The Reluctant Bride: An intimate tale of love

Bangladeshi author Maria Chaudhuri shares an intimate tale of love against odds and a charmed wedding.

Maria Chaudhuri Maria Chaudhuri
मार्च 07, 2014

I consider myself to be a modern woman. Which means I don't believe in spirits and I certainly don't believe in fairytales. So when I met Asif, shortly after my tumultuous and failed marriage to Yameen, I thanked my lucky stars and vowed that I would leave marriage out of my relationship with Asif. Almost two years passed in glorious harmony. Asif and I walked the streets of New York, hand-in-hand, simply happy to be in each other's presence. He worked on Wall Street and shopped at Saks 5th Avenue. I worked in non-profit and never really shopped. But it hardly made a difference to the camaraderie we shared. I'll never forget how much we laughed at nonsensical things or how good it felt to dance the nights away. And then came the winter when we decided to travel together to Bangladesh, where we would finally meet each other's families. Marriage was not on the forefront on either of our minds but we were both acutely aware of the implications of making our relationship known to our parents. Bengali families are fiercely traditional and staunch advocates of marriage and ours' were no exceptions.   

Still, nothing could have prepared me for the pace at which things moved after we got to Dhaka. Introductions were simply formalities that needed to be completed. Within hours of having met Asif's parents, they had invited my mother for dinner where lengthy discussions ensued on how to plan a wedding in a week. I was in a state of panic. I begged Asif to reason with his parents - to buy us some more time. But Asif, calm and supportive as he was, had been infected with the festive germ. 'You know I want to spend the rest of my life with you,' he said, 'So what's in a ceremony, especially if it makes our families happy?' I tried to throw his own logic back at him. 'Exactly. What's in a ceremony? We are and will be together, wedding or no wedding.' He stared back at me, silently, and I could see the confusion in his eyes. I realized, in that moment, that while I kept expecting Asif to understand my painful past, I was doing little to peek into my future with him. We came to a compromise; we were to be engaged in three days time as well as set a date for the wedding within a year.

The engagement was a casual affair and I was rather admiring of the glittering stone on my finger on the way back to New York. But it was eight months later, when we were on our way back to Dhaka for the wedding ceremony that the reality of it really hit me hard. Our suitcases were overstuffed with wedding paraphernalia that various family members had requested for reasons unfathomable to us. What was one to do with eight boxes of saffron and thirty different shades of eye shadow? The tension only mounted upon reaching Dhaka. All sorts of wedding planners, florists and caterers flocked around our home everyday. 'Just relax,' my mother tried to soothe me, 'It's all taken care of. You don't have to lift a finger.' How was I to explain that I was not worried about the flowers or the food? I was afraid of this marriage. Once it happened, it could either fail or succeed. And I only wanted it to succeed.

On the morning of the wedding, I woke up, eyes stinging from lack of sleep. It was a warm autumn day with clear skies and crisp sunshine, the kind that always reminded me of the first days of school after a long summer break. I had been made to sleep with henna on my hands, which was now caked upon my palms like dry mud. A woman I didn't recognize came forward with a bottle of olive oil and lemon juice and started peeling the henna from my hands, revealing a complex pattern of leaves and vines deeply etched in blood-orange bright. Something in the color of the henna touched a chord in my soul that I'd been too hesitant to touch…until now. This chord - it was sturdier than hope and sweeter than expectation. It was the ability to see the old as new; to experience the same things in a completely different light.

Ripples of nervous energy rose up my spine when the Kazi (a marriage registrar who is authorized by the state to perform marital rites) arrived at midday. Friends and relatives were trooping in and soon I was informed that the groom-to-be had arrived as well. A group of cousins trailed me, carrying the ceremonial red sari and fresh flowers for my hair. Then I caught sight of Asif amidst the sea of faces. He stood quietly, surrounded by his own family and friends; he looked lost as they buzzed around him in loud spurts of exclamations and instructions. 'Asif, sit here next to your father!' 'No wait, Asif don't walk around…you must not see the bride before the Nikka (marriage ceremony) is complete!'

Seeing Asif's face - the wonder and the terror in it - grounded me in a why I could not have imagined. I looked around the sun-filled rooms of my childhood home, throbbing with laughter and bursting with the amorous scents of lilies and jasmines and I realized how foolish I had been to have almost let this day slip by unnoticed. Because nothing about this day was a reenactment of what had happened to me on another wedding day years before. Just because the sun hides or pales on certain days do not mean that it has lost its strength forever. Like the millions of cells in our bodies, love regenerates in our hearts again and again. And for the first time I let gratitude replace the fear that had gripped me for so long.

I bathed myself with my mother's sandalwood soap, wrapped the red silk sari around my body and tucked a fresh jasmine into my hair. The face that stared back at me in the mirror was lucid, alive, and confident. I opened the door to my room. The Kazi spoke in a deep, deliberate voice. 'Do you take Asif Ahmed to be your lawfully wedded husband?'

'I do.'

'Then repeat Kabul (I accept) three times.'

'Kabul, Kabul, Kabul…'

'Miss, I cannot hear you,' said the Kazi.

My eyes roamed to the back of the room and fell on my mother. Her eyes were closed, her face upturned, her hands cupped in a gesture of supplication. I could taste her tension, sense her love and I felt cocooned by the warmth of her prayer, her plea to the universe to hold me tight and keep me safe. And I did feel safe, completely safe. Because old loves transmute themselves into new ones and old wounds never hurt again once they heal. Like a rainbow snake, my skin would re-emerge in a pattern of bright and beautiful colors, no matter how many times I shed it.

'Kabul, Kabul, Kabul,' I said loudly enough to bring a smile to the Kazi's face.
Maria Chaudhuri's memoir Beloved Strangers (Bloomsbury) was released this January.


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