Featured Illustration: Hanifa Abdul Hameed
A wedding is supposedly the happiest event in a household, and in Indian households, we like to go all-out. When I was a little girl, I was fascinated with the idea of being a bride — beautiful, elegant, the center of attention, the most important person in the room. All eyes are on her; her lovely attire, her radiance, her smile.
My fascination has dimmed considerably since then. Weddings now seem to be a rather expensive way of telling the world you’ve decided to “settle down” — in the parental sense of the word. And as I got older, I started to notice other things that accompanied the bride. Behind the constant stream of gushing over her beauty and her mannerisms, hid the ugly accouterments that she never asked for — gossiping guests and nosy relatives, people touching her face and proclaiming at the amount of makeup she was wearing (or lack thereof), people sitting next to her and asking increasingly personal questions, people holding up her jewelry and wanting to know “which side is it from?”
And then there were those who sat judging her from afar. “Look at how simply she is dressed. Look, she doesn’t even have a nose ring. Her nose is too big, and her eyes too small. See, she’s smiling with her teeth — look how she laughs! Not a care in the world. Doesn’t even seem like a bride.” That’s often what it boils down to — doesn’t seem like a bride. Doesn’t have enough beauty, or grace, or shyness. Not a worthy bride. It doesn’t seem to faze people that she is getting married and therefore, as long as she doesn’t meet expectations, in their eyes, she could have done better. So could you, esteemed guest, so could you.
And maybe, esteemed guest, you could refrain from playing detective with the poor woman. She doesn’t need you to wonder not-so-quietly about her background and her history. The ease with which people delve into personal details is truly astounding. The bride looks a bit old, maybe they couldn’t find a match soon enough, wonder what is wrong with her? Or she seems too young, maybe she had an affair and the parents wanted to marry her off. At times, the things that people want to know are absolutely ridiculous. Who cried at the rukhsati? And how much? And if there was no crying, dear Lord, why was there no crying? Truly dishonorable. You know things are twisted when the lack of tears is a tragedy.
There are involvements that come with being part of a community, but what is it about Desi culture that thrives on the invasion of privacy, or emotional guilting? Why are we so obsessed with the lives of people we’ve barely met, with who we have little to no emotional connection? What makes us believe we have any right at all to judge their lives, much less spread gossip about them?
I think of someone saying, “kuch bhi kaho, dulhan ki nazar toh jhuki hi achchi lagti hai” (say what you will, a downcast gaze is what suits a bride’) and it makes me remember all the other times I’ve heard about brides being called “brazen” or “shameless”, as if it were a crime to be happy on your wedding day. The way people give sidelong grimaces and disapproving glances to a girl who laughs happily, smiles openly, or even meets the eyes of guests or her groom. All due respect to the brides who choose to keep their heads down and gazes lowered — but there’s something lovely about a bride who looks up and smiles. There’s a different kind of luminousness to that.
It surprises me, how some people like to nitpick at happiness — scavenging for details that may ruin it all, going over the details with forensic precision, hoping to uncover something scandalous and pore over it, make it more important than someone’s joy and good fortune. A friend relates the time she was left out of a conversation for not partaking in hearsay, for saying a simple “she’s nice” when asked, “what is the bride like?” For some reason, it seems that it will always be the woman that will suffer — for not being young, or pretty, or tame, or quiet enough. If she puts one toe out of line, she brings the whole clan down with her.
A woman carries her entire family’s reputation on her back, and it seems no one is interested in lightening her burden.
When I started thinking about these things and writing this article, it seemed like one long horrible memory. It seems it has happened at most every wedding I’ve attended — the hurtful and overly curious behavior, ranging from mild to grossly impolite and rude. When I brought it up with my friends and sisters, they had their own incidents to share, and it was an echo of what I had witnessed — nobody walks free. Even if it hasn’t happened to you, you’ve seen it happen.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking realization is that this snide commentary and strange meddling come mostly from other women. In circumstances like these, it is the women who bring other women down. Who knows who started it, but women are certainly at the forefront of perpetrating it — distant relatives and ostensibly well-meaning acquaintances, who feel obligated to give unsolicited opinions and take a jab at every chink in someone’s armor. It is a devastating thing to acknowledge — so much of our suffering is handed to us by those who are supposed to lift us up. The patriarchy may exist, but it thrives because we let it. We let our families and friends talk in hushed whispers, exchanging not-so-subtle remarks. So many of us, instead of discouraging this behavior, let it foster.
As a community, and more importantly, as women, we have to learn to stand up to those who try to take us down — but we also must help each other while we’re at it. It’s okay to disagree with the bride’s choice of makeup or dress — it might not be your choice and that’s fine. But to ridicule her for it is not something you need to do. If you have something harsh to say, keep it to yourself. It’s her wedding day, and if she’s happy, you should be happy for her. We are here to partake in joy and add to it, be a thoughtful guest and tell her she looks beautiful, because she feels beautiful, whether you think so or not. And if you don’t think so, then wish her happiness nonetheless, because you’re aiming to be a decent human being that wants good things for people. If you hear (or overhear) your family or friends ask distressing questions, remind them that they too are guests at what could easily have been a smaller ceremony — they are there because the couple and their families wanted them to be, to share this day with them. Remind them to be accordingly considerate, and there you go — your job is done.
Shaadi mubarak, aap sabhi ko.