She Wanted To Demystify Arranged Marriage. So She Designed A Board Game

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The Arranged board game. (Courtesy Lucas Vasilko)
The Arranged board game. (Courtesy Lucas Vasilko)

Nashra Balagamwala noticed there's often confusion about how arranged marriage and matchmaking work. Inspired by her own experience, the Pakistani-born designer created a board game that guides players through the practices' intricacies and traditions.

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Balagamwala about Arranged and what she hopes the game will achieve.

Interview Highlights

On the portrayal of arranged marriages in the media

“Generally, the portrayal of arranged marriages [in] media is actually what I would refer to as a forced marriage. Usually, the things you're going to see are stories of acid attacks, maybe honor killings, things that are violent, things that are aggressive, where the woman is usually given little to no choice. Arranged marriages on the other hand are quite different; they're more so an introduction. I would say, how is an introduction really that different from being set up on a blind date or setting your own arrangement through a dating app?

“That's not to say that all arranged marriages have a choice. In Pakistan, there are arranged marriages, as well as forced marriages. The forced marriages happen more so in rural villages, and as sad as it is, it's still happening. But [the] majority of the marriages that happen in bigger cities are arranged marriages.”

On her own attitude toward arranged marriages

“I personally would never get an arranged marriage. I want to meet someone naturally and fall in love, and I don't like how engineered these arranged marriage situations are. But at the same time, it's not to say that I'm completely against it, because I do have a lot of friends and cousins who didn't have male friends because they weren't allowed to generally have male friends, and they were introduced through an arranged marriage situation and now they're happily married. They have children, they're all doing well.”

On Balagamwala’s future if she had stayed in Pakistan rather than going to the U.S. to study

“I think I would have potentially gone to a college [in Pakistan], but I would not have been motivated to work beyond that. I would have probably been married by now to be very honest, because I'm two years out of college and currently I'm pursuing my career and I'm very happy with it. And maybe my mindset would have been more conservative had I stayed back and I would have potentially been more open to an arranged marriage, but I think there was a part of me that was never OK with it, which is why the minute I turned 18 years old — and I was now of the eligible age — I started wearing fake engagement rings to get out of it, and I started fake tanning myself just to seem darker and less appealing, and I did those taboo things because my mind was never the type where I would conform to these ideals of society.

“I was trying to discourage those matchmaker rishta aunties, like those matchmaker ladies that would approach me at weddings, because they only approach you for very superficial purposes. So essentially, it's only about what they've seen of you. If they see a ring on you, if they see that you're dark, they don't want to approach you. So I've worn multiple layers of clothing to also make myself seem a little more obese and hope that they won't come close.”


On how to play her board game, Arranged

“There is that one aunty who is chasing around these three teenage girls, and the entire gameplay works by the draw of cards, so, essentially, the aunty would pick up a card that says, ‘You see a girl with childbearing hips and move four places closer to her,’ and so she moves closer. But then the girls on the other hand are drawing cards that would make them less appealing. So the girls will pick up a card that says, ‘You photoshop a picture of yourself with alcohol to trick the aunty. Move four spaces away,’ or, ‘You're seen in public with your male friends,’ or, ‘You're caught out on a date,’ and things that are very very normal elsewhere, but are seen as disgraceful in Pakistan.

“It’s essentially this rat race where the girls are trying to run away from the aunty and the aunty’s moving closer to them. And as the game goes on, the aunty also comes across these eligible bachelors that are not really desirable at all, but she comes across them, like the ‘mama's boy’ or the ‘womanizer,’ and as she has control of them, she can marry those boys off to these girls.

“However, there is a little golden light at the end of the tunnel, namely, the ‘golden boy.’ He's essentially the boy that every girl wants, the one that is every mother's dream. He studied abroad, and he has a foreign passport, and he's the CEO of a business and light-skinned, light-eyed, all those things — got the whole package. And so, when the aunty comes across him, there is a complete change in the game dynamic, and the girls then start to draw from this deck of cards called the ‘golden deck,’ and that's when they start to flaunt their talent, such as the fact that they can make a perfectly round roti or the perfect cup of chai.

“They all start to run closer to her, and the first one to get close to her gets him. But then it's interesting, because the others have also managed to get close to her, but the golden boy is gone, so they're stuck with the with the ‘pervy pervison’ or the womanizer.”

"I was kind of trying to spark emotions with it, because I wanted to show this very harsh and sad reality. Also [I] wanted to show the more silly side by talking about chai and biryani and rotis."

Nashra Balagamwala, a Pakistani-born designer, on her board game , Arranged

On the humor and sadness intermixed in Arranged, especially with the inclusion of the stigma surrounding tampons in Pakistan

“It's actually very difficult to even find tampons in Pakistan, because it's so taboo. And if you are to even buy pads or tampons at like a convenience store, they're going to wrap it up in a brown paper bag, because it's considered shameful to be buying them. The same way you would get things in a brown paper bag, like if you would get alcohol in America, that's what pads and tampons are in Pakistan.

“I was kind of trying to spark emotions with it, because I wanted to show this very harsh and sad reality. Also [I] wanted to show the more silly side by talking about chai and biryani and rotis. But at the same time, if I just went to somebody and started discussing such a heavy topic with them, they probably wouldn't want to talk about it. And so, the fact that it's a silly, lighthearted game, they're more open to playing it and more open to discussing it and through that learning about the culture.”

On freewill marriages in Pakistan after the country legalized them in 2003

“I think people are definitely taking advantage of the freewill marriage law. I would say what we have now are semi-arranged marriages, because it is still taboo to admit that you have been dating someone or that you have found your spouse yourself ... because that would mean that you dated or you got to know them or you spent time with them alone. And so, while in my friend circle I had seen multiple love marriages. People usually say, ‘Oh, the guy and the girl were friends, and he liked her.’ They will never use the word ‘dating’ because that is still taboo. In the more recent present, people have been finding their own spouses — not everybody, but it is happening.”

On how rishta aunties are responding to Arranged

“I released the game about a week before my cousin's wedding, and I walk in and essentially all these aunties that normally loved me and were always trying to get me to marry their sons were now rolling their eyes at me and whispering negative remarks as I walked by. I personally didn't care, because I did not want to marry any of their sons, so it was OK for me, but another interesting thing that I did notice is ... Well, Pakistan has a lot of weddings so I will preface this with that, because I usually go to about 20 weddings in the winter season, which is what I like to call wedding season. And this year, I was only invited to two.”

This segment aired on July 31, 2018.



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