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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Until death do them part

Update : 06 Nov 2014, 08:18 PM

When two people decide to spend their life in holy matrimony, it is one of the most joyous occasions, not to be undertaken lightly.

Marriage is a symbol of the joining of two spirits, two hearts spiritually bound. Whether a couple unites through the ritual of their religion, utters traditional vows, quotes love poems, or writes their promises to one another, a marriage is traditionally the ultimate union in our society between a man and a woman.

Then why has the recent marriage between Bangladesh Railway Minister Mujibul Haque with Honofa Akther Rikta been discussed so much in the media? What is it about this particular union that has stirred so much controversy?

Well, for starters: The minister is 67 years of age and his bride Rikta is 29 years old.

Why would a younger woman marry a much older man? This is an age-old question pondered by many social scientists and psychologists, and perhaps even by the jilted lover who lost his beloved to a much older suitor on a moonlit night.

Two consenting adults do marry for all kinds of reasons. Some women just want to be taken care of. Sometimes one may choose an older guy who can provide emotional and financial security. Often in Bangladesh, the girl’s family agrees to a marriage where there is huge age-gap and the girl has no say in it.

According to Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, the editor-in-chief of Manab Zamin: “I cannot recall a wedding that has aroused so much interest in our country… at least six television channels were beaming the gaye holud ceremony live on the day the special tribunal pronounced a death sentence, triggering protests.”

Reportedly, this is the minister’s first marriage, for he was so busy with his political career that he hardly had any time to think of marriage. I have read a couple of reports which say that he has very humble beginnings; the son of a farmer who went to university and obtained a law degree. Not a mean task to be accomplished by a farmer’s son. We ought to give him credit for having ambition, and making it big in the political arena.

A lot of people felt that since he is marrying this late, he should have kept the affair low-key. That’s not him! He went the whole nine yards with his marriage celebration. He wanted the media to record the joyful event for the public to view. In keeping up with the wedding tradition, and to get into the mood of celebration, some of the journalists who covered the event were also wearing yellow punjabis on the day of his gaye holud.

On the day of the wedding, the groom’s party consisted of about 700 people, and major intersections of the Dhaka/Comilla highways were decorated with festoons and flowers. Wearing a silk pink sherwani, a turban encrusted with stones, and glittery wedding nagra shoes, the minister looked very majestic – much like a Moghul emperor.

A couple of days ago I was watching a music scene from the 1946 film Shahjahan (KL Saigal dressed as the emperor, singing “Gham Diye Mustaquil”) and upon seeing the minister dressed up as a groom, Shahjahan came to my mind. No doubt the minister went all-out, he was beaming with delight.

The bride wore a traditional shimmering red and gold Benarasi sari, and was decked in chunky gold jewellery as the convention calls for it. Prior to the marriage ceremony, the minister described his would-be bride as a simple village girl, one who is God-fearing and doesn’t go anywhere without wearing a burqa.

On the day of the wedding, he signed a Kabin Nama after paying Tk500,001 as denmohor. Then the minister had to pay another Tk100,001 to his sister-in-law, who barricaded the entrance to the bridal venue, refusing him entry. No tradition was left unattended. Yet, people weren’t deterred from passing judgment on the bride’s age and how sullen her face looked on the day of her gaye holud.

Some were in support are saying things like: “What is wrong if the marriage is consensual? Why do you damn marriages merely for an age-gap?”

In some reports there was a comparison about the age-gap with two other former political leaders of Bangladesh. Someone said if former president HM Ershad could marry someone 30 years his junior then what’s wrong with minister Mujibul Haque marrying Rikta, who is 38 years younger than him?

Another probed how former foreign minister Abdus Samad Azad married a 35-year-old woman when he was 70. So why can’t Mujibul Haque do the same?

Here in the US I have heard many stories over the years about why certain women prefer much older men than someone close to her age. The stereotypical explanation is that these women are gold-diggers, looking for rich older men who can purchase the latest high-end Louis Vuitton handbag or Manolo Blahnik shoes from Barney’s in New York for them. It would stereotypically appear that these older men are equally willing, ready, and happy to shower their much younger wives with anything they want.

Some critics can claim that the minister is just following a tradition set up by his predecessors in politics, and is simply following in their footsteps. Besides, we do not really know what motivated him.

In matters of the heart who are we to judge someone? 

According to other reports that I have read, the AL’s reaction was apparently mixed. Some supported the minister in his choice for marrying a girl who is 38 years younger than him. Some said “better late than never.” Another comment I read was: “Sometimes, older is better. With age comes experience.”

Other party leaders thought he should have toned down the fanfare to a bare minimum and kept the media out of it.

Be that as it may, the minister sought Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s approval before the wedding and he very proudly told journalists, “I went to get my leader’s blessings yesterday. She prayed so that all goes well during my wedding … the party leaders are happy … the people are happy … and they have blessed me with their love.”

There you go. The people have spoken. The boubhat (walima) will be on November 14 at a hall in the National Parliament Complex. I join the rest of the country in wishing the newlyweds a blissful life filled with happiness, until death do them part.

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