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Of weddings and dowry

Huzaima Bukhari

“Choosing elements for your wedding day should be fun, but these choices won’t make any difference in the stuff that matters. For better or worse, you’ll end that day married to your partner, and that’s the truly exciting part” ―Rachel Hollis, an American motivational speaker and blogger

The union of two souls is always an occasion to celebrate, not because a stamp of legality is affixed on this relationship but for the reason that a whole lineage of human beings would probably be emerging from this association. A family, a clan, a tribe, in fact, a whole group of living persons is expected to sprout and bloom with the meeting of a man and a woman. This ensures the continuity of mankind marking identities of the males and females and furthering the process of procreation. So why should this occasion not merit glorification and the new alliance made public?

Whether a marriage is arranged by the elders or the boy and girl happen to choose one another to spend the rest of their lives together, the fact of the matter is that it is normally followed by a lot of fanfare, especially in our Pakistani milieu. In other cultures, too, weddings are celebrated lavishly and many a times lead to sucking anyone’s finances dry. Whether it is the east or the west, weddings are generally considered expensive events that require meticulous preparations—from the guest list to securing a decent venue, from catering to selecting the flowers for decoration, from music to the costumes of the bride and groom—each aspect has to be carefully planned. After all, it is not every day that a person gets married! Having justified the reasons for commemorating a man-woman union, it does not mean that matters are allowed to be blown out of proportion. This means that there is a dire need to maintain an equilibrium and a sensible level of prudence with respect to expenditure.

We live in a society that has a predominantly larger number of people below the poverty line than there are well-off. Over the years a small percentage comprising the middle class is fast vanishing as it has either merged into the poverty category or moved up to join the affluent group. Consequently, there are two highly observable wedding scenarios—the extreme extravagant upper class spectacle and two, the copycat of one belonging to the lower class. It may be noted that the word ‘class’ is not in relation to education or moral values but in terms of wealth.

Now those who are blessed with extraordinary fortune attained by whatever means tend to flaunt it during the wedding of their children. Celebrations commence long before the actual date with dholki (singing and dancing) sessions varying from a few to several, depending on the circle of relatives and friends. These are followed by other ceremonial rituals like mayun (chickpea flour plus turmeric), mehndi (henna), nikah (formal nuptials), valima (groom’s feast), mukalawa (return of bride to parents’ home). Rich foods are essential ingredients of all these festivities and of course the expensive designer dresses of the would-be bride and groom as well as the attendants what to talk of the guests who are compelled to participate eagerly with expensive gifts and of course in new attire each time. So it is not just the wedding home that is indulging in expenditure but even the friends and relatives attending different functions. Adding insult to injury, heavy costs are incurred in arranging the bride’s trousseau that could include furniture, linen, utensils, crockery, cutlery and even a vehicle or two.

There is no limit to the way of expressing one’s happiness when one’s child is about to enter a new phase in his/her life as it is also a point in the parents’ life of having attained a landmark. The overwhelming sense of joy could force one to spend more and more. Here is where restraint needs to be exercised. Whatever is done or spent could be imitated, could invoke competitive spirit, could cause envy or jealousy and even disgust in other people’s hearts and mind, especially those who cannot afford such flamboyance. This particular class of opulent people are the ones who set examples for the less privileged.

The other scenario is where parents of poor girls go to extreme limits to meet the demands of their in-laws in the form of dowry and entertainment of a large number of the groom’s guests, known as baraati. They beg, borrow or steal in order to satiate the never ending lustful claims just to marry off their daughters and allow them to lead a happy life. The problem is that in such families there are usually more than two girls which means that the financial crunch is bound to occur repeatedly.

In a country where vulgar display of riches is the forte of the rich and mighty, it is important to regularize these occasions and put an end to ostentation. Lessons can be drawn from the Memon community that enforces same type of simple, invitation cards, nikah ceremony in the mosque and food for all segments of the community, whether rich or poor to eliminate all forms of inequality. Sons and daughters should be wedded with prayers and blessings for a prosperous future that is achievable not on the basis of wealth but love and loyalty. This would help in redressing the problems of the poorer lot whose burden can be reduced to a great extent when expectations are brought down to the minimum.

One grand function is more than sufficient for celebrating a wedding. People would be relieved from attending multiple ceremonies and the money that is mercilessly squandered could be put to a much better use. The reality is that the amount expended on one rich wedding can be used to marry off at least fifty poor girls. One is aghast at the rich-poor divide which is ever widening and that is giving rise to a society fast drifting towards a sickness, the cure of which is only in equity and compassion.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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