Wedding, Pakistani Style: Restraint And Joy When Pakistanis marry, custom requires that the bride and groom behave with a stately reserve, despite the joy of the occasion. Julie McCarthy attends a happy occasion on the Grand Trunk Road, and asks the young couple for their view of the ceremony.
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Wedding, Pakistani Style: Restraint And Joy

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Wedding, Pakistani Style: Restraint And Joy

Wedding, Pakistani Style: Restraint And Joy

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You may not have realized that MORNING EDITION made wedding announcements, but just for this one morning we do. We've been traveling along the Grand Trunk Road in India and Pakistan. We're talking with young people in an ancient land, trying to glimpse the future of two nations that are much in the news. You can learn a lot by watching two young people get a start on their future.

NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from here, in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.

JULIE MCCARTHY: There was a wedding this week in the family - the NPR family. Sajid Mahmood, who manages our bureau in Islamabad, married off his sister-in-law.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: Twenty-five-year-old Rukhsana Gul, who is one of 10 sisters, wed 27-year-old Mehran Shahzad, who works in the security detail that escorts the prime minister. A police band, made up of his colleagues, heralds the groom's arrival, wending its way down a rubble-strewn alleyway crowded with wedding goers.

Children dart among the musicians, diving for fluttering five-rupee notes tossed into the air by the groom's all-male entourage.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: The jaunty music contrasts with the almost expressionless face of the groom, as he walks through a shower of rose petals. Pakistan's conservative culture requires a sense of restraint, even on the most joyous occasions.

Awaiting Mehran's arrival, the bride is equally reserved. But she's also wearing 10 pounds of heavy crimson and gold material that makes up her heavily beaded bridal gown. She barely moves in the 100-degree heat.

(Soundbite of fan)

An industrial fan provides little relief on the sweltering rooftop where Rukhsana is perched statue-like. But she stoic says being on display for the throng of guests is what being a Pakistani bride is all about.

Ms. RUKHSANA GUL: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: The bride should stand out, Rukhsana says, arranging her hands, which are covered in tattoos of red henna. A thin gold ring wider than a silver dollar dangles from her nose. This is our tradition, she says.

But the veneer drops like melting mascara. Actually, she admits, I don't usually wear makeup at all - or a nose ring. As for the clothes, I wish I could rip them off, she laughs.

Rukhsana has been a breadwinner for her family, working in a pharmaceutical factory. But her earnings have vanished now that she's getting married. Wazirajan, her mother and a widow, chokes back tears at losing her daughter -the seventh one to marry.

WAZIRAJAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: My daughters were my backbone. They fed me. Normally in our tradition, women don't work like that. The sons do. But they are my sons. She says this is the happiest day, and the saddest.

I ask Wazirajan if she's worried about her daughter's new mother-in-law. An obliging neighbor lightens the mood with a wordless answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of crowd speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: In this sex-segregated celebration, women assemble on one roof and men gather across the street on another - where they eat first. I find the groom cloistered in a sitting room of a neighbor's house, surrounded by male relatives. His aspirations on his wedding day are for children yet unborn.

Mr. MEHRAN SHAHZAD: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: I want to spend a lot of time with my children, give them a good education and maybe a little better life than my own, Mehran says.

Pragmatism is also at work on these occasions, although it's out of public view. A formal contract awards Rukhsana roughly $3,500 in gold, and 500 square yards of land, in case, her family says, the marriage doesn't work.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: But as giddy children swarm, and guests dine on a simple Pakistani feast under color-splashed canopies, it is the promise of a joyful future, and the unbroken cycle of life, that abides.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rawalpindi.

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