the ‘tea trolley’ custom doesn’t exist anymore – but they are wrong. Even in the 21st century, this demeaning practice is prevalent and must not be ignored. It is a custom that should be stigmatised but instead it is frequently promoted.


Madiha Akhtar

A freelance writer, an avid reader and a blogger, she has worked as a field reporter for a brief period and has written articles as a freelancer for different publications. She tweets as @mistful83 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.