"I'm sorry I can't speak any louder," she mumbled through closed lips. "If I do, my make-up will be ruined."
Now, I've seen wedding reality shows in the US, and attended weddings where one bride almost fainted and one actually fainted from not eating to squeeze into their 'perfect' wedding dress. But the glitz and glamour of South Asian weddings is beyond sanity. This--on top of the need for women to look whiter. I spent two hours waiting in a beauty parlor waiting for my friends getting their hair and make-up done for the wedding. The bride was there for a total of four hours. Sitting in the waiting room, I watched several brides come out in full dress and make-up. Each one was more sparkly than the next, and each bride had about an inch of white make-up caked on their skin, neck, and even hands.
I attended my friend Rashna's post-wedding dinner, where the couple first presents themselves as a married couple. On the car ride over, Rashna told me she was exhausted and just wanted some water but didn't have time between the parlor and reception. Brides traditionally are to be quiet and submissive during the wedding, with eyes cast down. In wedding I attended in Kolkata, a part of the ceremony was the bride holding leaves over eyes to keep from disrespecting her husband by looking at him directly. Rashna's eyes were down-cast even before we arrived; not because of traditional cultural roles, but because her eye glitter was too heavy. In the second floor of a large restaurant, she entered to a room of people waiting for her to join her husband on a small stage for photos. With at least 6 professional photographers and dozens upon dozens of guests with camera phones, the photo session lasted for 3 hours. The couple just sat, shoulder to shoulder, as all the guests came up to take photos with them.
Finally, Rashna and Arif sat for dinner. I had the privileged seat to sit next to the bride, which I immediately poured her a big glass of water. She gobbled up her meal and didn't say a word to anyone. Before the wedding, she was teeming with excited. Now, on the last day, I imagine she just wanted the make-up off and the photos finished. Who could blame her?
It makes you think: why all this pain and fuss for a few days? Mostly there is pressure from family to have a 'good' wedding, and to take 1,000 photos to show off like the neighbors did. We are so obedient to these social roles and expectations, as well as to these fairy tale fantasies that we forget why we dressed up in the first place. A Reverend friend told me recently that each bride spends exuberant money and time to make her wedding reach this unattainable fantasy, that winds up being the exact replica of the wedding the next room over. "Every bride thinks her wedding is unique, but when you attend one every weekend, you know most aren't." Seeing all the women in the parlor, I see it's not limited to the US.