We could see the building from what seemed like miles away. Strands of delicately arranged twinkle lights spilled from the roof announcing the nuptials. A line of cars stretched to the main road waiting to drop off elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen. It felt as though we’d arrived at a red carpet event. But instead of walking on a rug, we entered the main ballroom through a tunnel of sheer, cream fabric and glimmering lights. It was the second of two wedding events I attended this week.
I’d been hoping to experience a Bengali wedding while in Dhaka, and thanks to Morjina, my wish came true. On top of this, I was able to realize the glory of wearing a sari. No single piece of fabric can make a lady feel as feminine and fabulous as the sari can. Every woman should experience a few hours in a sari at least once her lifetime. Back to the wedding…
Maroon, cotton sari in hand I met Morjina and her daughter at the beauty parlor on Friday afternoon. We were escorted into the more private area of the vast salon facilities. To avoid ruining my hair once it was done, I was asked to change into my sari blouse before being shown to a chair in the corner. I’d brought a picture of the hairstyle I wanted and Morjina brought a lei of richly colored, orange carnations. Using 34 bobby pins, the stylist combined my vision and hers. Virtually simultaneously Rina applied my makeup.
I put on my petticoat in the adjoining room and slipped on my healed, sequined, gold shoes. I handed Rina the sari as I returned to the room where I’d been dolled up moment earlier. With the flick of her wrists she unfolded it. My arms out to the side, she worked around me. A cluster of women formed to watch as her hands nimbly folded and tucked the fabric. Draping it perfectly around me body, she secured it with safety pins. Rina finished dressing as the women murmured their approval and compliments. I gazed at a transformed reflection of myself in the mirror. I couldn’t imagine feeling any more fabulous than I did.
We left the parlor and climbed into the car. Having lifted myself and all seven yards of sari fabric into an SUV, I can now appreciate the oddly placed handhold at the door jam – it was crucial.
The first of the two events was held outside of Dhaka. After hurtling along the bumpy, poorly lit road, we pulled up to buildings from which cascaded, what looked to be, the world’s supply of twinkle lights. The outdoor patio was lit with candles, torches, strands of lights, and dimly lit sconces. This pre-wedding event is known as the holud.
Rows of chairs were set up facing the stage where the bride and groom sat. In front of them a was a low table covered with foods and sweets. After meeting the bride’s family, we followed the lead of the other guests and took turns greeting the couple and feeding them a spoonful of food, and after dipping our fingers in turmeric paste, we swiped it across their brows. Leaving the stage, we wandered to the far corner of the patio where finger foods were being served. From here you could looked down onto a large pond where floating candles flickered among the reflected twinkle lights.
We made our way through the maze of seats to the other side of the patio where we found a low platform on which three women sat doing henna. I eagerly took a seat and extended my left hand. She gently took hold of my hand, palm down. With her other hand she held the silver cone of henna. The started the design just past my wrist. As if following a secret blueprint she drew on my hand without hesitation. The paste felt cool against my skin. The lines and swirls delicately looped up to my index finger before she decorated the rest of them as well.
A band began to play, and to my surprise, a bar was set up. All over the women seemed to glide around the party - effortlessly floating about in their saris. It was mesmerizing. We lingered for a while longer before heading back to Dhaka. As soon as I reached home, I was already counting down the hours until the reception.
Knowing that my days of being able to afford this sort of luxury were numbered, I returned to the parlor after school on Sunday. This time I carried with me a cobalt blue, silk sari. Again I brought a photo of my desired hairdo. This time Rina alone would be responsible for my transformation.
She started with my face. In an unhurried manner she applied the make-up. Eyes closed, my head resting on the back of the chair, I felt the bristles of the brushes on my face. Next, using 54 bobby pins, Rina sculpted my hair. Though I couldn’t yet see the back of my head, Rina’s coworkers came by one at a time to take a look. They exchanged words in Bangla and smiled at me – I took this as a good sign. When she was done, Rina held up the mirror and beamed at me. She was clearly proud of the masterpiece she’d created with my hair. So proud in fact that she asked her co-worker to take a photo. I was happy with the result too.
Again a group gathered as Rina wrapped the sari around me. The iridescent silk draped beautifully. Though I couldn’t have imagined it two days earlier, I felt even more fabulous today. The silk and the way the fabric rested on my arm made all the difference.
Holding on to the perfectly placed handle, the curved toe of my sparkly shoe touched the ground right in front of the canopied entrance, as I slid out of the car. Paparazzi would not have seemed out of place at this location. Everyone, but especially, the women were dressed in their finest.
The bride and groom again sat on stage. Repeating the theme of the outdoors, twinkle lights provided the backdrop. The bride was adorned in gold bracelets, and weighed down by a multitude of necklaces. She looked like a wax figure - not a hair was out of place and her makeup was flawless.
Unlike other wedding’s I’ve attended, there was no ceremony (it had been performed earlier in the day) and the interaction with the bride and groom was limited to the greeting on stage. The guests mingled.
I was surprised to find Andrew and his wife, Jan, as we made our way through the room. We sat down at their table for dinner. As the couple was expecting 1400 guests, and the room did not have capacity for everyone, we ate in unassigned shifts. After our meal was complete we got up, the table was cleared, and set for the next round.
“Hello again,” said Professor Yunus when I saw him. I was flattered by the fact that he seemed to remember who I was. But the best compliment I received was from two Bengali women, “you look very comfortable in the sari. You carry it well.” I’d esteemed to be as graceful as the women around me, but until they confirmed it, I hadn’t been sure whether I’d succeeded. Their words sealed the deal - the sari is, without a doubt, my new favorite outfit.
The evening was perfect. The only thing that could have made the night better was if I’d had another place to go. That way I could have worn my sari for just a little while longer.