Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 12, Tuesday March 27, 2007


knot early enough

It all happened when Cinderella lost her glass slipper. The royal court then found it and it fit her foot, just like it was meant to. Lo and behold, Prince Charming and Cinderella got married and they lived happily ever after. Alas! If only Bangladeshi society would just let youngsters have such magical balls! Then who would need the likes of “Ghotok Paakhi Bhai”?!

Marriage has always been one of the pivotal aspects of Bangladeshi society. It is generally perceived to be the true initiation into one's adulthood. From the days of infant-weddings, to arranged marriages, to elopements and nowadays to love marriages, there has always been one common drift. We are a society that generally sways in favour of early marriage.

Why the rush? Why the hurry? And more importantly, is it worth it? In the long run, does it really work?
Those who got married three decades ago, now say yes. It really does work. After all when seen from their point of view, after thirty years or so of marriage, how can you possibly describe the marriage as anything but successful? But why the hurry? “The times were different when I got married,” says Mrs. Adnan*, a homemaker who'll be celebrating her thirty-sixth wedding anniversary this year. “At that time it was what my parents wanted. And it was a society that whole-heartedly believed in the notion of parents-know-best. Thus even though I was a student at that time, when my parents found a suitable boy, I obliged.” The mother of four, this content homemaker admitted that even though she tried to pick up where she left off, the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother became a bigger priority and she never resumed studying. But she doesn't regret any of her choices. In fact when asked if she were taken back to that precise moment when she agreed to get married, would she do things differently, she replied, “No. I would do exactly what I had done then. I am happy where I am and I have no regrets.”

As much as we would like to believe that to be the case for most married people (who are now) in or past their middle-ages, a staggering number of people admit that, if twenty or thirty years ago the decision had truly been up to them, they would have probably opted to delay the inevitable. And that doesn't just go for women. Even though women were generally the ones who had to adopt to a new way of living, even men from those bygone eras had to set aside their personal aspirations to deal with the pressures of holding up a family, becoming fathers and working.

So have the times changed?
Not really. Even today, Bangladeshi parents are upholding the “we-know-best” torch and still advocating that there is a time line and expiry date. Add to that, the desire to continue the family name, family traditions and in some cases the ever impending threat of a son or daughter falling in love. Mix it all up and what you have is a group of very eager parents ready to see their children married off- the sooner the better. So what do those who actually faced the music have to say?

Ishrat*, a twenty-six year-old graduate says she was married off at thirteen! “I had no choice,” she says. “Early marriages are the norm in my family. All I remember at that time was that it all seemed to be a lot of fun.” Now the mother of two, Ishrat says nothing changed after she tied the knot. “I didn't lose any independence or have problems with my education. It was a good thing to get married early. Some of my friends are now suffering from the time line issue. My early nuptials changed nothing in my life. It all worked out for the best. If you are willing to lower your expectations and make some sacrifices, in the long run you earn a lot more than what you give up.” But the question remains, what kind of sacrifices? And more importantly does a thirteen-year-old really have any choice but to make those sacrifices and lower those expectations?

But whatever we say, Ishrat is indeed quite lucky. Unfortunately, not everyone has Ishrat's good fortune. Twenty-two-year old Spondon* only had scars to show from her six-and-a-half month marriage. “When my parents discovered that I was seeing someone, they immediately decided to marry me off. I was twenty at that time. I didn't even really see or speak to the guy they picked out until a few days before the wedding.” She gained nothing from this marriage. Not only did her husband and in-laws violate her privacy and question her every action, her parents and husband even unanimously decided that her education should be stopped. “I was a good student. But that didn't matter. All everyone could think of was how to reign me in.” After half a year of misery, Spondon started the divorce proceedings on her own. Spondon grimaces about not holding her own at that time. “If I could do it all over again, I would definitely never give in, no matter what ploy my parents used.” The sad thing to note is that there are dozens of other Spondons who are facing such life-changing fates at such early ages.

Whether it arises from a need to abide by old traditions or it is simply to keep someone harnessed, the mind-boggling thing to note is that even today many parents still firmly believe in marrying off their children prematurely.

Where does that leave room for love?
Surprisingly there still seems to be a lot of room left for love marriages these days. Even though the conservativeness of our society still leads to many people settling for arranged marriages, as slow as we might be, the age of choosing for oneself is finally catching up. These days, there has been a significant rise in the number of love marriages. Even more surprising is the fact that even though a lot of people are getting to choose for themselves, they are still settling for getting married early.

For some, external forces work against their favour. Payal's* marriage was such a case. After her boyfriend won a scholarship to study abroad, they thought it was a wise decision not to try their luck and henceforth tied the knot. Still a student, Payal says that while her in-laws are very open-minded and have no impositions on her, she now feels a little more hesitant before doing anything- something she didn't have to worry about when she was single. But besides this self-hesitation, Payal does not regret getting married before finishing her education (and stepping out into the real world) for a second.

Payal's story can easily be called a classic Cinderella tale. But not everyone lucks out like she did. Countless people are now falling in love, quickly tying the knot and then regretting it. And so intense is their regret that they file for divorce as quickly or quicker than they actually tied the knot. Thus it is no surprise that when asked about their brief journey down the matrimonial aisle, they refuse to even acknowledge it let alone dig into old wounds.

Of all the people who talked about their marriages, some felt that their lives had taken the right course while others vehemently thought otherwise. But the thread of commonality still remains. They were getting married early then and they are getting married early now. But just because it is the norm does not make it normal. We live in a society that is dictated by a strict code of conservativeness, traditions, and so-called morality. It is a place that demands youngsters to bend to the will of their elders. It is a society that believes in making it work. And above all it is a society that offers little exposure to its young to allow them to really find out what they want. Needless of what is expected or necessary, is it too early to tie the knot? There really is no right or wrong answer. But is our young generation experienced enough to know what they really want when they get married and later have no regrets? I think we all know the answer to that.

* Names have been changed for privacy
By Tahiat-e-Mahboob
Photo: Amirul Rajiv
Model: Subhi and Shiplu


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