Grand Trunk Road

Pakistani Wedding: Hopes, Fears Amid Tradition

NPR correspondents are taking The Two-Way with them along the historic Grand Trunk Road that stretches from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Hindu Kush mountains in the west, across the vast Indian subcontinent.

Their reporting along the way can be heard and read in a Morning Edition series on the radio and web about life along the route that focuses on the lives and hopes of young people. We've been getting frequent reports from them since April 14. We have an archive of all of the team's posts.

A Pakistani bride with nose ring. i i

Bride Rukhsana Gul learned one week before about her arranged wedding. (Photos by John Poole) hide caption

itoggle caption
A Pakistani bride with nose ring.

Bride Rukhsana Gul learned one week before about her arranged wedding. (Photos by John Poole)

By Julie McCarthy

In Pakistan this week we'll be tracking the triumphs and tribulations of young people along the Grand Trunk Road.

This Sunday we devoured a different slice of life: a wedding in what you might call the NPR family.

Sajid Mahmood, our intrepid driver and house manager at NPR's Islamabad Bureau married off his sister-in-law at the family home in Rawalpindi.

With indefatigable good cheer, Sajid has ferried us from conflict zones to the length and breadth of Pakistan's Grand Trunk Road. He greets the NPR crew with warm hugs and handshakes as we pile out of the car on a dusty road a few hundred yards from his house.

He whisks us up three stories to a sweltering rooftop where twenty-five old Rukhsana Gul sits in a heavily beaded gown of red and gold, the traditional colors of a Pakistani bride.

Bride Rukhsana Gul during her wedding ceremony. i i

Bride Rukhsana Gul during part of her wedding ceremony which would last two days, with Gul sitting on display on a raised platform for six hours during one stretch. hide caption

itoggle caption
Bride Rukhsana Gul during her wedding ceremony.

Bride Rukhsana Gul during part of her wedding ceremony which would last two days, with Gul sitting on display on a raised platform for six hours during one stretch.

Our producer Tom Bullock mingles among the guests gathering sound. Our photographer John Poole turns to Rukhsana sitting statue-like on a make-shift stage. Before long, children cling to the Pied Piper with a camera.

But Rukhsana is the eye candy in one-hundred degree heat: hands and feet elaborately tattooed with henna, a gold ring nearly as big as a bangle dangles from her nose, and yards of material that her sisters can't stop primping frames her body and face.

Bride Rukhsana Gul's hands tattooed with henna designs. i i

Bride Rukhsana Gul's hands tattooed with henna designs. hide caption

itoggle caption
Bride Rukhsana Gul's hands tattooed with henna designs.

Bride Rukhsana Gul's hands tattooed with henna designs.

The sound of badly tuned instruments on the street below sends us all crashing down the stairs to find the groom's procession wending its way up a rubble-strewn alleyway. We pour into the street while neighbors crane over cinder block balconies to catch the commotion.

A police band dressed in white uniforms escorts twenty-seven-year Mehran Shahzad who works the security detail that escorts the Prime Minister. In a gesture of good luck, the all-male entourage tosses five rupee notes into air. Children dive for the fluttering money but the men subtly swat them away and re-pocket the notes for themselves.

The merry-making contrasts with the almost expressionless face of the groom. He walks through a shower of rose petals — not with the playfulness of a newlywed dodging rice — but with a reserve and sense of restraint that Pakistan's conservative culture requires on important occasions.

The bride is equally stoic. Being on display "five to seven hours" for the hundreds of guests is what being a Pakistani bride is all about.

"The bride should stand out. This is our tradition," she says fingering her uncomfortable nose ring.

But the veneer melts like her mascara: "Actually," she admits "I don't usually wear make up at all — or a nose ring," As for the clothes — she laughs ... "I wish I could rip them all off."

If you look closely at the pictures of Rakhsana on our website you'll notice something missing: her pinky finger, which she lost it in a work accident at a pharmaceutical factory. She's worked there the past eight years to support her widowed mother. Her earnings will vanish now that she's married and quit.

Rukhsanas's mother, Wazira-jan, 56, mutters thanks to Allah for the wedding day but begins to cry talking at losing another daughter. One by one her ten girls are being married off, a blessing and a burden she says.

"My daughters were my backbone because they did a lot for me. They fed me. Normally in our tradition women don't work like that. The sons do. But these are my sons ... This is the happiest day and the saddest."

In this sex-segregated celebration women assemble on one rooftop and men gather across the street on another. I discover the groom cloistered in a sitting room of a neighbor's home surrounded by male relatives. Sounding the modern man he says his wife can work "if she wants," but his aspirations on this day are for children yet to come.

"I want to spend a lot of time with my children, give them a good education and a better life than my own."

But surrounded by the affection of family and friends, Mehran's life looks nothing short of a success.

As children swarm and guests dine on a Pakistani feast under color-splashed canopies, the bright promise of the future beckons and in this new union the cycle of life abides.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.