The wedding

by Sohana Manzoor

eid2‘Marriage is a life-long commitment, Asif. Do not marry for the wrong reasons.’ Sahara paused and then asked thoughtfully, ‘Do you love her?’
Asif looked at the somber face gazing upon him and smiled sadly. ‘Love? I thought I was in love the last time I went home. You know the rest.’ Both of them went silent reminiscing about the unprecedented series of events that occurred about two years ago when Asif had gone back to Bangladesh to marry the girl he had been planning to wed for years. He came back alone a month later as the girl’s family had refused to allow their youngest daughter to marry him and his sweetheart accepted the decision made by her family without protest.
Sahara still remembered the bleak look on Asif’s face when he had asked her after returning from Bangladesh, ‘What’s wrong with being fatherless, apa? And how can an American passport be essential for marriage? Her uncle told me to get a US passport and then ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage.’
Sahara couldn’t tell him that the marriage mart in Dhaka was a fish market. Most people with assets in the capital city would turn up their noses at someone like Asif whose father had died leaving his children still struggling to make a place for themselves. Instead she had said, ‘It’s better that this match didn’t work out, Asif. Obviously, the girl didn’t care enough to stand up for you. I’m sure that you have a better person waiting for you in the future.’
Sahara focused on the picture of the girl staring at her from the computer screen. According to her bio data, Raihana Mimi completed her bachelor’s from Stony Brook three years back. Then she did a master’s in social work from UMASS Boston before going back to Bangladesh. Sahara wondered why the girl liked Asif. At first glance, Asif was an ordinary young man, even if pursuing a PhD in computer science. He was not handsome and when Sahara first met him, she thought he was a mastaan because of his appearance. He was not really bad-looking but carried himself like a bear with a perpetual frown and acted either like a ruffian or a joker. Only later on, when she came to know him better, she recognised the compassionate soul inside. So why this lovely girl took a liking to Asif at the very beginning seemed a mystery to Sahara. She just hoped it wouldn’t end like the affair two years ago. It had broken Asif’s heart, and until very recently he would not listen to any talk of marriage.
‘I told you, apu, she got married last year, didn’t I?’ asked Asif.
‘Who? Tania? Yes, you did. But Asif, I hope you are not planning to get married just because you want to show off that you’ve got a better wife,’ said Sahara with a frown. ‘That would be the worst reason for getting married.’
Asif shook his head. ‘That’s not why I want to marry… umm… Raihana. I’ve been talking to her on Skype for some time now. She seems… how to put it… very mature, level-headed and practical. Has a lot of good sense,’ he paused and then added, ‘something Tania never had. I always thought I could teach her. But there are some things you can never teach.’ He sighed and Sahara smiled ruefully, ‘So, how does your family take it? I thought your mother had somebody in mind?’
eid3‘That was a while back.’ Asif did not want to say that he had come a long way from the provincial town of Barisal where he had spent his childhood. He wanted nothing to do with a girl like Kakon who did not know even how to have a proper conversation. She might be a good daughter-in-law for his mother, but there was no place for her in his life.
‘My sisters have already paid Raihana’s family a visit,’ said Asif. ‘And Raihana’s eldest brother and one of her sisters went to my elder sister’s house to meet my mother. Anju apa is complaining even though Laiju is quite taken in.’
Sahara nodded, ‘What does Laiju say?’ Laiju was Asif’s younger sister, and not sentimental like Anjuman.
Asif smiled. ‘She says that Raihana seems friendly and sensible. Even though Anju apa pulled a long face in front of everybody, she didn’t take offence. When Laiju apologised on her behalf to Raihana, she said that she didn’t mind. People say a lot of things during such negotiations. It’s not wise to hold on to them.’
Sahara nodded approvingly. ‘That does sound like uncommonly good sense. I wish I was that wise when I got married.’
‘But you are very wise,’ stated a surprised and baffled Asif.
Sahara shook her head. ‘I was a headstrong and willful young woman. Didn’t have a grain of sense. It took years of suffering to infuse some wisdom in me.’
And so it began. Sahara, Halim, and Rima — Asif’s friends in Springfield — started shopping for his upcoming nuptial. There was continuous bickering among them because Asif wanted to buy the best things and the budget was limited. And Sahara wanted to save money because, as a cautious woman, she thought of the future. Halim at one point surrendered and decided to rely completely on Sahara’s judgement. Rima whined about every little thing. Sahara at least maintained a façade and decorum, whereas Rima would say, ‘Why do you want to buy a nose-pin, bhaiya? Are you mad? Raihana apu doesn’t wear nose-pins. Just because it’s something your elder sister wants, you can’t ask your bride to have her nose pierced! Don’t be so chauvinistic.’
They were too tired that day, and Asif said, ‘Shut up, Rima. I just asked if I should allow my sisters to buy one. Why are you screaming?’
And that was enough to set Rima screeching. ‘Scream! Who is screaming? I’m just telling…’ ‘Be quite, children,’ admonished Sahara, who was half buried under a pile of wrapping paper, wedding clothes and boxes. ‘Rather than squabbling why don’t you help me? Rima, wrap up the watch. Tie a pink ribbon like you did on Dia’s birthday. And Asif, why don’t you make some tea for all of us? You make such good tea… Halim… bhaiya, bring all the other boxes from our bridegroom’s room. We better finish this up tonight, eh?’
Both Rima and Asif felt sheepish, but also mollified by the half-articulated praises from Sahara; and Halim was relieved that Asif and Rima had not started another bout of bickering.
Asif, who was lying exhausted on the carpet, got up and went to the kitchen to make tea. Thank God these people were here; at least he did not have to worry about buying the cosmetics and all those gifts for his in-laws and sisters. The wedding ring was a sore point which he did not even like to brood over. He had got it for Tania two years ago — size five and a half. Of course, he had gone back to the jewelry store to return the ring. But they had refused to take it back then, and refused to change it now. Nor could he afford to buy a new one. He would have to arrange at least one ceremony in his hometown in Barisal, if not anything else. His sisters had already started buying sarees. His mother’s saree alone cost something like Tk 5,000. God knows how much the bride’s attire would cost. Sahara had simply said, ‘The old ring will have to do, Asif. You can save at least 700 dollars there. And Raihana’s is size five and a half too. Besides, you never gave it to anyone and you bought it for your wife, whoever that may turn out to be.’ Asif had to agree even though the romantic man inside him cried out in protest. He vowed that he would try to make up for it in every way possible.

***
Hamida Khatun looked helpless as her eldest daughter ranted about her brother’s marriage. ‘You’ll see that it will come to no good. That girl’s family is way better off than ours. Two of her sisters are settled in the US. And you still want him to marry her?’
‘And how do you propose that I stop it?’ asked Hamida. ‘You heard him. He is determined to have her.’
‘I still don’t understand what was wrong with Kakon,’ grumbled Anjuman. Kakon was the girl next door in Barisal. They had known her since childhood. Kakon’s mother and Hamida once made plans to get their children married. But Asif was always busy with other things and once he went off to Dhaka to study at BUET, he changed altogether. He fell in love with a girl named Tania who practically abandoned him at the altar. After that Hamida had tried to incline him toward Kakon once more. But Asif did not budge. At one point he had told his mother, ‘If you nag like this, I will marry an American girl and never return home.’ That sealed her mouth as Asif knew it would. Hamida heaved a sigh and said, ‘Look, daughter, I don’t have a choice in this. He will marry whoever he wants to marry. And you better comply, too. If he can’t marry this girl, I’m afraid he will marry an American Christian girl. Do you want that?’ Anju looked up at her mother, horrified. ‘You must be mad! What will our relatives say? American! And Christian too!’
‘What do I care about our relatives?’ asked an irritated Hamida. ‘Their tongues have been wagging since your father died. I just want my son to marry well and be happy.’
‘But Kakon…’ started Anjuman, and Hamida Khatun snapped, ‘There’s no use wailing about Kakon. He’s not interested, so just stop it.’
Anju was quailed. Laiju entered the room with a bundle of shopping bags in hand. She was buoyed up by the upcoming wedding of her only brother. Many of their close relatives had already arrived in Dhaka. She and her mother were staying at the modest flat in Rampura where Anjuman lived with her husband and two children.
Laiju looked at her elder sister keenly and said, ‘I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal. I like Mimi Bhabi already. She is not like those typically snobbish rich girls. On the contrary, she seems very nice and sensible.’ She paused and then added, ‘The kind of scene you made at their house! ‘I know our brother will be taken away from us after his marriage’ — good God, what were you thinking? That was poor taste, apa.’
Anju shuffled uneasily and Hamida nodded gravely. ‘Yes, that was bad behavior. It’s your younger brother’s wife, after all. Shame! What would Asif think?’
Laiju was about to say something more when they heard a commotion outside. Several voices were shouting, and one gruff voice most of all.
‘I need to talk to bhabi. Where is she? This is insufferable and totally unacceptable. . .’
‘Oh no, that’s Chhoto Chacha!’ groaned Laiju. As soon as she uttered the name a dark burly man entered the room.
Without preamble he said, ‘Did you buy a saree for my wife? The eldest son of our family is getting married — where is the saree for his Chhoto Chachi?’
‘We got sarees for everyone,’ said Laiju. ‘And of course, Chhoto Chachi has got one too.’
‘You call that a saree?’ sneered their uncle. ‘That’s a gamchha! If my brother was alive…’
‘Unfortunately, he is not,’ Laiju interrupted. ‘And his son is still a student. So if you don’t like the saree we got for your wife, go and buy one yourself. Do you ever get anything for her?’
‘You have such a foul mouth! No respect for elders at all,’ growled Chhoto Chacha. He turned to Hamida Khatun and bellowed, ‘I won’t come to the wedding, bhabi. And I won’t allow my family to attend either.’ He stormed out of the room. They heard him slam the front door shut.
Hamida Khatun heaved another sigh. ‘When will Asif come? I can’t take all this any longer. My poor boy! Nobody to give him peace of mind.’
Anju dried her eyes and said, ‘I won’t give you any more trouble. I, too, will keep away from the ceremony…’ she stopped as her mother’s eyes started gleaming ominously. Laiju said, ‘For once, apa, please act your age. How long will you behave like a 15-year-old?’
‘What did I say?’ asked a nervous Anju.
‘You will act as a proper, respectable elder sister,’ said Hamida quietly. ‘If I hear you babbling like a stupid fool, I will leave your house. Just because we’re staying in your flat, don’t assume that you can do and say whatever you want. If necessary, I will rent a place and conduct the marriage ceremony from there. Understood?’
Anjuman eyed her mother with a newly found apprehension. Laiju gaped at her mother too. Then recovering herself she said half-laughing, ‘O dear! I didn’t know you could talk like that! You should take on that tone more often, Amma. Chhoto Chacha will never dare to say anything again.’

***
‘I still don’t understand why she has chosen that guy,’ Gulshan Ara grumbled. ‘He looks more like an ape than a human being.’
Her fourth daughter Moni looked at her helplessly. ‘Maa, you’ve said that at least ten times.’
‘So?’ asked Gulshan Ara. ‘Your headstrong little sister doesn’t pay heed to anything I say. She has her heart set on that ape.’ She stopped and lowered her voice. ‘You and I are the only two with good sense. Even Muhib and Moin are taken in. They all are saying, ‘He has a good heart and bright prospects.’ Okay, so he does. But people will still wonder what my lovely daughter has seen in that ape-man!’
‘I’m more worried about his family,’ said a thoughtful Moni. ‘Remember how the elder sister spoke?’
‘I can’t understand why you’re so worried about the family,’ said a third voice. Moin had entered the room silently like a cat and was voicing his opinion. ‘Mimi will be living abroad with her husband. She may have to visit Barisal only once or twice in her lifetime. Honestly, how much trouble can her in-laws cause?’
In the next room of the plush apartment in Dhanmondi, the subject of their conversation was busy wrapping up the gifts for her wedding. She had already brought several sarees for herself. She meant to save at least some money for Asif. She understood that he was still a grad student and could not be expected to spend a fortune on his bride. He also had nobody to support him with expenses. She insisted that there should be only one ceremony and the expenses should be borne by her family. She used to be indifferent when her family members rejected one suitor after another. But something about Asif made her stand up for him and manoeuvre her siblings, especially her brothers and eldest sister, into accepting him as a prospective candidate. Asif also went out of his way and visited her two elder sisters in New York. Whatever initial reservations they had about his appearance vanished after meeting him face to face. Both spoke approvingly of him and Mimi’s parents also gave in reluctantly. She knew there would be a lot of talking on both sides. But she had seen five siblings get married, and believed that this would work out too if she kept her cool.
When her sister Moni had asked her what she liked so much about Asif, Mimi avoided a direct answer and asked, ‘What’s wrong with him? He is a good guy, pursuing higher studies. That’s what you wanted, too.’ She paused, then added, ‘Okay, so he is not very handsome. But Mishu apu’s husband was. Did that help?’ Mishu was her second sister who had died a few years ago. Her husband was the most handsome and obnoxious man imaginable. Mishu’s untimely death had cast a perpetual gloom on their family.
Moni wrung her hands, ‘No, but…’
‘If you people continue like this, I may never get married, you know,’ Mimi had said, half teasingly. ‘I’ll be thirty in November.’
Mimi counted the boxes, and eyed the suitcase carefully. These were mostly things for her in-laws. They still had not got anything for Asif who was arriving in Dhaka that very afternoon. The two of them had planned to do the shopping for their wedding clothes themselves. Asif’s mother already had the jewelry. Apparently, she had them made three years ago, which proved to be an excellent decision. Anju had wanted to buy the wedding saree. But Mimi had said to Asif, ‘What if I don’t like it? Besides, others might go beyond the budget. Isn’t it better that you and I do it together?’ Sounded very reasonable to Asif.
Asif’s elder sister and Mimi’s mother had been raising a hue and cry over every little thing. Anjuman took it to her head that her brother’s wife should have her nose pierced, and Asif should give her a diamond studded nose-pin. Mimi let Asif handle that. Both of them discussed the situation and decided to largely ignore their comments and avoid unreasonable suggestions without being directly offensive. Asif seemed to rely a lot on her judgment, which Mimi appreciated. She knew she was wise for her age, and most men did not like that. They liked silly, simpering women who would cling to their words. Or worse, they would be charmed by wily women with devious minds. Mimi had seen enough, and that is one reason why she liked Asif. He had faults, of course, but Mimi thought they were acceptable. He had a good heart, and that was enough for the moment.
She remembered when her eldest brother’s wife had shown her Asif’s Facebook page, ‘He is so funny, Mimi. Just take a look! Says he has all A’s in everything except in his love life. There he has an F. Hee hee, isn’t it hilarious?’ Mimi had smiled, but somehow it didn’t appear funny to her. She still thought Asif shouldn’t have put such personal information on Facebook, but it pulled a string at her heart. She knew exactly how it felt to get an F in love. She wondered where Dipak was, and if he was still looking for a pretty face with a ton of money. Mimi’s family was very affluent and that turned out to be his main reason for pursuing her. Dipak was gone from her life forever, and Mimi had no intention of bringing him back.
Mimi recalled the handsome face she once held so dear and shuddered to think what might have happened if she had been married to Dipak. He was making advances on three girls at the same time, and Mimi was one of them. The incident taught Mimi a number of things. She promised herself that she would only marry someone she could trust, and would look beyond physical appearance. She may never have love, but she would also never feel humiliated or pitied. She realised that a good marriage needs understanding and compassion more than heedless love. The memory still hurt, though, and that’s why she had not cared about her family rejecting her suitors. Until Asif came along.

***
When finally Asif and Mimi met in person, it was the most unromantic situation possible. His flight was delayed, and he arrived three hours late. After assuring his nervous mother, a pouting elder sister, and an over-enthusiastic younger one, he came to his future in-laws’ house around 9 p.m. along with two uncles and a cousin. He looked tired and harassed, and wore a purple shirt and khaki pants. Mimi’s parents were a bit awkward, but her brothers were very cordial as they had heard excellent reports about Asif from their sisters in New York.
While the others were talking, Mimi observed her intended husband surreptitiously. She almost smiled at his attire — he was so unpretentious. Obviously, he was more worried about keeping his engagement than his appearance. She noticed that he also looked at her once in a while, and realised with a jolt that he wished, just as she did, to talk to her, to be away from this crowd, just to be by themselves. Mimi was surprised at her own reaction — she had known this man for only a few months, and yet she longed to be with him. She admonished herself, ‘Just be careful, and don’t make another mistake.’ She tried to concentrate on the conversation and heard that they were discussing her kabin. Asif was saying, ‘Whatever you decide is fine with me. I won’t be able to pay it right away, though, as I am still pursuing higher studies.’
Her eldest brother Muhib said, ‘Of course, we understand as much. Will ten lakh be too much for you?’
At this point, her mother spoke up. ‘I won’t allow my daughter’s kabin to be less than fifteen.’
‘Fifteen!’ someone in Asif’s party gulped. ‘Fifteen lakh is too much!’
Everyone in the room shifted uncomfortably while Gulshan Ara sat straight and glared at Asif with animosity. Mimi was about to pinch her brother Moin when Asif said in a quiet voice, ‘Whatever you say, I will accept. It’s your daughter’s marriage, after all.’
Even Mimi gaped at him. As everybody in the room started talking once again, Mimi realised that Asif’s move was the best possible strategy. Gulshan Ara was totally taken in. She would not complain any more. And Asif was not in serious trouble because he did not have to pay the amount right away. She didn’t know how Asif’s family would take it, though. She promised herself that she would always try to make things easier for him. He didn’t have any idea how rich her family was. He wanted to marry her.

***
The wedding reception was held at a posh restaurant in Dhanmondi. Asif sat on the stage and watched his bride smile and greet the guests who approached them. She was as beautiful as a fairy, thought Asif, and could not help remembering the other girl he had so much hoped to marry. He gave himself a mental shake. Tania was beautiful, but Mimi was intelligent, kind, and sensible as well. He also knew that Tania would have created a lot of problems with his mother and sisters. Even though his elder sister still grumbled, his mother and Laiju were completely won over by Mimi.
Then Asif saw his Chhoto Chacha approaching the stage and he said a swift prayer so that nothing disastrous happened. His uncle addressed Mimi, ‘The others are saying that the food is good. But I felt it was aida.’ He looked triumphantly at Asif, as if saying, ‘You can’t fool me!’ Mimi also looked at Asif, not knowing what aida meant. Asif hastily said, ‘That was kachchi biriyani, chacha. It is the standard food for weddings in Dhaka. But we will have a reception in Barisal too. You can have your menu there.’ Chhoto Chacha nodded, looking pleased. ‘You have a pretty wife,’ he said approvingly, ‘much prettier than your mother ever was.’ He walked away. Asif heaved a sigh of relief.
Mimi whispered, ‘What is aida?’
‘I’ll explain later,’ mumbled an embarrassed Asif. How could he say that aida meant food that has been half-eaten by somebody else? Basically, it suggested that the guests had not been properly treated.
Then came Asif’s friends. They were all laughing and joking. Asif was quite popular among his friends and they seemed happy about Asif’s marriage and his choice of bride. Mimi had very few friends present — understandable, since she did her bachelor’s in the US.
A heavily bejeweled fat lady appeared before them, and Mimi introduced her to Asif. ‘This is my Chhoto Mami. Mama couldn’t come as he is in Singapore right now.’
Asif smiled and greeted her. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you,’ the lady said with a broad smile like a crocodile. ‘You are not very handsome, are you? But then, Rahat was very handsome, and it didn’t help us at all.’ She sighed, then added, ‘Hopefully, you’ll take good care of Mimi.’
Mimi grimaced as she walked away. ‘Sorry about that.’
‘Who is Rahat?’ asked a puzzled Asif.
‘My ex-brother-in-law. He was Mishu apu’s husband,’ replied Mimi briefly. ‘I’ll tell you later.’
‘You and I both seem to have a fine lot of relatives,’ observed a smiling Asif. Mimi smiled too. ‘It seems so, doesn’t it?’ They smiled at each other and Asif knew that they would be working as a team. Their relatives wouldn’t be able to make a rift like they did in his parents’ case. His mother always felt neglected by his father because of the unmanageable brood of brothers and sisters he had. Besides, he thought both his and Mimi’s siblings were better than his father’s. He thought of Tania again, and wished he had never met her at all. And then he realised that it did not really matter. She was already a distant memory. Only within a few days, Mimi had been able to dispel that cloud of bitterness. Asif started to comprehend what Sahara had meant by marriage being a life-long commitment.
Mimi sat contentedly. She liked her husband, she thought. Fair enough. He was sometimes a little rash, but good-natured. He had also shown himself to be sensitive to her needs. She remembered the scuffle over her wedding saree. They got it from Mansha. It was quite expensive and Mimi did not want to buy it even though she liked it very much. Asif, however, insisted that at least the main wedding saree should be costly, so that everybody was content. The only person who resented it was Asif’s best friend’s wife Ina. Ina pouted and poked her husband, ‘You didn’t get me a saree from Mansha!’ But that also showed that Asif’s logic was right — it stopped people from making insulting comments as if Mimi was getting married to a pauper.
They still had a long way to go, thought Asif. He would be leaving next week and this week was packed with events. He wondered if he would get any time alone with Mimi. They would be going to Barisal the very next day, and God knows how chaotic that would be. Chhoto Chacha was only too eager to make things difficult. Hopefully, all that would pass and he would go back to the US to get things ready for Mimi. He wondered how long it would take to process the visa for Mimi. He didn’t want to be separated from her for too long.
His thoughts flew to Tania, probably for one last time. Her guardians had wanted him to get an American passport, and apparently the only eligibility of the guy she married was his passport. He had been in the US for many years and worked as a data entry officer at some company. He was also ten years older than Tania. As a prospective bridegroom, Asif was much better, but to Tania’s relatives, or to Tania herself, an American passport was more important than character or qualifications. Asif glanced at Mimi. He wondered if he should post photos on Facebook, but found that the urge was gone. He was really happy, and did not feel that he had to announce the news to the world. All those who mattered to him were mostly present at the wedding. The few that were not could wait to hear from him personally.

***
Anjuman sat in one corner, still resentful at the turn of events. She looked at her kids on stage with their uncle, nodding and smiling at their new aunt. Anjuman wondered how nobody could see what she saw — her only brother slowly moving away from them. He had seemed distant even before marriage. She remembered what Laiju had said a few days ago: ‘He is not the same guy who left Bangladesh 4 years ago. He has changed. He has been leading a different life, his friends and peers are of a different sort. His world has changed, apa. He couldn’t be happy with someone like Kakon. Don’t you see?’
No, Anjuman did not see. All she saw was a rich and beautiful girl taking her only brother away from them. Her resentment rose higher. She had tried to derail her own husband — to move him away from the influence of his nagging mother. But she had failed. The old woman had died only recently, and her husband still cried like a baby over the loss. And here was this girl, a mere chit of a girl, accomplishing what she could not in nine years. ‘If only it was Kakon!’ thought Anjuman wistfully, their brother would have always been theirs. And she did not see why he would be unhappy. What was the duty of a wife? To cook, bear children and maintain the house. Their mother did all this, she herself was doing the same; what more could Asif want? And in spite of all her good looks, what could Mimi give him that Kakon could not?
Somewhere at the back of her mind, Anjuman felt cheated. She felt that her brother got something she never even dreamt of. She saw the light of a different life on Laiju’s face, or even on her mother’s, a light she could not share. She thought of the flat in Rampura where she had so far lived with her husband and children. The 1050 square feet she had been so proud of owning suddenly seemed to have diminished into nothing. Owning a flat in Dhaka did not seem so great anymore as she wondered what kind of a house Asif and his wife would have in the US. She had heard about the riches of Mimi’s family — their palatial house in their home district, the fact that they owned the restaurant in which they held the ceremony — and felt angry that Asif had not said anything about their wealth. No wonder they had ‘bought’ him.
With her fierce gaze fixed on the newly married couple, she remembered her own hasty marriage nine years ago in Barisal, the ill-will of her husband’s family, the job she had to leave because her husband wanted her to be at home, the miscarriage with her first child, and other disappointments that had turned her into a bitter woman. Even though she did not want to bear any grudges against her only brother and his wife, she could not help muttering, ‘I pray that you go through all that I went through, all the trials and tribulations that come with marriage. Then you’ll know how much I suffered.’
Hamida Khatun noticed the tear-stained face of her elder daughter from a distance and heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Thank God she realises that they are happy, and she is praying for them,’ she thought, and smiled with misty eyes. Her thoughts then flew to the future where she saw herself surrounded by grandchildren. She did not see even the flicker of any dark shadow on the bright stage where her son gazed lovingly at his bride.

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