Saying 'I Do'
on Bangin' in the 'Desh (Bangladesh), 07/Feb/2010 07:00, 34 days ago
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It’s been a while since I’ve written because so much has happened over the last month but I’m going to back track slightly and tell you about the Bengali wedding I went to in December. My boss asked if I wanted to attend and I jumped at the chance. I’ve only ever been to a Christian or Catholic wedding before, so I was eager to experience the Muslim version.First of all, it’s a multiple day shebang. The first ceremony, starting in the evening, is ‘prep’ for the big day. I rushed home from work and got changed into my bright pink sari and jumped in a rickshaw, on my way to my boss’s house to be escorted by his family to the ceremony. After a bumpy rickshaw ridewith the hood down so I didn’t attract too much attention to myself, I arrived at my boss’s house and his wife helped me re-adjust my crumpled sari from the journey, threw extra make-up on me - apparently it was no where near enough for a Bengali wedding - and before I knew it, we were off again. All piling into the car, we quickly arrived at the event in Mohammedpur. Multiple community centres in Dhaka seem to act as wedding venues, nothing like a religious setting, more of a function hall, and they are absolutely dripping with fairy lights and flowers for the occasion. We were ushered out of the vehicle and into a room to meet the bride and groom before going into the hall. What a sight. The bride was absolutely covered with flowers, beads and jewels that connected around her head, hair and nose piercing. The traditional colour of the ‘pre’ ceremony is yellow, so she was dressed in a yellow and blue sari, with thousands of accessories. The groom, also very dressed up, wore a traditional Punjab, but she clearly stole the show. After a quick hello, we were led upstairs underneath a red tent fabric, held up by the bridesmaids along the staircase, and flower confetti was thrown on us as we were marked with a copper bindi on our foreheads.Once we got into the venue, it was a hive of activity. Hundreds of people; talking, mingling, a sea of colour, loud Bengali dance music... At the front of the room there was a flower-adorned stage with two thrones and a table covered in plates of food. In front of the stage were rows of mismatched couches and chairs for people to sit down. Something must in the works for later, I assumed… Then all of a sudden, mayhem! The lights went out, the strobe light went on, the smoke machine went berserk, the baseline was cranked and the dance floor was pumping. Everyone was dancing like crazy, young, old, singing, jumping around. I couldn’t help but be completely bemused. What was goingon?! Did I miss something? There was no way this would be happening at this hour at home, so early in the night and without alcohol. Ha. Then, again, all of a sudden, bam! Lights went back on, the smoke machine went off, the music was turned back down, and people were chatting, mingling again. A ten minute moment of disco fever and then back to the wedding ceremony? How odd. But before I could make sense of it, I was being ushered towards the stage. Towards the stage!? Oh God, why? What did I have to do? Something about being the only ‘bideshi’ there was making me nervous. Surely they didn’t expect me to give a speech? But, thankfully no. My boss’s wife said I would take part in the ceremony but reassured me that everyone had to. I asked if I could follow her lead to be sure I didn’t do something sacrilegious, so we both went up together and sat on either side of the bride andgroom on additional thrones. Basically, we had to feed them something from the array of food in front of them as an offering, and then dab turmeric on their faces as a symbol to make their skin glow ‘golden’ for the wedding day. I felt a bit strange, rubbing turmeric on the bride’s face whenshe looked so perfect and made up, added to the fact that she doesn’t know me from Adam, but she smiled and the camera clicked a million times to capture the moment, before we were helped off the stage and the next participants followed to do the same ritual. Done.Then again, before I’d even said turmeric, the disco fever again! Boom boom pow, shake it all about. The place went crazy again and as hard as I tried to dance to join in, I felt stiff as hell in my sari and… dare I say it, really damn sober. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep up with the movers and shakers so I drifted to the sidelines and took photos instead. I have never seen so much energy before. Everyone, all holding hands, spinning each other round, singing their hearts out to songs I’d never heard of. After my long day at work, it made me feel exhausted, just watching them. I needed a break, needed to talk English for a second even, but that wasn’t going to happen, so I settled for a seat on some random couch, facing the spectacle and kept snapping photos.After a while, I think my boss’s wife suspected I was tired and suggested we leave, especially since it was 2am. 2 am!? How did that happen so quickly? I felt as though we’d been there for an hour or two but I willingly left. Exhausted, we piled back into the car and I got dropped off, falling up the stairs to my flat. My head hit the pillow and I was asleep in seconds. Roll on day two - the ‘big’ day.My British flat mate Rosa was going to come with me as my‘date’ so we got ready in the afternoon in our extra special saris - read: heavily ordained with beads and even harder to wear because they weigh a ton - and repeated the journey to my boss’s house to be escorted to the ceremony with the family. The ceremony this time was held at another venuein the city, but the décor was similar; flowers were everywhere and fairy lights were shining bright, along with the general chaos of people, all waiting at the main doors for the bride and groom to arrive. As we tried to squeeze in to get a look at the couple arriving, a full brass band arrived!Trumpets and drums in full force and oddly enough, hardly anyone else noticed but Rosa and I, so the two of us snapped away and before we knew it, they had circled around us, continuing to bust out the tunes! After several photos and momentous clapping, the attention focused back at the entrance. The groom had arrived. Tall and elegant in his turban, he was surrounded by women buzzing around him, ushering him inside and through the crowd. Then, a few minutes later… the moment we’d all been waiting for, the bride. A small van arrived and she got out quickly, shielded by people so we couldn’t see her, and got into a gold carriage, box type thing. It looked like something out of ancient Rome and was surrounded with curtains with huge gold pillars at each end so she could be carried into the ceremony. We all frantically tried to get photos of her in the carriage but it was complete mayhem; people pushing, shoving, anything to get a photo. Then, all of a sudden, she was lifted right up into the air and through the crowd. We followed the carriage into the ceremony and she was placed, still enclosed, at the stage / altar. There were thrones again and the groom sat, waiting for her. Beside the altar I also noticed several suitcases; the brides belongings. I found out that after the ceremony, she would move into the in-law’s house with her new husband – this was tradition. Shortly after her arrival in the carriage, the curtain opened and we got the chance to take some photos of the bride. She looked incredible; absolutely covered in gold jewellery, wearing a bright red sari. Stupidly, I left the room at this point to try and find my boss to let him know that she was here and missed her getting out of the carriage(!), but when I came back, she was seated on a throne, nextto her groom on the altar. Snap, snap, snap, general paparazzi overdrive continued. Slowly, I began to realize that there wasn’t going to be any actual ceremony; it seemed like a photo shoot was the only item on the agenda which seemed a bit odd, and then after an hour or so, dinner was announced. Everyone was rammed into an adjoining dining hall. The whole meal was fast and furious; plates of rice and chicken flying around and the only beverages on offer was either water or a strange, spicy green yoghurt drink. Pass on the yoghurt, thanks. After dinner, people lingered around for a bit butit became obvious that nothing else was going to happen and the night was winding to a close. I asked my boss why the significance of the two day ceremony when everything important seems to happen in the first? Symbolic, he said. Now that the couple are ‘united’, the second ceremony marks the bride moving in with the in-laws, that they truly are married now.After getting a ride home and taking off the entire sari garb for the second night in a row, Rosa and I reflected on the evening and how it’s such a different series of rituals compared to a Christian or Catholic wedding. Regardless, from the turmeric to the dancing, photos, saris and flowers, I was glad to have participated in it, and made the decision that if I ever get married, I’m getting married in a sari!