I was like “Uh, Friday sounds, uh… wait, let me pray about that.”
Amazingly, that was taken as a yes, and as my heart pounded the meeting continued with a flurry of Urdu and Punjabi, interspersed with a few words of colonial English, and occasional glances in my direction.
Finally, after a few minutes, Rana turned to me and said, “Daniel, we’ll need $1700.”
(That was no problem, except I only had $400 on me. You see, I was gonna be in Pakistan for 3 weeks, and I didn’t think anything could possibly happen, even if we decided to get married, before the first 2, at which time my next paycheck would be in the bank. It wasn’t that I had only brought $400- I only had $400 to my name.
…the day I left from Weslaco, the imam of our mosque, who was also from Pakistan, called me to his house. He gave me $3000 to give to his brother. You’re probably thinking terrorist funding, right?)
“OK, I’ll be right back.”
I went back to my room in Rana’s house and did what any man in my situation would do (assuming another man has ever been in my situation): I borrowed $1300 from my friend’s brother’s money and added it to my own. Hey, I swore to Allah I’d put it all back as soon as I gotmy salary. What was I gonna do, tell everyone I came all the way to Pakistan to get married with no money? It would have made a mockery of me and my host.
The wedding was on.
There was a lot of shopping. From the little anyone decided to translate, I gathered there were going to be several ceremonies. For some, I was supposed to buy my own outfit, for others my future in-laws were to buy outfits for me. And vice versa from their side. And of course, the gold.
If you’re not from Africa or Asia, you’ve probably never seen real gold, or certainly not in any large amount. Well, the gold bazaar in Lahore is basically a thousand or so shops that don’t sell anything under 22-carat (I’d barely seen 18-carat in the U.S.). It’s a strange market feature of Pakistan. Everything is sold in only one place. Gold is sold in the gold market and nowhere else. There is no other place in Lahore where gold can be found. The same goes with books, paper, etc. Vendors there must have some other way of competing.
But don’t worry about the bazaar: you have to get there first…
And you will do that by flagging a rickshaw, negotiating the price, not agreeing, waving down the next guy, agreeing, folding your knees till they almost pop, nearly falling out at a sharp turn because there’s no door, holding something, anything over your face to filter the smog, barely missing other vehicles and pedestrians… There is nothing like the city streets in Pakistan. There can’t be. There are rickshaws which are basically a small carriage strapped to the back of a motorcycle (these used to pulled by a man on foot.) There are carts which are bigger carriages strapped to a motorcycle, the motorcycle replacing what was previously a horse. There are people sitting on small wooden platforms on wheels pulled by a donkey or ox. I don’t know how they don’t fall off ‘cause those things wobble. There are motorcycles with whole families on them, but the ladies don’t straddle- they sit with both of their legs crossed over one side while holding a baby and balancing a sandal on one toe, while the driver is weaving through traffic. And forget helmets. There are people on bicycles. Wallahi, I swear to God, I even saw a guy running in traffic once. There are a few cars, too, mostly fueled by CNG, compressed natural gas.
And there are no lanes. By that I mean that you go into whatever space you can fit in. When in a hurry you may cross all the way the other side of oncoming traffic to go around. Near-miss is a way of life. I know a Pakistani guy whose kids grew up in America. He took them to visit once and his son, as he was standing by the road said, “Now I believe in Allah, Dad.”
“Only now? Why?”
“Because only Allah could keep this kind of traffic from having accidents.”
Well the roads of Lahore made a believer out of me too.
I’m a man, and therefore unlikely to have a lot about shopping that I want to talk about, so I’ll fast-forward you to Friday, the day of the wedding, or so I thought.
“Wake up, you missed Jumua.”
Jetlag had gotten the better of me. It was the day of my wedding, the biggest day of my life, wherein I was to complete half of my religion, and I had slept through Friday prayers. Not a good sign.
Later that night… “Brother, get dressed.”
“I am dressed.”
“But where are your new clothes?”
“What new clothes? I didn’t buy any clothes for today.”
“But brother, this is the nikah, wedding contract ceremony. You can’t wear that. You must wear something new.”
“Nobody told me.”
This happened about, I’d say, one hour before I was supposed to get married. It was true, nobody had told me. You see, Pakistani families are big. People have lots of siblings, and lots of cousins, all of whom are like siblings. When any of them get married, their in-laws become like blood relatives, all of them. So you grow up attending all of your uncles’, aunts’, cousins’, siblings’, nephews’, nieces’ and all of their in-laws’ weddings. By that time there’s so much you take for granted that there’s a lot you’d forget to explain in a 3-day Pakistani wedding crash course, which I was currently failing.
Somehow clothes that fit me magically appeared from the Saliim’s wardrobe, though I’m much taller than him. Still don’t know what he was doing with those. Alhamdulillah…
So the nikah began on my in-laws’ roof. In the shariiá, a wedding contract consists of the bride’s guardian’s consent, her consent, the groom’s consent, and four witnesses. All the aforementioned were present, plus a few relatives, but the bride was downstairs. They signed, I signed, then they took the contract downstairs and she signed.
“Mabruuk, congratulations, you’re married, now go home.”
“When do I get to see my wife?”
“What? Why? When?”
“Just wait a few nights.”
That’s right, we got married before we had ever even seen each other.
Well, I had seen her ID photo, but you know how those turn out. It is allowed and even recommended in Islam for potential spouses to see each other, but not in this branch of Punjabi culture. I brought it up, and was met with a few blank stares, so I decided to let it go.
Meanwhile, Rana’s family took on the traditional role of my family. His female relatives would visit my wife and tell me “Oh, she’s beautiful,” or, “Don’t worry, she’s gorgeous.” That made me nervous. I mean, why’d they have to keep telling me that? If she looked good, she looked good, no need to repeat it a thousand times. And why they keep sayin’ don’t worry? I never said I was worried. Was this some psychological trick? Make me think something ‘til I believe it so much it changes what I see? Yeah, like Shallow Hal? But what happens when I snap out of it.
Believe it or not, sending me home alone wasn’t a sick form of torture. The bride and groom shouldn’t be seen together until a public announcement of their marriage to avoid rumors that they eloped, rumors, apparently, that are hard to avoid…
Two nights later, was the Mehndi Rism, or Henna (handpaint) ceremony. I bought a few kilos of sweets, came with an entourage, and was sat on a fancy swing on a stage- in front of a crowd of about 200. By the way, everyone in Pakistan is Pakistani. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, if you look at America, everyone’s an American citizen, but we’re all from different places. In Pakistan, no one comes from any other place. Everyone in Pakistan is from Pakistan. Except you. And you’re sitting on a swing on a platform in front of 200 people.
Zoos really are inhumane.
Later, finally, my mystery bride arrived in a red dress with gold embroidery. She looked nice, except I couldn’t see her. The veil was very big and hung over her head. At least we got to sit together. Relative after relative came by and put pieces of sweets into our mouths and then much-needed cash into my hand. At one point, someone brought did 3 circles with a live chicken in front of my face. Don’t know what that was about, but they left cash, so…
Then, someone took the money from me, told me to get up, and started escorting me home.
“Where am I going?”
“What about yall?”
“We’re gonna stay and party.”
“Man, what?! I wanna see my wife, maaan…”
“Just a couple more nights, brother.”
They really make you earn it.
The next ceremony was the Bharat, no idea what that translates to. The day of, I noticed a tent being set up on my way to and from the mosque. It was taking up Rana’s whole block. Soon, some huge cooking pots were going. Without telling, Rana had taken the groom’s father’s role by paying for all of this. The Bharat consists of eating some food, then the bride and groom sitting on a couch while family after family comes and sits around them for a picture. Add those flashing lights to the camera lights because the wedding was being videotaped. If you look at most of my wedding pictures, you can see that we’re squinting, despite our best efforts.
These lights, of course, added to the 120-degree heat, as did my suit jacket. It’s a nice night for everyone but you.
At the end, an entourage followed my wife and I to our honeymoon nest.
And there, for the first time- finally!– I saw my wife.
She was beautiful…