Having just come from, presumably, my last wedding of the 2016-17 season, it is difficult not to dissect marriages and weddings in upper-middle class Dhaka to its core existential values.
Weddings, stripped down to their bare bones, are interesting microcosms. And when I say “weddings,” I don’t mean the penultimate (also presumably) event thrown by the bride’s family, but the whole week-long, or month-long, process which nowadays involves the likes of mehendi nights, qawwali nights, rongkhelas, and proposals on top of the more conventional holuds, boubhats, and firanis.
And within this microcosm, within the spectrum of lower-upper-middle class to upper-middle and upper class, the wealth of many are judged by the number of these events they have, the food they serve, the number of guests, and the venue. I’m sure there are other criteria, but I’m no expert.
But it’s interesting nonetheless: Start with the holud rehearsals (is there alcohol? Then you’re at one end of the spectrum) then lead up to each event (Westin? One group. Police Convention Hall? Another spectrum altogether). How much skin are the women showing? Have they donned saris with sleeveless blouses? That’s one indicator. Are the men wearing moccasins without socks? That’s another.
Are there enough people there to render it an un-intimate gathering of people, 90% of whom the bride and groom don’t even know? Are people leaving as soon as they’re eating? Queue the Noakhali jokes. What about the cars? Toyotas and Kias? Not bad, but hardly the elite, more the hoi polloi. Beamers and Mercs, Beamers and AISD-ians, that’s where the sweetness lies.
Do you find yourself freezing in the cold of MP Hostel in your custom-made suit imported from Saville Row? You’ve hit the big time. That’s where I found myself, standing in the middle, looking towards the bride and groom seated on this enormous stage, in the middle of this enormous field, with nine chandeliers lit up in splendorous glory behind them, four on each side, one in the middle.
This hedonistic display of excess, in a way, highlights a beautiful co-existence between hypocrisy and togetherness that is present everywhere, but never more so than it is in Bangladesh, never in all its stark contrast and clarity as at a wedding thrown for the daughter of, and by, an excessively rich businessman
It was lovely, in good taste. Plastered across the multitudinous people were peoples of different ages, classes, educational levels, and political prowess, of those who speak solely in English and those who don’t, those who speak both and like chameleons move sideways, groups of hair-highlighted, auntie-bashing, weekend-party, aluminium foil-friendly, dress-wearing youth, of early-30s, weed-smoking clutching-on-to-their-heyday non-youths, of overweight in-laws and near-far-relations barely able to walk in their jewellery, tackily asking for a quote-unquote “selfie,” of the barely comprehensible, barely audible, barely-hearing elderly, overly dressed in their Jodhpur/Prince suits which they acquired while they were either killing Pakistanis during the war or killing business rivals right after.
This does not come out of judgement; this does not come out of some revelation which highlights how clearly the oft-referred to versions of the American high school manifests itself in the upper echelons of the classist society we continue to, inevitably, occupy space in.
This hedonistic display of excess -- that is not to say one man’s “reasonable” isn’t another man’s “excess”anyway -- in a way, highlights a beautiful co-existence between hypocrisy and togetherness that is present everywhere, but never more so than it is in Bangladesh, never in all its stark contrast and clarity as at a wedding thrown for the daughter of, and by, an excessively rich businessman.
It is capitalism at its best in a nation that is constantly struggling, under the thumb of its religio-nationalist identity, to define itself.
In a conversation with someone I met there, who, in all likelihood, I will never see or talk to again, said that this kind of event only served to highlight, among other things, the resilience of the Bangladeshi people.
Which, other people, he continued, could come off of the worst terrorist attacks in history and have a wedding with such fanfare and aplomb, in such excess that, in comparison with the countless suffering in the rest of the country, it is almost sickening?
Out of politeness, I, of course, agreed. But,the resilience that the Bangladeshi people are so famous for, isn’t that more a result of a constant assault of disappointment and abuse that we have either become used to or become apathetic to?
Maybe when one is seated with one leg over the other, looking across an expanse of unfamiliar faces, one reads too much into the simple of act of two families coming together. ’Tis but a wedding, ’tis but for enjoyment, ’tis but for the whimsies of two people (and their respective parents) who wish to have a few days, why not a month, that solely celebrates them individually, and as a pair.
But, if you ever find yourself at a wedding, without a friend, searching for a thing to do, find yourself a spot with a clear view of the couple. Consider it a social experiment: Look at their faces as each person with family in tow comes to take photos with them, dressed in their semi-best, posed with their smiles.
Look closely at the eyes and mouths of the bride and groom, and you’ll see, by the time it’s their hundredth, or maybe two hundredth time posing, right after they’ve eaten, too late to even enjoy it, tired and weary, craving a bed, that the smiles, much like the facade Bangladesh has created for itself, slowly begin to fade and crack.
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.