22 February 2011

Expectations of a Desi (Bengali) Bride

Being married to the oldest son of the household in a Bangladeshi traditional family put me in a lot of mental stress in the beginning of my newly married life as the oldest "bhabi".

I sat patiently in the floral seat in my heavy wedding dress with excessive gold jewelry and makeup in front of all the unfamiliar guests that stared at me and probably asked about what kind of girl i really was. What was my full name? Where did i come from? Have i completed my studies? If i was really fair or was the white heavy makeup hiding my dark skin? What did my parents do for a living? The questions floated around the banquet as I struggled to follow the photographer's direction in the extremely hot bright camera light that was shot out towards my face as to how i should tilt my head or how wide i should smile, as if i was a moving mannequin.

As my distant relatives came one by one to greet me and talk to me for a few moments they gave me random advice about the Do's and Dont's of a bride. It all made me confused and nervous.

Do's: "keep your ears open at all times. Keep track of what goes around you and what every family member is up to. Everyone expects YOU, as the "boro bou" (basically first wife) to know everything."
Don'ts: "Listen to your elders. Do not try to correct them. Do NOT talk back to anybody."

(on my mind, I was thinking, "Isn't being myself enough?" since it was a LOVE marriage.)
So after the the endless fancy wedding ceremonies that made both sides of the family have empty pockets, it was time for me to meet my husband's huge family in Comilla, Bangladesh. A place in Bangladesh that i have never been to before. It was quite calming compared to the busy and noisy city of Dhaka. Fewer people, better air, and more cows.

After the 6 hour long bumpy journey, we finally arrive at the Comilla house where the entire groom's side was waiting. I was almost car sick, had a killer headache from the lack of sleep and stress from the night before. I somehow managed to wear my heavy wedding saree all by myself for the first time ever in less than 3 minutes and jumped in the car for the journey. Didn't have time to do my hair or put exccessive makeup, just some natural colored lipstick and eyeliner.

When i stepped out of the car, instead of welcomed greetings i suddenly saw frowns and a load of disappointment on each relative's face. I was terrified, because i knew their face transformed from excitement to shame by just looking at me, the new bride.

The aunt came and stared at me pecularly saying, "My God, her hair is a mess!"
On the other side, i had noticed 2 professional bengali cameramen taping us getting out of the car. "great" i thought. " I look ugly, AND i am being taped." I just wanted to shoot myself.

I wanted to justify the reason for my current condition. That i didn't know i had to sit in the parlor for 4hours AGAIN in the morning just to impress the entire small village. That i had a headache and was probably on the way to having a very nasty cold. That i had no sleep and i just wanted to rest, and be with my husband.
I remembered one of my relatives telling me NOT to talk back especially to your elders. It will leave a bad impression. So i stayed quiet.

If only i knew that i needed artificial makeup and a fancy hairdo even after the wedding.
Luckily everybody in the house calmed down after the entire traditional welcoming was over. Throwing flowers at the door, cutting the ribbon to our new house, feeding sweets and lemonade, and videosessions of us in the flowery wedding bed. Those things i actually liked.

All formalities were done. And so the next expectation came across. I was asked several times by my father-in-law, "Where are your gold bengals? Where is your wrist watch? A bride should always have jewelry on her." Something i was never used to wearing. I loved the simple style. Gold and i did not go well.
I had to be girly girly i guess. I realized that the women around me were better dressed than i was. They put on their heaviest gold sets, sequenting outfits, and so on.

I got this one from the women, "You need to eat more honey, look at you, you are like a stick."
Traditional bengalis really despise slim girls.

I've realized I had to try to look better for my new relatives and in-laws.. Apparently it was much harder to impress them than my husband. My husband loved me the way i was. But i needed to look nice for the others as well, for the time being, or else i will explode of taking in so much critisizm.
Besides, i was always a girl who never really got much criticism before. I was the only child who everybody loved. So it was a bit different for me.

Then came the introduction of the elders. Everytime i met respected elders in the family i had to touch their feet for blessings. It's another well-known tradition that must be done. One time after meeting them, another time before saying goodbye.

Despite all that, the entire family was terribly nice to me. They never let me do a single thing. They kept saying, "No sit sit, you are the 'bou', you can't do any work. Relax and be with your husband."
Oh one thing i forgot to mention. I had to wear traditional clothes. Pants were absolutely forbidden.
There was obviously always a choice. I had freedom. But it was better to stay on the traditonal side or else i would get the bad impression.. that i am an american-bengali girl whos parents had forgotten to teach their daughter about bengali tradition.

Believe me, there are much valuable things about tradition i know. I count these as trivial things. But to those Bangladeshi elders, this was a very very big thing.


  1. OMG! You are an only child too! Finally! Someone that doesn't have siblings! Me and you have so much in common! I'm also an American Bengali and I live in Florida.

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