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Wedding, Pakistani Style: Restraint And Joy

The bride, Rukhsana Gul, 25, is one of 10 sisters — in fact, she's the sister-in-law of Sajid Mahmood, who manages NPR's Islamabad bureau.
John Poole
/
NPR
The bride, Rukhsana Gul, 25, is one of 10 sisters — in fact, she's the sister-in-law of Sajid Mahmood, who manages NPR's Islamabad bureau.

When Pakistanis marry, custom requires that the bride and groom behave with a sense of decorum, despite the joy of the occasion.

Along the Grand Trunk Road, this bride, Rukhsana Gul, 25, is one of 10 sisters -- in fact, she's the sister-in-law of Sajid Mahmood, who manages NPR's Islamabad bureau. She wed Mehran Shahzad, 27, who works in the security detail that escorts the prime minister.

Pomp And Circumstance In The Streets

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As the festivities get under way, a police band made up of Shahzad's colleagues heralds the groom's arrival, wending its way down a rubble-strewn alleyway crowded with wedding-goers.

Children dart among the musicians, diving for fluttering five-rupee notes tossed into the air by the groom's all-male entourage.

The jaunty music contrasts with the almost expressionless face of the groom, as he walks through a shower of rose petals. Pakistan's conservative culture requires a sense of restraint, even on the most joyous occasions.

Awaiting Shahzad 's arrival, the bride is equally reserved. But she's also wearing 10 pounds of crimson and gold material that makes up her heavily beaded bridal gown. She barely moves in the 100-degree heat.

The Bride On Display

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On the sweltering rooftop where Gul is perched like a statue, an industrial fan provides little relief from the heat. But she is stoic about being on display for the throngs of guests.

"The bride should stand out," Gul says, arranging her hands, which are covered in tattoos of red henna. A thin gold ring with a diameter wider than a silver dollar dangles from her nose.

"This is our tradition," she says.

But then, the veneer drops like melting mascara.

"Actually," she admits, "I don't usually wear makeup at all -- or a nose ring."

And as for the clothes?

"I wish I could rip them off," she says, laughing.

Gul had been a breadwinner for her family, working in a pharmaceutical factory. But her earnings have vanished now that she's getting married. Wazirajan, her mother and a widow, chokes back tears at losing her daughter -- the seventh of her girls to marry.

"My daughters were my backbone," Wazirajan says. "They fed me. Normally in our tradition, women don't work like that. The sons do. But they are my sons.

This is the happiest day, and the saddest."

'His And Her' Wedding Parties

In this sex-segregated celebration, women assemble on one rooftop and men gather across the street on another -- where they eat first. I find the groom cloistered in a sitting room of a neighbor's house, surrounded by male relatives. His aspirations on his wedding day are for children yet unborn.

"I want to spend a lot of time with my children, give them a good education and maybe a little better life than my own," Shahzad says.

Pragmatism is also at work on these occasions, although it's out of public view. A formal contract awards Gul roughly $3,000 in gold, and 500 square yards of land, in case the marriage doesn't work.

But as giddy children swarm, and guests dine on a simple Pakistani feast under color-splashed canopies, it is the promise of a joyful future, and the unbroken cycle of life, that abides.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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