In an attempt to show the true nature of arranged marriages in Pakistan, designer Nashra Balagamwala has created the board game “Arranged!” which playfully yet realistically lets outsiders see arranged marriage as it is. Balagamwala has been living in the U.S. for five years now, but with her visa expiring this month, she has been forced to move back to Pakistan. Fixated on the challenges she’ll face upon her return, she created “Arranged!”
The game is made up of four players: 3 girls and one “Aunty.” The Aunty is basically an older woman who tries to set the girls up with boys. When the game starts, the girls try to stay as far away from the Aunty as possible, because if they end up on the same tile, she will marry them off. The girls draw cards from the Girls pile, and each card dictates whether you can move away from the Aunty, or if she moves closer to you. The cards drawn read things like, “You gained weight. Move 2 Spaces. / You wear a sleeveless shirt out in public. Move 5 Spaces.” When the cards have “bridal” qualities on them, the Aunty gets closer to you. “Your 24-year-old sister just had her fourth child. The aunty moves 3 spaces closer to you.”
The girls do what they can to stay away from the Aunty and can even blackmail the other girls into moving closer to the Aunty: “You find out another girl’s weight. Use this to blackmail her into switching places with you.” This is how the game plays out, until the Aunty discovers the Golden Boy. This is the boy that all the girls want to marry, and instead of running from the Aunty, all the girls try to get closer to her in the hopes that they will be married off to the Golden Boy. The girls get closer to the Aunty by doing good things, meaning they start drawing from the Golden Boy pile of cards. These cards have qualities that let the girls try to show the Aunty that they’d make the perfect bride: “You spend hours at the salon every week. Move 3 Spaces. / An aunty saw you driving a car. The aunty moves 4 spaces away from you. / You wore a Burqini when you went swimming. Move 6 Spaces.” The game ends when all of the girls have been married and the winner is the one who married the Golden Boy.
Balagamwala has returned to Pakistan, and says that the longer she is in Pakistan, the higher her chances are of being married to someone. For her friends, so far there hasn’t been a way out. Balagamwala was taking her midterms in the U.S and didn’t check her phone for a couple days. When she finally did, she saw that one of her friends from home had gotten married. The girl protested the marriage and was locked in a room with very little food until she agreed to be married. Balagamwala has it better than her friend in the sense that she has some say in the situation. She has gotten out of proposals so far by telling her family she didn’t like something about the guy’s personality, but she knows that that excuse won’t last much longer.
When I was talking to Balagamwala, she had very clear reasons why she couldn’t just give in to her family’s demands. While some of her friends had just given in because it was tradition and they didn’t see another way, Balagamwala is determined to fight the arranged marriage. “It’s like a game of Russian Roulette. How do you know? If you’ve only met the person twice, maybe three times and known him for a week, how do you know that you want to spend the rest of your life with him?” She would rather move away from home and allow for the opportunity of a natural and fluid love, instead of marrying someone chosen by her parents because of their social status.
Balagamwala wants to get out of Pakistan to avoid an arranged marriage, but also for her career. Balagamwala explains that the only careers women are allowed to pursue in Pakistan are as fashion designers and makeup artists, because they won’t encounter men in the workplace. In order to pursue a career and surround herself with people who are truly passionate about their careers the way she is, she has to leave Pakistan.
The game features a lot of the things that might not make sense to Americans like rotis, dowry, and Fair and Lovely. Balagamwala test-played the game with some of her American friends and they end up on the floor laughing. They thought the cards were jokes because it was hard for them to believe that something like making a perfectly round roti could be a qualifier for the perfect bride. When she played with Pakistani and Indian friends, the cards really resonated with them. The game is meant to lightheartedly show people what the reality of arranged marriages in like for Pakistani girls.
Balagamwala was telling me about the tan she had been working all summer to perfect. When she visited home, her grandma saw the tan and said, “What have you done to yourself? You used to be the most beautiful of my grandchildren because you were the fairest, now your skin is so dull. Who’s going to marry you now?” Her grandmother wasn’t trying to be mean that’s just the culture. In Pakistan and India, lighter skin is seen as beautiful, which has led to lots of creams and treatments to lighten skin like the brand “Fair and Lovely.” Balagamwala made one of her cards for the Aunty read, “You see a girl that uses fair and lovely. Move 4 Spaces.”
Balagamwala has seen most of her friends married off to men their parents chose for them, and now that she has to return to Pakistan, she fears she’ll be cornered into the same fate. “The longer I’m there the more pressure I’ll have on me. I always try to and hopefully will find my way out of it because I have done so so far but it’s just mentally draining.” She captured her elusive attitude towards arranged marriage and lets anyone channel that version of her when they play “Arranged!” which is available through her site.
Photo Credit: courtesy Nashra Balagamwala, except for Fair and Lovely
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