Last week, the inhabitants of London, Birmingham and Manchester woke up to billboards across their cities of a smiling man asking them to “save” him from an arranged marriage. His website – findMALIKawife.com – was mentioned alongside. The purple billboard soon went viral, thrusting the man and his unorthodox strategy to find a partner to instant fame.
For the 29-year-old Muhammad Malik, who works as an entrepreneur in London for poverty alleviation programmes, the kernel of the idea was presented to him by a friend who was into marketing. “They have the best brains,” Malik told VICE. “I told him how there was very little time for love as we’re all hustling, and the uncertainty with the pandemic was not helping. The idea was simple: How do I put myself out there?”
Even though the billboard move is hilarious, Malik insists on his website that his quest is no joke. He is indeed looking to get married. He details the kind of woman he is looking for on his website, too: His ideal partner is a “Muslim woman in her 20s, who’s striving to better her deen [faith].” Besides, she will also have to “keep up with the bants” as he is from a “loud, Punjabi family.” He also makes it clear that he’s an only child who looks after his parents like many desi children do. “If this is a deal-breaker, I don’t think it'll work out,” he added.
In South Asian societies – particularly around the Indian subcontinent where Malik originally hails from – arranged marriages account for an overwhelming majority of marriages. Through a well-oiled network of “rishta aunties” (matchmaking aunties) and relatives, finding a partner is often a community effort. Even professional matchmakers thrive in such cases – only recently, an Emmy-nominated Netflix show dealt with that world.
In reality, though, there is no impending arranged marriage from which Malik needs saving. “Arranged marriages are beautiful as you are leveraging the experience of your family to find someone you love,” he said. “But my family is small – it’s just me and my parents. There is no network of common friends or community to leverage. and certainly no desi aunties who we know can help me out.”
Malik’s mother needed a bit of convincing about her son advertising himself in such a public manner. “My parents are both shy but eventually saw merit in it.”
The attention-grabbing strategy has been quite a success so far. Within a couple of days of putting up the billboards, Malik started receiving messages from women and families around the world, from Pakistan to Tanzania. He claims he’s got over a thousand messages, and he intends on “going through every single one of them.” The most bizarre one, he recalled, was from a woman who offered to give him her spleen. “I later found out that she might have been using Google Translate and it was just a term of endearment in her language. But, well, I was taken aback.”
Beyond prospective marriage offers, the billboards have also helped rekindle old friendships. Even his school teachers whom he’d lost touch with have contacted him again. “It is surreal – all of them want to know what’s up with me,” he chuckled.
Malik is banking on the billboards to help him reach that one woman who is not a “duplicate copy” of him. “I’ve realised over the past few weeks that the woman I’m looking for needs to balance my personality. I’m the go-getter kind who is always out on the field doing a hundred different things. I need someone who is definitely career-driven but is more earthy, grounded and has a chill vibe going about her.”
However, it was the messages that came later that added a certain depth and greater seriousness to Malik’s project. “So many women started telling me how they’ve been victims of abusive marriages and that if I was going to marry someone, I better do it right. That was heartbreaking to read as these are actual lives we’re talking about. This one woman detailed how her abusive marriage with a man who later abandoned her had left her feeling hopeless about the whole thing.”
Malik deliberately avoided matrimonial websites as they are riddled with “boxes of preference” that he finds problematic – from racial choices to filters related to caste and class. “I didn’t want to get into that whole ecosystem of hate and discrimination,” he said.
As far as the actual wedding is concerned, Malik seems to be taken care of. A few dating apps have already reached out to have him aboard as the face of their campaign. From companies specialising in managing high-end weddings to bridal wear brands that are willing to fund his big day, Malik is flooded with offers. And he’s certainly not complaining. “Well, at least I know my sherwani (a traditional long coat-like jacket) is sorted.”
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