A rural affair with a happy ending
At a village in Barisal, located in the south of Bangladesh, a 25-year old sturdy looking man, Bipul, and his best friend, Riad, had been regularly engaging in phone conversations with girls and trying to get lucky in lust calls. But charming Bipul always wanted to seek the thrill of love and ached to fill that void unlike his compatriot Riad.
Behind the riverbank where the lush and pristine countryside blended with the river Sandhya, Bipul and Riad had their hangout corner. This was where Bipul had one day interrupted Riad’s phone conversation with his girlfriend and grabbed the phone from his hand, and said, “Hello, I am Riad’s friend and I so earnestly ask you for a favor.” Knowing who he was, the girl responded “What kind of favor? ”
“I need a partner in my life, someone who I can be with, do you know anyone like that?” said Bipul.
She said, “don’t worry, I will try to find someone for you.” Bipul passed the phone back to Riad.
Time passed and by the end of the summer of 2014, Bipul, a graduate from Kowkhali College was introduced to a girl named Sonia, 19, who had just passed her HSC exams.
Sonia and Bipul slowly but surely bridged a strong bond. They conversed over the phone whenever they had time, hiding their relationship from their respective parents. As their feelings for each other blossomed, within 3 months they made up their mind in taking their relationship one step further. It is worth noting that Bipul and Sonia had never seen each other in the flesh but just knew each other from their phone conversations. However, Bipul had never felt such fulfillment in his life until now and he was more than willing to do what it took to win Sonia’s heart once and forever. But for Bipul there were many more hearts to win.
For the first time, Bipul decided to visit Sonia and her family in a village called Karfa (Swarupkathi district), 20 km north from his village of Choto Biraljhuri (literary meaning: small cat basket). Although he hadseen photographs of her, seeing her up close wouldfeel like the whispering winds swaying his heart. She was prettier than any of the other village girls he had met. She had wide, shy eyes and a nicely curved noseperfectly harmonizing with her smile, he thought.
But things were not as easy as it seemed. A young man from a distant village should have very, very good intentions to be able to meet his female friend at her home. As Bipul made his way to Sonia’s village, some people from the neighborhood were not amused by Bipul’s audacity to visit the girl without even knowing the family and friends.
Instinctively conservative, some people thought that Bipul was acting improperly and immediately suspected him as an intruder. However, things calmed down when Sonia’s parents intervened explaining that Bipul was there to informally talk to them. Even though Sonia’s parents were not comfortable with the idea of Bipul’s lonely visit, they quickly warmed up to him. Sonia’s toiling parents also liked Bipul as a prospective husband for their only daughter. After all, with a government job at Kowkhali Upazila, Bipul ranked high. Added to this, both Sonia and Bipul were absorbed in love, they knew.
In the next step of the marriage, Bipul felt very nervous. It was time for the young man to face the elders of his own family and secure their support and blessings for one of the most important events of his life.
As he approached his father, Harunur Rashid, a well-to-do religious man of the village, his reaction was sharp.
“What is her name?”
To Rashid, the very name was a shock. To most of the rural Muslims like him,Sonia is a name that has no noteworthiness to his religion. Every Muslim name should make one think of one who historically sacrificed, worked for the religion or created this universe! The name Sonia had nothing of that kind! Rashid was convinced.
“So tell me where she is from. Tell me about her education background. Is her family a landowner? What is her last name and what is her father’s name?”
Bipul hesitated but gathered courage. “Sonia comes from a very poor family and her father is a crop sharing farmer. But Baba (father), let you tell you clearly we love each other,” Bipul stood his ground firmly.
“I cannot allow such ignorance from you, I have put my hard work and sweat to make sure you grow into a good individual and now you have stooped.” said his father.
Bipul went through sleepless nights. He had a huge task to convince his father and the rest of the elders, who were also opting to stick to the father’s decision.
Bipul was sure of himself. He knew he had found his match and there was nothing that could stop him from picking up his life partner. Poverty, hardship, misery or social barriers were insignificant. Sonia is a good human being.
On the fourth day of intensive deliberations the elders realized there was no way of stopping their son.
The marriage was approved.
Bipul’s family and friends organized the wedding. It was a huge party all over. On the day at around noon, a large, noisy trawler was hired. It was mounted with a loudspeaker. With the loud speaker blaring with popular tunes, about 20 men and children were heading for Karfa. The boat was a veritable display of colors with everyone wearing colorful clothes, cruising through the river Sandhya with a purpose. While the youngsters danced to their hearts’ content, the elderly men chewed beetle leaf on the rear of the boat, pretending to ignore the noisy lot.
A suitcase with gifts for Sonia was there. Boxes of sweets were carefully placed on the boat. On the roof, furniture for the newly wed was displayed.
As soon as the boat moored at around 2 pm, Sonia’s relatives and others in the village stopped the party from entering the bridal home. Young men and women stringed the entrance, a makeshift gate made of two banana trees and colorful paper cuttings. Now it was time to extort an entry fee from the eager husband-to-be and his party.
Customarily it is a tricky situation managed by younger segment of the bridegroom party. Things could go wrong too. Instances are there when marriages were called off at this point on trifle misunderstanding. But this bridegroom’s side negotiated the entry fee with perfection, offering boxes of sweets. Bipul cut through the ribbon and formally entered Sonia’s home.
Meanwhile, in the back of the house, the bride was seated on the yard and was pasted with turmeric, a tradition going back hundreds of years. In the corner, two middle-aged women sang a sad song in chorus. “Our girl finally leaves us behind to start her own family elsewhere, take our blessing and may god look upon her with the like the way we look at her”. They kept singing traditional folk songs until the young bride was bathed with herbs and turmeric.
Sonia was then dressed in a yellow Benarosi saree, which Bipul had gifted. She looked gorgeous with a distinct rural glamour all over her.
As Sonia and Bipul sat next to each in full bridal gear, both looked happy. The marriage registrar, a typical mullah, quite efficiently concluded the paperwork setting a dower (bride money) of Tk. 100001 (about 1201 US $).
The mullah then raised his hands to Allah and asked everyone to join the prayers. In his intensive prayer he sought a better life for the couple and ended it with a special prayer for the betterment of the humanity.
Now it was time for the feast offered by Tania’s parents. On the menu- mouth watering fried hilsa, beef, lamb and chicken curries were served separately with pilao rice. Young volunteers of the village eagerly hurried from table to table serving the guests. The dessert was a specially made pitha.
Sonia’s mother stood in the corner and shed tears for her daughter, who was about to leave her. The day was waning and the more cautious ones of the bridegroom party reminded the younger ones about the journey back home. For Bipul and Sonya another journey had just begun.
Story and photos by Mahir Ali Khan, back from Barisal.
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