When ‘White’ Was Not ‘Right’

Indian brides traditionally wear red or any color from the same family. This rule applies to almost the entire country, some south Indian states being an exception where brides don white, ivory or cream colored saris with a golden or red border. My wedding dress too was as per the convention.

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My dress and color sense have always had a dash of boldness and I have at many a times worn colors to shock, and really looked forward to wearing some unusual color combination for my wedding. However, custom took precedence and I decided to go with the flow. I wore a red and gold Bangladeshi jamdani sari which my father had got on one of his trips to Dhaka. After the nikah (wedding ceremony) I changed into a red gharara with silver gota (embellishment), brought from my husband’s side.

The need to shock however asserted itself the morning after I arrived at my new home in Jaipur. I scanned my yet to unpack suitcases and smiled wickedly. Knowing fully well what everyone’s reaction would be and not giving a damn about it, I pulled out a “white” salwar kameez suit. The material was soft and the style appealing. A very light sprinkling of multi-colored sequins shimmered softly in a floral design on the shirt as well as on the dupatta (scarf) which was also bordered by a soft multi-hued lace.

I felt good and ready to take the bull by the horns. The bull came soon after in the form of the elder ladies of my new family whose customary duty it was to scrutinize the new entrant from head to toe and hand in their report to the rest of the clan.

Shock and bewilderment was writ large on each face as they saw the color of my dress.

In India, the color white is associated with “widowhood” and there was I, on the second morning of my wedding, embracing a color that was an absolute taboo!

Enough reasons to send shudders down every spine. Clearly they thought I was out of my mind.

“Oh, you’re not ready yet,” ventured one of my husband’s aunts. “We’ll come back later then.” She probably thought it was a stop-gap arrangement till I wore something suitable.

“Do you need help with your unpacking,” offered an elder cousin, eyeing the suitcases a little apprehensively thinking that perhaps I had, in haste, pulled out whatever came conveniently to my hand.

“Don’t you have anything dressier?”

The comments were endless.

Like the proverbial new Indian bride, I too was expected to dress up in bright silks and glitter with every piece of jewelry I owned weighing heavily on my then slender neck and hands. To match my dress, my jewelry too that morning was simple – a string of pearls and a matching pearl bangle, elegant but too simple for a new bride, and yet another cause for comments.

Finally my husband’s eldest sister could take it no more and decided to be direct.
“Look, Bushra,” said she, in a voice that asserted her position in the family, “in our family new brides don’t wear white. It’s considered inauspicious. I think you’d better change.”

“But there are colored sequins all over,” I protested, “and the lace is multi-colored too.” I held it up for her inspection but she wasn’t impressed.
“You know when white is worn, don’t you?” she dared me to answer that in the negative.

“That’s silly superstition. Someone has to break it. Is it written anywhere that I shouldn’t wear white?” I stood my ground. Now was the time to assert my opinion before I got ensnared into the diktats of my husband’s fairly large extended family. Before my sister- in-law could protest further I continued, “Is it written in the Quran?”

At the mention of the Holy Book she faltered. She knew she had no religious backing for her theory hence couldn’t coerce me into thinking her way. (In any case Muslim brides in the Arab world wear a white wedding dress) However, if misfortune befell her sibling, she would squarely blame me. By now she had also realized what a stubborn girl her dear brother had married, a conviction she held for many years!

Some years later my husband’s niece got married. It was an occasion of much joy and celebration as she was already well past the accepted marriageable age. All the functions before the wedding and the actual nikah day itself saw me dressed in “black”, one of my favorite colors. Whether it was a sari, a salwar kameez suit or a gharara – the color was black. Many people noticed this too and there were comments galore. Yet again I had worn a so-called “inauspicious” color on an auspicious occasion.

Two months later tragedy struck and our niece was sent back. Her marriage was over, she was divorced.

Was my having worn a particular color on all the occasions in any way connected with the calamity? Not surprisingly, some people did imply that!

I have been deliberating all these years if it was just a coincidence, or whether there is something in superstitions after all? But “touchwood” I am not a sucker for that!

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