Most of you must have picked up on the fact that over two months ago B. and I got married. We knew quite early on that this was going to happen, so it was just a matter of time. However, the time was running out in this case, because my visa was going to expire in December and I had already started freaking out, so we really had to do it sooner rather than later. Besides, though I have been making unpopular decisions for most of my life with little consideration for people’s personal (as opposed to the very important professional) opinion of me, hence my getting tattoed and pierced after I turned 30, living with a partner before getting married is frowned upon here and I certainly didn’t want anyone to think badly of us, particularly of B.
By the way, moving in with your partner before getting married might now be considered backward thinking, but really, it used to be disapproved of in Europe and not that long ago. It might still even be the case in certain circles in Poland, for instance. When I visited my family back in June last year, my dentist was telling me about her husband disapproving of their twenty-something daughter to move in with her boyfriend…In fact, it’d be interesting to know what the situation is like in your countries, cities, circles, etc. Perhaps more or less conservative than it’s believed to be – do let me know!
So…we had already decided to get married, but to honour the Western tradition, a week or so before the ceremony, B. actually proposed to me! This came as a surprise, though it was supposed to be an even bigger surprise, but I unintentionally and unknowingly spoiled it, which I seem to have a real knack for – spoiling surprises, that is. Anyway, the proposal has turned into a bit of an anecdote, certainly remembered by us with great fondness.
The marriage process in Pakistan usually takes a while to finalise, and the actual traditional wedding ceremony extends over several days and involves a great deal of celebrations. Obviously, we are everything, but a usual couple, so for now the only feasible thing for us to do was to focus on the formal part and postpone the additional ceremonies for perhaps later on this year, or at least the not-so-immediate future. That formal part which took place in November was called Nikah – a legal contract (marriage in Islam is a contract) without which the wedding is illegal. The ceremony is performed by an islamic priest, an imam, and is rather short and sweet. What’s more, it doesn’t have to take place in a mosque and in our case it didn’t either. B.’s good friends invited us to their home and hosted the event.
A wedding day is usually an unforgettable experience and it was no different in our case, but for two distinct reasons. The happy day couldn’t have obviously gone without a little drama, as it were, the kind that happened to me the night before leaving for Pakistan and about which only insiders have known so far. So, the night before leaving for Pakistan, out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a mouse snooping around my little flat in Liverpool. I’m convinced it has gone into my meticulously packed luggage which I have spent a whole week arranging and re-arranging and which is pretty much ready to go. That night I spend a considerable amount of time standing still on the coffee table and the sofa before daring to make a move and dragging all my luggage (3 decent suitcases) all the way to the (safe for now) bedroom, and then unpacking everything to ensure the mouse’s absence, upon which, I pack again. Such a bore, but I really didn’t fancy taking a British mouse all the way to Pakistan with me…
Fast-forward exactly two months and to Pakistan and there is the wedding day. The ceremony had been planned for the evening, so B. went to work as usual and I spent most of the day typing up notes for my students so as not to let the nerves get the better of me. After all, as low-key as it might have been, it was still a wedding day. In the late afternoon I decide to start getting ready, get up to take a shower and…there is no water! I frantically check all taps, but in vain. Not a single miserable drop. I wait for half an hour, go back – still nothing. This has never happened before – there might not have been electrivity (see here), but they have never cut off water! I obviously panic, so I write to B., call B. but no response, again – for the first time ever. Life of a drama queen certainly isn’t easy – I begin to play the worst-case scenarios in my head and convince myself that something terrible has happened. I message my sister and it turns out that by a horrifically and curiously unfortunate coincidence they had also temporarily cut off water almost five thousand kilometres away…I admit, I let out a little laugh – it’s just way too ironic to be happening. The problem isn’t even the lack of water, oh no, no! We are very prudent people and in the cupboards we store about 200 litres of water in case of earthquakes, wars or other calamities like…shortage of water on a wedding day? It’s the lack of a bathtub or a shower-tray (remember, we have wetrooms here) or even a large bowl, for that matter, as well as a general sense of ultimate, bitter irony that ovewhelms me and brings on such hysteria that I can’t come up with an idea how to even start getting ready. Long story short: B. was fine, but caught up in a meeting, the ceremony got easily postponed and I managed to get ready just fine. Clad in our best clothes, off we went, driven in a nice car by a friend…
When we got to the place, the nerves really kicked in for me. Altogether there were about 10-12 people there, of whom I had only previously met 2 and it made me feel a little shy. Thank God, most people speak English, so I was able to have a little chit-chat before everything kicked off, which seemed to have calmed me down, but then the nerves came back twice as strong and several times throughout the service I needed to focus on keeping my knees from shaking. I also wasn’t sure where to look, becuase in the West you are expected to look at the person speaking to us, but here you are required, at least in formal situations, to lower your gaze while you’re talking to a stranger of the opposite sex.
The ceremony was in Urdu, but I had a good idea of how it was going to proceed, because we had discussed it earlier. B. took it upon himself to perform a double role – a groom and an interpreter of what the imam was saying. The service is usually kept brief and simple and it is ensured that primary requirements are met, i.e.
- Mutual agreement by the bride and the groom: you get asked if you enter the marriage of your own free will.
- Two adult and sane witnesses: we had more than two.
- Mahr (marriage gift) to be paid by the groom to the bride (yes, you’ve read right, groom -> bride), either immediately or deferred, or a combination of both: it’s usually money, as it was in our case.
- The right and duties of both parties in a marriage are stated.
After all has been said, there was the signing of the previously-filled-with- our-personal-details forms aka marriage certificates (there were four of them) and that’s it. Altogether, it can’t have taken more than 15-20 minutes, perhaps even shorter than that (it can even be done in as little as 5 minutes!), but time tends to stretch when you’re on display, plus with the added interpreting and the fact that us getting married was combined with my converting to Islam (more about it in the next post), it might have been a little longer than usual.
Afterwards, there were flowers, cakes, little gifts and dinner for all. Around two hours later, we were back in our home. Nothing’s really changed, but something has, something intangible, some kind of inexplicable sacredness was added to this relationship…
As you can see, our little wedding day was very simple, but still perfect; unlike typical weddings here or everywhere, for that matter, but we are not a typical couple either. Besides, deep inside I always knew that if I ever got married, it would most likely be rather unconventional. Only now have I found out that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) considered simple weddings the best weddings: “The best wedding is that upon which the least trouble and expense is bestowed”, he said. Unknowingly, we did just that.