Social change is a complicated phenomenon. It is weird. Because it brings in its wake an erosion of values you’d have liked to preserve. It is frightening. Because it doesn’t move an inch the system you wish to wipe out.
Why does a society cling so stubbornly to cumbersome, decadent customs while losing grip on norms tangible and functional? Does this show a deep malaise, a tendency towards self-destruction?
Perhaps it does. I see no other explanation of the almost pathological perseverance and archaic glorification of the customs that go with marriage.
The other day I sat in a family get-together and listened to my grandmother talking of a new bahu in the family. All of a sudden she asked my sister-in-law “And your bari too must be lying in the trunk? What a waste. All those expensive clothes…”
It blew me up instead. “It’s the elders who impose such rotten, useless customs on us. The girl doesn’t ask for a bari and the boy doesn’t give a damn for anything except money. You can’t expect anything else from the elders-command-young-obey situation bur moth-eaten silk and scarred relationships.”
I shut up the moment I sensed everybody was rather taken aback at the unexpected outburst. I felt confused. I might have hurt my grandma – even though I was fuming at the system and not at her whom I respect as an elder, love as a grandmother and admire so much as a woman. She is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known in my life.
I have heard many women declaring the bari to be a total waste. Indeed, that’s what it is. But they say it much later. They never utter the truth before. In fact they kept pestering the groom’s family, ‘How many suits are you giving in Bari? Only seven! Mrs. Shah gave 21 suits to her bahu.’
The bride feels elated for a while as the guests praise the bari. But she doesn’t really care. And seldom wears them. Usually the dresses brought by the groom’s people don’t suit her taste. She prefers the jahez stuff bought by herself. However, heavy outfits from the jahez too are seldom, or never, worn by her.
And it’s not only jahez and bari but the string of ceremonies — ubtan, mehnd, shaadi, valima— that consume so much money and time, and consist of nothing but ostentations and frivolities (excepting nikah), and leave everybody exhausted (including the poor guests).
Let’s face the fact: to attend a wedding is the most boring task for many a invitees; to others an unpleasant duty; to the boy’s family a tough job; to the girl’s parents nothing short of a financial crisis.
How is it that a custom which is a nuisance to everybody is pursued so ardently by society? People know it’s all senseless, useless and to their own disadvantage. Yet this awareness doesn’t deter them from its practice.
You might say there are people who enjoy marriage ceremonies — the festivity, the feast and all. You bet. But if you conduct a poll you’d find the majority doesn’t like it. And there is a substantial number of young people who simply hate it and wish it would go away — the hassle, the headache. If only wishes were horses.
Horses or no horses, it’s time we put reins to our irrational behaviour, check archaic practices, discard conventions that serve no purpose instead harm us.
And it’s no one but the young who can take a stand against it. Particularly the boys. If only the boys weren’t that dumb when it comes to marriage, their own or anyone else’s. The elders are beyond hope. They are too resistant to change. Too weak to face the truth.
So it’s only us— the women… against the rest of the world.