An Unnatural Urge by Sunehra Mehmood
Just like a wedding is incomplete without the Nikkah, in the same way it is incomplete without a special ritual known as the sighting of the bride. Wedding guests must, as a matter of course, wait in quivering anticipation while trying to curb their outrage at the lateness of the hour, for the bride to make her entrance. The said bride, on the other hand, would do her utmost to be as late as possible to bring the guests to a fever pitch of anticipation and hunger. What particular pleasure she derives from it is a matter for careful study by sociologists. But it could be forgiven her if she succeeds in mesmerising the gathering. Once she graces the guests with her presence, everyone must, according to long-standing tradition, whisper to their neighbour on either side, “dulhan agai, dulhan agai”. Dinner is soon announced and the guests are in a quandary, whether to satisfy their appetite first or their curiosity. Even if one is a distant cousin of the bride and has only met her once in their childhood and from then on have deemed her so unremarkable as not to merit their concern ever again, one still finds oneself engulfed in this burning desire to see her at least once on her wedding day.
I, dear readers, have not yet had the great privilege of sitting on a raised platform, looking like a remote image of myself, pretending for all the world to be a mannequin, and serenely suffering everyone’s eyes on myself. However, I have been a guest at several weddings and that experience has made me certain of one thing: the bride must feel like an animal in the zoo being gawked at for being so completely different. My observation is, however, more likely to be an isolated opinion, not necessarily endorsed by the rest of my sex. As it happens, I have it on the best authority that women gladly suffer such attention, and moreover, they dream about such a happy eventuality and pray for it to hasten.
It is an established fact that girls, in general, take immense pleasure in decking out and, as for their wedding day, they spend hours and hours trying to decide on the kind of ensemble that would remain in the minds of the people long after she has joined the chubby club. First, however, let’s end that little myth about women dressing up to impress men. The benighted males actually believe that women get all dolled up to please them but in truth, they get pretty to outclass other girls. And, of course, whenever men spot them and compliment them, they felicitate themselves on the secondary consequence of their day-long effort. For those in doubt of this supposition, I ask, what possible explanation can you give for their constant endeavour to never repeat a dress? If they were out to enchant a guy then they needn’t have bothered for men are notoriously dumb in that regard. They never do pay attention to such details as the colour of your nails, or the kind of eye shadow you’re wearing. Indeed, they are so far gone that they would hardly even recognise some of the colours that you put on, like taupe, or whether that particular shade of pink, fuchsia, that you love so much, is even a word.
Women are known to cross all boundaries in their attempt to look unnatural on their wedding day. Their hair attains particular prominence because the pouf on top which provides support to the dupatta is greater and sturdier than the Empire State building. And although it’s supposed to last the entire night, it looks as if it could last a lifetime. As for the make up, one feels that the brides should visit a baker rather than a make up artist for the (un)delectable cakes that they turn them into. One bride, I knew personally, was instructed in the strictest terms by the make up artist not to smile or her face would break. Most men, and anyone else not initiated into the female world, would suppose she was being threatened with physical violence. As it turned out, my friend took the admonition as seriously as if she actually was threatened with violence. And then she wondered why she looked downright constipated in the wedding photographs. Another bride I knew was told under pain of death to wear blue contacts but for the life of her she couldn’t put them on. And that too, blue contacts on eyes that were situated on a face that couldn’t ever be assumed to possess eyes of that colour. To pressurise a girl to wear contacts for the first time in her life, at her wedding day no less, when she’s already so nervous that her hands are trembling, clearly borders on persecution. Interestingly, when that particular bride failed in the end to put them on, the make up artist drew a thick blue line underneath her lower water-line, and whatever conclusions were meant to be drawn by the guests was left to their imagination. But, the question that immediately comes to my mind is this: who exactly would she be trying to fool with suddenly blue eyes? Not the groom, surely. I categorically refuse to believe that she had been browbeaten in order to successfully impress the groom at such short notice. One must sympathise with the groom and admit that the whole situation is quite unfair to him because he hadn’t been given any heads up and, as a result, he ends up looking only a little better than his old ordinary self. Whereas, the people at the wedding, who apparently have nothing better to do, automatically start contemplating as to who looks better, the bride or the groom. Without regard to the fact that such a comparison is utterly stupid since no comparison between two such different specimens of human kind can ever be made, the guests immediately start whispering that the groom is no where in the bride’s league. However, as far as he’s concerned, he can’t have been expected to have a card up his sleeve and produce blonde whiskers or something to match his blue-eyed eastern bride.
To get through the wedding day is comparably easier, especially if the bride has refrained from tragically losing one of her fake eye-lashes while on stage, but the real exam starts after it. It actually starts almost immediately after. The unenviable task ahead of the bride is to get rid of that cake and I’m not speaking about the wedding one, and to relieve herself of the structure on the top floor that has been back-combed and hair-sprayed to within an inch of its life. In other words, a young bride has her first test before her: how to resume a semblance of naturality and then suffer with equanimity the first shock her husband must receive of marrying one woman and discovering another in his room. It’s close to 3 a.m., and she’s mighty exhausted. How is an inexperienced bride supposed to face such a humongous task? A while ago, she was surrounded by well-wishers and now she has been left alone to fend for herself in her time of need. It’s hardly fair and that’s not even close to what the new groom must be feeling, witnessing the transition.
This predicament is also faced by other girls, albeit to a lesser degree. Any make up literate girl admits to using things like concealers and foundations and tinted moisturisers and bb creams, and my very recent discovery of this new product that also goes on the face, the primer. One downside of it all, however, is that late at night one is up against the chore of getting the entire make up off of one’s face, and, in all honesty, this should have been part of Hercules’ twelve labours. Moreover, I’m fairly certain that out of all of them, this would have been his undoing. No matter how much one goes over it with cleansers and oils and face wash and make up wipes, it refuses to fully budge. It’s as if it has finally found the home of its dreams and kabza grouped it like the local land mafia. Further, it’s just not content to stay low and grounded. It likes to entertain and invites over any old bacteria that’s passing by without a thought to such conventions as seeking the landlady’s permission. That, in turn, leads to the pretty little pink protuberances on one’s face. So then, it’s off to the stores to buy acne products, all of them synthetic, mind you. And then there comes a big night out, a friend’s wedding or some such, one puts on more make up to hide those blemishes and scars. As anyone with even a moderate amount of sense can deduce we are now at the mercy of the urge to be unnatural and it lands us into the welcoming and very expensive care of the dermatologist. A man’s life is so much simpler. He just has to go out and earn a living. Granted, individual males may have an urge to be unnatural but they do not feel that they are under any compulsion to be so. Women, on the other hand, have to do the same and look pretty while doing it. But do they really? Presentable is one thing, but looking as if you rightfully belong in a beauty pageant is quite another.
I, dear readers, must confess to a fear of the beauty parlours. One visit to such an establishment does sufficient damage to one in possession of a very fragile ego, as it lays open to the eye the perfections of the many groomed ladies present there and makes one conscious of all one’s own shortcomings, such as, hair inclined to frizz at the very least provocation and an oily skin, which is in constant danger of being invaded by the Americans in order to get their hands on the oil. Not being overly masochistic, I prefer to stay clear of them as much as possible. But you are not to suppose that my musings in the earlier paragraphs are coloured by my phobia. Indeed, they originate from a wholly different and far more commendable aspect which culminates in this question: what possible justification can a bride provide for keeping us from our dinners?
Sunehra Mehmood is a lawyer and a freelance writer who blogs at sunehram.blogspot.com.