One of my wife's cousins called a few days back to invite us in the marriage ceremony of her oldest son. She has been trying to set up a marriage for him for a while now and had no luck for years as the potential groom liked none. Eventually he revealed the truth - having brought up in this country he felt awkward thinking that he had to resort to arrange marriage. I understood his reluctance to follow on a century old South East Asian tradition – a tradition with its own set of pros and cons. I personally felt many people in this country had very little understanding of the tradition. I barely see any difference between an arranged marriage and couples meeting through dating services (and many other services providing similar meeting opportunities) with the intention to find a life partner. Modern arrange marriages rarely take place without both parties giving full consent after several meetings. Sleeping with potential groom before exchanging vows to try out sexual intercourse obviously is never an option in our culture. We are sucker for institutionalization. While our institutions work well or not that a completely different question.
As usual, I drifted away from where I started.
Let’s start over. We were invited in my wife's cousin's oldest son's marriage. Interestingly, the bride was from a Caucasian family. Apparently he had met the girl a few years back. They had dated, liked each other – both being intelligent, smart and particularly sportive – he liked mountain climbing, she liked hiking, biking and possibly some climbing as well – this sounded like a match made in heaven. Good stuff! Especially considering he was crossing forty and his parents were totally at loss wondering if they would ever see the face of any grandchildren. They were religious Muslims, how a Christian daughter-in-law would fit in with their social structure was a slight concern but it wasn’t anything new in the family. Multiple family members had already gone away from tradition and married men and women quite different in religion, language and nationality. Things proved to be smooth, no particular complains – none that plagued my ears.
The marriage ceremony took place on a Saturday evening in a large hall room of a reputed hotel. This was supposed to be a small gathering of close relatives only. It’s been a while since we last met the groom and his family. It was a great pleasure just to see them again. I rarely show up anywhere in a suit (I am a jeans kinda guy). This time I did. So did eleven year old Zakeem, my only son. He actually looked quite elegant in his 40 buck suit and tie and in a pair of loose dress shoes (belonged to somebody else – we are cheap! Correction – prudent is the word). I am quite hateful of the thing called tie and do not wear one unless absolutely helpless (like a company meeting where some worthless executives pay more importance on the color of your tie then the merit of your proposal). I carried my tie in a side pocket, just in case. Farheen, my only daughter, looked very pretty in a white dress that she got as a gift in her 6th birthday, celebrated just a few days back. Neither of them had any interest in coming to this party. They always look for kids of their age and correctly guessed there would be very few in this party.
The ceremony started in a timely fashion. An ex imam of a Toronto mosque and a senior member of local Islamic foundation (can’t remember his name) was given the honor to get the two married in accordance to Islamic and provincial law. This was an elderly gentleman with adequate amount of sense of humor (and no beard or trade mark middle-eastern long dresses). He started well with a few good words about family values and importance of marriage as an institution, however things started to go awry when his short speech kept on extended to unending blabbering, good things he said but there’s a limit of good stuff that one can take in one sitting, not just the kids even I almost dozed off. Not sure if he had seen me closing my eyes under my glasses or just ran out of more things to say, he finally decided to give us a break. The whole hall room sighed in relief (or that’s what I wanted to believe I guess – I did hear a few sighs though). Now he proceeded to carry on with the actual procedure, the ‘I do’ parts, the signing of the registration papers, the ring exchanges. Another brief speech before leaving the stage for the final time (I hoped).
Next came the time for photo shoots followed by the most awaited event of the evening (I know, I am ashamed) – munch time. An Indian buffet was arranged with traditional Indian dishes in one end of the hall room and traditional Indian/Bangladeshi sweets at the other end. I was hungry, starving since the big meal that I had the night before from a social gathering. I rushed to the buffet while most rushed to the podium to take group photos with the bride and groom who were now seated at the center of the stage on two big, kingly chairs side by side. They looked good together – I thought as I poured spoon full of beef curry on my overloaded plate.
The food was disappointing but I was hungry and ate until my stomach hurt. (This whole practice is scientifically wrong (in English - unhealthy), but it works for me to keep my weight under control. When hungry I eat until I drop and then skip the next two meals). The sweets were not total failure. Most were good – sweet, a few were even delicious, couple devastating, but overall not bad.
Eventually came the time for speeches – not the ex-Imam – thankfully, but the friends and families of the bride and groom. From groom’s side the dad, a short and sweet man who is currently working in the Middle East on a consulting contract after retiring from a Canadian government position, graciously congratulated his son and the bride, expressed his happiness in getting a daughter-in-law, and looked genuinely excited. His wife didn’t dare to issu3 a speech, not having enough proficiency in English. Next was one of bride’s female friends who taught in a college. The first thing she did was to retire the microphone. Visibly overweight, this friend of the bride, issued a great speech. She was loud, honest and hit all the right chords with her speech, from describing her friendship with the bride, her first meeting with the groom, how things progressed between the two – things none of us in the audience obviously knew. They had hit it right at the first date, we are told. Next series of dates sealed it off. It was just matter of time when they were going to tie the knots. She even explained how tough and outgoing the bride was, having cycling in Cuba and Nova Scotia, covering hundreds of kilometers everyday on rationed food and ignoring natural disasters. The bride was 36, tall, skinny with a tough outlook but a smiling and fun loving attitude. Yep, a girl like that could press on riding a bike against an oncoming storm (that’s what had happened in Nova Scotia – her friend mentioned). The groom as I know was a sucker for outgoing activities. No wonder the two hit it right away. Congratulations! They have proven it once more that neither race nor religion, even social differences can hinder the real match that is required for a life together – the attitude. They will be happy; especially considering this was a marriage in maturity and not on a teenage hormone.
The program ended with a western style dancing stint where bride, groom, the parents, friends, some family members all hopped in onto the dancing floor and shook and bend and some even kicked and jumped and had a great time while the Karaoke singer sung to her heart’s content.
The kids were getting really impatient and started to chase each other around the hall room – an activity which is a sure sign that their reserve of patience had totally wore off and now nothing else would matter. This was the right time to take off. Mili, my better half, hunted down her cousin sister and her husband, thanked them for inviting us, bid good bye and there we went. It was a great evening overall, something that I’ll remember for many years to come.