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Marriage in the guise of a wedding

Updated July 05, 2013

It would be easier to eliminate racism or end poverty… than it would be to make girls stop wanting to be brides.

–Anne Kingston

-Photo courtesy Eefa Khalid
-Photo courtesy Eefa Khalid
In Urdu we have the same word for yesterday and tomorrow and though it might be a factor behind our laid back attitude towards time, we usually know which one we’re talking about. Similarly we have the same word for marriage and wedding. And we all know what we mean when say shaadi. We don’t mean the boring stuff like paying rent, school fees or household budgets. We never think of words like compromise, understanding, commitment. We don’t ever mention words like issues, incompatibility or, bite your tongue, divorce. For us the word shaadi means only the fun and the food; the glitz and the glamour; the beaming parents and most of all, the beautiful, radiant bride.

Dulhan. It may be the first word a girl in our culture learns to lisp. Her favourite doll is probably attired in wedding apparel and her favourite game is getting the doll married to any available gudda. His lineage doesn't matter, nor do his looks, he’s just a prop; the entire affair revolves around the doll bride and the chance to dress up for the attending visitors. Which is fine when you’re six years old.

Looking at some of the morning shows these days (don’t look too hard, they make you feel queasy for the rest of the day) you’d think we’re an entire nation of six-year-olds. Girls whose entire concept of marriage starts and ends with a wedding. A fantasy wedding fit for a princess with all the Bollywood trimmings.

On any given day (unless it’s the holy month when for some reason nuptials seem to be frowned upon) at least one morning show host will display a bride — or six. If one wedding per show is good for ratings let’s make it five. Some of these are mock weddings; some are ‘weddings’ of couples already married (wow — what a wonderful use of time and energy) and some are undertaken under the guise of charity. Destitute girls married off to some guy who obviously couldn't find a girl on his own. There’s music, there’s dance and to make everyone feel even better there’s an extra topping of sawab as well.

Of course, we’re not unique in our love for the big fat wedding. In her book, The Meaning of Wife, Anne Kingston explores how the multi-billion dollar wedding industry fuels the concept of the fairytale wedding where everything — from a classic diamond ring and a designer gown to hand embossed invitation cards and $25 cake knife — is marketed as being essential to make it the most wonderful day of a woman’s life.

Over here it’s a long line of functions — milad, dholki, mayun, rang, mehndi, another mehndi — that lead up to the big day, each with it’s own prerequisite outfit, menu and other trimmings. Then comes the big day and no expense is spared. Be it an outfit that costs about as much as a small car or a make-up package that could set her father back a month’s salary or more, nothing is too good for the bride; after all, her wedding is the most important day of her life.

Really? Wanting your wedding to be the happiest day of your life is basically expecting things to go downhill from then on — is that what every bride wants? Probably not, but her brain isn't functioning too well under the heavy dupatta. The spiel certainly works for everyone else though; from the owner of the shaadi hall to the caterers, the card printers, the event planners, and even the guests tucking into the prawn tempura (biryani and qorma are so last century, daahling). Shaadi literally means happiness for everyone.

But what of the woman waiting in the wings, ready to take over from the bride. What about the wife? Every girls been practising playing the dulhan all her life but that role lasts barely for a few hours. When it comes to playing the wife, there is no script. Not even a cheat sheet.

Maybe instead of bride dolls we could start promoting ‘wife’ dolls. Dolls that wake up six times a night to tend to a crying baby, send their husband off to work on time, cook up a three-course meal, keep the house sparkling clean, drive kids to school and smile with gritted teeth when their husband asks ‘so what do you do all day?’

That might make girls think more about the marriage and less about the wedding — but I doubt it.