Sunday, July 15, 2007

Here comes the bride...eventually

Its wedding time again. There is almost always a wedding to go to in Bangladesh because everyone who attends is expected to invite people along, and they in turn invite further guests, creating extravagant 2000 person marathon eating sessions loosely related to the couple sitting in the corner looking glum. Glumness is in vogue in Bangladesh when one is getting married: it is very bad form to look like you might be enjoying yourself. That is reserved for the guests.

Last week I was out in Bogra, ‘a growing industrial town’ for the VSO conference which I had a hand in organising (see upcoming post) and hence this has been a little quiet for a while. Before that, I attended the wedding reception of the accounts coordinator here at Neeti Gobeshona Kendro.

I had actually been invited to the wedding proper (Sayeembhai is Muslim) but because that invite was delivered some 15 minutes before the start, it made my attendance a little challenging. The next day was the reception, and it was very similar to the Hindu wedding I went to earlier, hinting at a Bengali tradition spanning the two religions. We all turned up and sat around large tables, and waited for the bride to arrive. No sooner had she sat on the raised platform in the corner than the goat biryani arrived. All chatter stopped as the assorted guests raced to stuff as much rice down themselves as possible, stopping on to guzzle water. Bits of goat, bone, rice, cardamoms and cucumber littered the tables and the floor, as well as a fair few shirts, and then after pudding (sweet rice) everyone left. A few offered a swift hello to the married couple but ceremony was in short shrift.

I took a few photos and tried to hang around a little bit but my colleagues wanted to go and I was soon dragged out with a handful of pan to chew on the way back to Lalmatia.

Whilst it is still a struggle not to feel incredibly rude following this practice, the run up to the wedding is truly bizarre. Things are changing and the young middle class are marrying the people of their choice more and more, giving a signal to their parents to arrange it as such and therefore keep everyone happy. For those still arranging marriages, it is quite a process.

Another of my colleges, Swaponbhai (Livelihoods Programme Coordinator) announced today that proceedings for his wedding have just begun. It makes Posh and Becks looked restrained. Firstly, he has had to produce a marriage CV, containing biographical details (with a particular emphasis on education) for not only himself but his parents and as many male ancestors as he has the knowledge. This is over twenty pages long, has financial statements, landholdings, a description of his village and his own requirements for a wife.

These are actually rather unimposing given the hefty tone that the lucky woman will have to read on him. She must be over thirty, not from his village and have her own job. This then kick starts the next stage of the process, which involves a female family relative going in search of such a woman, and making contact with their family. Everyone then gets a say, making suggestions, assertions and all sorts of politically minded deals to work out how much the groom is worth, what his payment to the wife should be (as is required under Qu’ranic law) where they will live, respective social status and so on. This, remember, is before they even meet.

Luckily, Swaponbhai has this one sorted. When I asked if he would wear a tie, he replied no, but has promised to iron his trousers and shirt, and have a shave if he hasn’t had one in three days, a magnanimous gesture if ever there was one! She will be overwhelmed with such efforts typical of the Bangladeshi male.

This process has just started and so the wedding will take place (assuming that all the following manages to work itself out) in September or October, where there will once again be a chance to eat endless biryani and sweet rice. This is probably better though, as Swaponbhai himself says:

‘A bachelor lives like a King...but he dies like a dog’.

In Bangladesh, few live like kings, but the latter is certainly true for many, and so the investment in getting the right choice becomes a real matter of survival. Perhaps the effort is worth it.

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