Brides and their discontents
Wedding season will commence in a few weeks, and my social media newsfeed will be flooded with photographs and videos of the various occasions attended by relatives, friends, and complete random strangers.
I do not have to know the bride or the groom personally or their guests or even anyone remotely involved in the biye-shaadi ghotonas to become interested in the various aspects of the events. The moment I hear or see ‘wedding’, I automatically experience profuse curiosity.
And I will passively listen in or read the social commentary relating to the biyebari, and actively add my two bits whenever and wherever I am able to. I stand guilty of matobbori, to say the least.
A lot of the ‘talk’ will focus on the wedding budgets and the bridal ensembles, and of course the mandatory ‘bou ke kemon lagchilo’. As with everything else, it is usually the women who must be viewed and judged, na?
Weddings are performative, regardless if it is a love marriage or an arranged one, or anything in between. The various occasions related to a wedding represent social spaces where affinal ties are established, and the bride and groom embody the relationship between two families. Therefore, it is understandable why the couple has to look their best, especially the bride.
Tradition narrates that brides are meant to don red sarees, adorn themselves with gold jewellery, and apply vibrant colours on their faces, hands and feet.
However, as modernization has heralded in personal identities and individual agencies, as courtships are no longer controlled by the murubbis, and as conspicuous consumption has become the order of the day, the arrangements of engagements and marriages have changed over time.
Needless to say, a fair bit of the ‘talk’ mentioned earlier is criticism. Brides can be objectionably simple orexorbitantly overdone. Which is preferable? What are the nuances associated with appearances on the wedding day?
There is one train of thought that espouses that marriage is essential to the self- worth of the female. Women attain respectability and status through marriage and subsequent childbirth, and their faces and figures are telling of their reproductive health, which in turn is an indication of how they will perform their roles as wife and mother.
There is also the belief that marriage is a boundary that determines a woman’s access to resources and class. Accordingly, brides are meant to participate in the wedding events and not challenge them, and they must be presented in a style denoting obedience and malleability.
Wedding celebrations demonstrate status too, and the onus falls on the bride to be heavily accessorised with as much as possible in keeping with her family’s or her in-laws (perceived) financial significance.
If power is the ability to make choices, and agency the means through which choices are implemented, then is a bride who chooses how she wishes to present herself on her wedding day an empowered woman?
Possibly. Or she may be overindulged, which is often conflated with being empowered. And it does not follow, that a bride who lets others decide how or what she should wear, does not have or will not have agency.
Our culture does not encourage women to directly speak up or speak out, and many have to work within existing cultural frameworks instead of outright rejecting them, in order to manoeuvre their way to acquiring agency.
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, brides are not only topics of conversation, they are also the bodies of communication.
As women are becoming more assertive about their personal choices regarding their appearances, the spectrum of biyer shaaj now ranges from categorically no make up and ornaments (or no shaaj) to elaborate maquillage and costumes often coordinated or themed with the décor.
There is dynamism in diversity, and it is the very existence of the spectrum that I find heartening.
More power to the brides I say!
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.