“You have rose-tinted glasses for everything, Ayesha!”, Asim calmly rebuked. Slumped on the couch, his arm resting on the shoulder pad and a leg perched up on the glass table, Asim rolled his eyes when he heard the occasional cheesy Bollywood pickup-line being delivered by the hero. In contrast, Ayesha, who was sitting attentively beside him, had her eyes fixed on the TV screen. They shone with a sense of amazement and wonder as a glamorous Bollywood love song started playing. She had heard this song dozens of times before and she would chant the lyrics every-time, trying to imitate the high and low tones as accurately as her vocal cords allowed her to.
“They were different times, Asim. You wouldn’t know!” she replied with her eyes still wide open. Her pupils darted to wherever the hero appeared on the screen. She was afraid to even blink in case she’d miss an important part; even-though, she’d watched this particular movie multiple times. Asim sat with a courteous detachment, and scrolled through his social media, trying to find something that would catch his eye.
“Younus got matched!”, he announced with a mild excitement. In that instant, Ayesha pressed the pause button.
“On the app?”, she asked.
“Yes, where else?”, Asim clarified. His reply was dragged out as if he knew what Ayesha’s reaction would be.
“Oh, well good for him”, she leaned back on the couch, her index finger resting on the play button.
“Well, what?”, Asim glanced at her. In the darkness of the lounge, the TV screen reflected against the white of his eyes. When their gaze met, she could tell the hero wasn’t in the frame anymore.
“I don’t think it works.”, she declared.
Asim broke eye contact and looked back at his phone screen. She could hear the gears turning in his mind.
The world around them had transformed overnight when the RishtApp launched. It was designed to be the perfect app for matrimonial matchmaking. After receiving glowing reviews from satisfied families around the world, this app was hailed as an essential tool. From having easily understandable features for Rishta aunties to being a gallery for thousands of potential rishtas, the app was a response to the diminishing trends of arrange marriage culture. With the advent of the RishtApp, disenfranchised rishta aunties had sought refuge in an online safe space. A typical profile, created and curated by a concerned rishta aunty, would simply list down important and relevant information of the prospects. Males would have their employment status listed at the top, followed by annual salary, residency status, religiosity, reviews by relatives and finally a one line introduction by the male himself (which was entirely optional and irrelevant). Females had their profiles even more streamlined by the RishtApp. Age made it to the top of the list, followed by skin color, weight, height, religiosity, employment status, house management skills, and reviews by relatives. Once these profiles were meticulously crafted, the advanced algorithms within the RishtApp would find the most compatible and relevant profiles and send this information back to the Rishtasphere. Slowly other matchmaking services were abandoned by the community, as the RishtApp proved to be the savior for rishta aunties. After a decade of RishtApp dominance, a success rate of 99% came to be widely known and respected.
Five years after RishtApp’s inception, Asim’s and Ayesha’s parents had made their profiles for them. When that happened Ayesha’s greatest fears had come to light, she was just another art piece waiting to be auctioned off. Asim, upon knowing that his profile was live, had brushed it off as another one of his parent’s ventures. He was apathetic towards the whole idea of matchmaking, sooner or later it was bound to work, and all he had to do was observe patience.
“Does Younus know he got matched?”, Ayesha shot back.
“Of-course not. You know how it works”, replied Asim. “He’ll get the notification when –“
“When the arrangement is made, I know”, droned Ayesha lazily. It had happened countless of times before among her closest friends and family. One day, you’d be going about your business and you’d get a notification that would simply read,
Congratulations, your rishta has been decided!
The agency of choice had went out of fashion same as old rosy Bollywood movies. They were mere artifacts of a time long gone. She looked back at the TV screen, the Bollywood movie’s frame was frozen in time. The heroine stood in a marigold field, her hand swaying over a bright yellow flower. She seemed to stare somewhere in the distance off-screen, perhaps towards the hero.
“You know it works, Ayesha. He’ll be happy to know that the arrangement is made”, Asim consoled her. Even-though Younus was Asim’s friend, she felt as if she needed to reach out to him and tell him that his life’s biggest decision was being made through some advanced mathematics, lifeless algorithm, and people who wanted to auction him off more as an asset than offspring.
“These movies, Ayesha, they aren’t real. Life doesn’t work like that!”, Asim said. He didn’t want this to spiral down into an argument, they had been having a lot of those lately.
“If anything, people don’t worry about finding the perfect match anymore! It’s already made! Do you know how frustrating and time consuming it would be to look for good matches yourself? I say, let the parents have that headache, while young people get on with the important stuff. Besides, the numbers are on my side.” He said calmly.
“The numbers, the stories, the rishtas, they’re all fake!”, snapped Ayesha. She was close to her breaking point. Another evening would go by without a proper rewatch. “The movies are the only thing that feel real now.”
Asim realized that the situation needed to be defused. “Look, Ayesha. It works. I know you don’t like to hear that. But it does work. Imagine our case if -“, he paused midway through his last sentence. It was too late. The can of worms was now open, and the mess would be hard to clean up.
“Don’t talk about US”, she said sharply and slowly, making sure every word landed in his ears. “Don’t.”
Asim held on to his silence, in the moment it seemed precious. He knew their marriage was a decision that was never meant to be made. He knew once the words were out, he couldn’t take them back, yet he still uttered them shamelessly.
“If only, we’d used the app”