Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bachelorette Parteh...Bangali Style! The 'Ai Buro Bhaat'

Giggles. Sighs. The soft rasp of silk, georgette and taat. The tinkling of glass bangles. Muted sounds of cutleries being laid out and music and laughter coming from the vicinity of the house somewhere. The soft hint of aromas of elaborately prepared food wafting in the air, drowning out that of expensive perfumes. Yes. It’s a party. But not just any kind of party. It’s that special, special party which is held in honour of the bachelorette before she embarks on a journey that has no maps and no finite destination. An un-chartered territory for every single girl out there, standing on the brink of matrimony.

In our part of the world, the so-called bachelorette party hardly resembles the ones of the West. For generations, the rich and time-honoured traditions of the ‘Ai Buro Bhaat’ have been carried down to these modern times. It’s more than just the ritual 'last rich meal' that is eaten by the bride, as a still-single woman in her own home, before the actual wedding ceremony takes place. Though the reasons for having an Ai Buro is still as good a guess as yours or mine (or anyone else for that matter), it’s believed that in the not-so-long-ago past, because weddings were arranged, the bride rarely ever got to have any part to play in the decision of marriage. Hence it was quite natural that as the days drew near for her to be married and sent off to her in-laws’ home, she’d start having the so-called pre-wedding jitters...about a hundred and one issues.

And so, as one of my long-time ‘sisters’ and confidantes, Deneb Zinat Latif, explained, “The Ai Buro was a way to get the women of the family together to calm the bride-to-be, give her good advice, bless her and also celebrate her entering into a new phase of her life. After this day, she usually would be given a diet of light, easily digestible food and extra care used to be taken of her skin, etc., so that she’d be glowing on her wedding day. Traditionally it’s only done for the bride, though these days you do get to hear about Ai Buro Bhaat for the groom, which is kind of odd since the word ‘Ai Buro’ refers to an unmarried young woman!! But whichever the case, no one from the future in-law’s side of the family are invited.”

Though strictly meant to be a family affair, these days bosom buddies of the bride also join in on the fun. In fact, nowadays you’ll see male family members joining in as well, in what traditionally used to be a women-only event. They share their marriage anecdotes and though they don't have active roles, some even contribute with dishes made on their own for the special day. Needless to say, since food is such an integral part of our Bangali culture, the Ai Buro is nothing short of a pot-luck feast for lunch, consisting of Bangali delicacies such as polao, chicken roast, beef bhuna, various fish curries, steamed prawn curry with coconut milk, vegetables, rice, daal (pulses), and an array of sweets, mainly kheer (grounded rice cooked with milk, sugar, raisins and nuts). All these are prepared by the various family members of the bride – dishes that she loved having in each of their homes. The bride doesn’t eat by herself but is fed by the guests one by one, usually beginning with the grandparents and moving on to parents, aunts, uncles and later the siblings, cousins and friends. Then everyone helps themselves to the food, and lunch is followed by an ‘anecdote-cum-advice’ session. Sometimes special doa mehfils precede the lunch, held by a lady moulvi sahiba, blessing for a happy union.

Everyone’s emotions during the occasion, naturally runs deep. Deneb spoke of her own memories, “My Ai Buro Bhaat was held 4 days before my wedding at my chachi's 0068ouse and it was so wonderful. I could really feel the outpouring of love that each family member had for me. Everyone had taken the trouble to make something special just for me. The atmosphere was festive, fun, cozy and very loving. I got advice about marriage and stuff but all with a good bit of humor mixed in. There were a few times when it occurred to me that this was the last time I’d be hanging out with them like this and next time when there is such an event, I’d be a married woman. You feel the sorrow of leaving a familiar life and entering into something new.” When I asked my long-time friend and sister-in-law, Tanzeem, how she’d felt, she reminisced, “You’ll feel torn between a mixture of emotions. One minute you’re happy to be moving ahead, while the very next you notice changes in you, your life, the relationships you have with everyone around you. You start being teased as ‘Oi barir bou’ and ‘Ei barir meye’. The Ai Buro marks the last day of bachelorette era before all the frenzy of the biye bari (a home where a wedding is taking place). Trust me, everyone in the meye’r biye bari experiences, along with the fun and laughter of a wedding taking place, the sorrow of someone being separated from one’s family and becoming part of a new extended one. Having those long chats, with peers and siblings who have gone through similar phases, do help.

As for the special bond between the bride and her mother during this time; one can only refer to it as being bittersweet. Nazma Quadir lovingly spoke of the fears her daughter had expressed to her right before the onset of her marriage; it was almost as if her little girl was back, looking in hope at her mother, the one person who could put all her apprehensions at rest. “I was so proud and so sad all at the same time. My daughter had grown into this beautiful, lively and confident young lady, about to become truly independent and responsible for her new life, but I was also having to see her leave.” Tanzeem elaborates, “One way to look at it, is how the daughters can get one more step closer to the moms as they get married and later on even more so when they have children of their own. Those in fights over everything in life can call a truce to enjoy and appreciate each other’s wisdom, personality and traits.”

Needless to say if you’re planning to hold your own Ai Buro Bhaat, you should realize by now that it’s meant to be strictly informal and restricted to family members and very special friends only. It’s an event to bring the family together, so if someone in the family wants to be the host, by all means let her be so. You might have to explain to some people what this is if they are not familiar with it. Don't try to over-plan it or make it a huge, gala affair. If you want to have a theme for the party, stick to the simple-&-minimalist, like decor, food or dress-wise but not going for all three all at once! If people want to render songs and dances, sans practice or planning, by all means let them. As a parent, you can arrange a simple slideshow from home videos or photographs of your daughter growing up. As for bringing gifts for the bride, it isn’t a mandatory custom and should be left up to the guests’ discretion. As Nazma Quadir explained, “I recall many Ai Buros, also known as ‘Kheer’ in many parts of Bangladesh, where family members would first feed the bride a spoonful of kheer, and then leave a small amount of cash underneath a shorposh (food cover). These days many bride-to-bes are presented with gifts ranging from cash to sharis or dress materials to everyday-wear jewellery. But this ritual wasn’t followed in either mine or my daughter’s Ai Buro”.

The final take-out is quite simple. The idea is to enjoy and have fun with one’s family in a casual, easy-going atmosphere but more importantly to truly appreciate the love the bride-to-be’s family has for her. That is the only thing that should matter in the end, when all is said and done.

Gun-Gun Gaye-Halud

If someone where to ask me what are the things that constitute as major pains in the a.. uhh.. tush, I’d say sitting for hours on end like a statue during your own Gaye Halud (which literally means turmeric on the body) and wedding has got to make the top five on the list.

I don’t know which one is the lesser of the two evils though. I think..umm..the Wedding? Yes. I mean just think. In the Gaye Halud, it’s traditional to sit with your legs folded under you...and yes...guys have it easier, being able to sit cross-legged...darn it! Naturally after several torturous hours of sitting in this awkward pose, you realize your lower half has gone totally numb and that as soon as you’ll try to change your position, you’ll feel as if a thousand pins and needles are attacking your legs. Then there’s the torment of having ‘kacha haldi baata’ smeared on your face, which if you have sensitive skin, can make you face feel as if it were on fire after a while. Many people these days, in need of salvation from this torture, have resorted to using uptaan. In a wedding, you at least don’t have to go through such horrendous ordeals. Not that sitting in a throne-like chair like a beautiful statute and having camera lights pointed at you for hours on end is anything to laugh about.

But wait. I do believe I’m painting too black a picture of what is perhaps the one occasion in a wedding where everyone gets to have the most fun. I mean where else do you get the meye pokhkho and cheley pokhkho each enjoying the fun of dressing up in their own respective similar, themed clothes? Or to perform parody songs meant to rib the bride or the groom and their young family members? I’ve even seen short skits being performed – say where the bride’s cousins acted in comic roles portraying someone from the groom’s side of the family, again all in good fun. And where else do you get to have a whole separate box of funny, humorous items as ‘gifts’ for the groom during the Cheler Gaye Halud? Where else but here do all the young ladies and gents of the biye bari get to flirt and check each other out and perhaps, after the main ritual of giving gaye halud is over, even cut a little rug on a make-shift dance floor to the thumping tunes of the latest Hindi number. The Gaye Halud of course.

So yes, this is one event during your entire Wedding where you get to have the most fun and so you’d like it to be abso-freaking-lutely perfect. And in my opinion, though every single aspect of the Gaye Halud, from the stage and flower arrangement to the food to how and with what gifts the groom’s family will be welcomed counts, I think it’s very crucial that one designs the cultural program for the Gaye Halud properly. After all if the entertainment and music is all “blah!” everyone will leave feeling all “blah!” as well! Not an outcome one wants to end up encountering in one’s picture-perfect wedding.

So first and foremost if you’re planning to have your siblings, nieces or cousins rendering songs, skits and dance routines, you should ensure that you or someone capable enough design the whole program schedule so that each song, skit and dance takes place in an orderly sequence. The key point is a smooth-as-butter transition.

For dance routines I wish people would choose Bangla songs like Jadu (Habib), Miththey Prem (Yaatri) or Shukno Patar Nupur Paye (Fuad featuring Mila) rather than the Hindi numbers. I’d prefer to leave those for the DJ or hired band to belt out for the dance party later on – if you’re planning to have a DJ or live band that is.

For rendering songs, age old numbers like Lila Bali, Biyar Shajoni Shajo Konnalo and Halud Bato, Mehendi Bato are good choices. As for parodies, some family members with good penmanship needs to sit down and simply change certain wordings of popular songs like Abar Jigai (Stoic Bliss), Pan Khaiya Thot Lal Korilam, Shonen Shonen Shudhi Jona, etc, to turn into hilarious accounts. And there is of course the infamous Puthi Path. Skits can be just as easily written out, but in the end all these separate routines – songs, dance sequence, skits, etc. – need to be practiced from at least two months before the actual event. I say two as I’m assuming everyone has their own busy schedule and they can’t just drop everything at the last moment and make it to practice every other day, so it’s a good idea to put the weekends to good use.

And yes a good quality sound system is a must. I mean just imagine. You and your Machiavellian family members will slave over writing some jolly good parodies and skits, but if all that the guests and bride/groom’s family end up hearing are garbled noises...well...that’s a perfect “Aaarrggh!” situation I’d say. In any case, a pair of bad speakers ends up giving everyone a splitting headache. So arrange for a good sound system! Many good bands and DJs these days come with a ‘package’ offer – musical instruments, sounds, lights – the whole thingamajig. You need to make sure from your end that you specify your expectations properly as they can offer you a range of rates as per your requirements. Also, if you have a favourite “track list” of Bangla, Hindi and English numbers which you’d like the band or the DJ to perform, than you need to tell them the list at least a month or three days beforehand respectively.

At end of the day “planning ahead” should become your mantra as it’s the only thing that will ensure that everything comes together without a hitch. But do make sure you don’t fall into the trap of becoming obsessive compulsive. “Delegating” should be your other mantra. You wedding is suppose to be your moment of joy and triumph and not end up giving you high blood pressure, raw nerves and dark circles under your eyes. Before going to bed each night, sit back against you fluffed-up pillows on your bed with a cup of hot, relaxing, aromatic tea and in an un-hurried and un-harried manner, make a list for everything that needs to be done, including what needs to be bought/hired when, from where and within what budget. Then, in due time just hand it over to the most-competent person to manage and implement. You? You should be nothing more than an “ad-hoc supervisor”.

Well then...I hope you get to have tons of fun planning for and then enjoying your Gaye Halud (your whole wedding to be precise) to the hilt. Bon voyage on you new life journey!

For sound/light systems:
1. Sound Machine: 8317601, 9343628, 01817042270, 01915472700, 01915472704
2. Sound Storm: 01711537571
3. SAS Compact Tunes: 8319898, 01711521142
4. Live Sound: 01713014991