“I will serve the nation by serving my wife.” – 25th Anniversary of the Wedding of the Century.

18 Dec

benazir_bhutto_06“The crowds began gathering outside of 70 Clifton a week before the
wedding in December 1987. Presents began to be delivered to the gate, simple
handmade shalwar khameez from Sindh, embroidered dupattas from Punjab,
candy, fruit, and wedding dolls made to look like Asif and me. At times my
relatives went out and joined the people dancing with happiness. Women and
children came in and sat in the garden.

It is traditional for a prospective bride to remain in seclusion for one or two
weeks before the wedding, wearing yellow clothes and no makeup so as not to
attract the evil eye. But I didn’t have time for this ancient custom called mayoon. I couldn’t afford to take two weeks off from work before the wedding. We weren’t even going to take a honeymoon.

We broke with other traditions as well, trying to set an example for the rest
of the country. The wedding was to be dignified and simple, not the week long
lavish affairs many families in Pakistan feel compelled to hold, often draining
their life savings and sending them into debt. Instead of the twenty-one to fiftyone elaborate sets of clothes traditionally presented to the bride by the groom’s family, I set the limit at two, one for the wedding and one for the reception the Zardaris would give two days after the wedding. The bride’s wedding clothes are usually sequined and embroidered throughout with gold thread, but I requested that my dress have gold either on the top or bottom, but not both.
Presents of jewelry, too, are part of the tradition, the bride often wearing
seven sets of jewelry running from a choker around her neck to necklaces
reaching her waist. I asked Asif to give me only two simple sets, one for the
wedding ceremony and the other for the reception given by the groom’s family. I don’t live a life that calls for jewelry. How many necklaces can you wear to the
office? “You have your whole life to give me jewelry,” I consoled Asif, who
wanted to give me the best. I even eschewed the traditional gold bangles that
brides wear on each arm from elbow to wrist, planning to wear a few of pure gold and many of glass on each arm. I wanted people to say that if Benazir can wear glass bangles on her wedding day, so can my daughter. I also chose to keep my own name.

“On my beloved’s forehead, his hair is shining. On my beloved’s forehead,
his hair is shining. Bring, bring the henna, the henna which will color my
beloved’s hands.” For three days before the henna ceremony on December 17th, my sister, my cousins, and my friends gathered at 71 Clifton, the annex we use for receptions and offices, to practice for the friendly song and dance
competitions with the groom’s family at the mehndi. Samiya, Salma, Putchie, and Amina were there, as was Yasmin, who had flown in from London. Every day more old friends arrived from England: Connie Seifert, who had been highly instrumental in pressuring Zia into letting my mother leave Pakistan on medical grounds; David Soskin, Keith Gregory, and others from my Oxford days; Victoria Schofield, whose visa was withheld by the regime until the very last moment. Anne Fadiman and my former roommate, Yolanda Kodrzycki, came all the way from America, Anne to do a story on the wedding for Life. “You came here to get teargassed in 1986,” I laughed with Anne. “It’s good that you’ve come here now to laugh and dance.”

The wedding was a miraculous reunion of sorts, relationships that had not
only endured but grown stronger through all the tyranny of Martial Law. My
father’s lawyers came, as did many former political prisoners. There was a stir
when Dr. Niazi arrived at 70 Clifton. Even though my father’s dentist still faced
serious charges in Islamabad, he had returned for my wedding after six lonely
years in exile. He was safe enough in Karachi, but no one knew what he would
face when he returned to Islamabad to try to resume his dental practice. Through it all moved my mother, anxiously checking on the details like any mother of a bride. She had not been in Pakistan since her medical release in 1982 and, not surprisingly, was having difficulty sleeping.

While friends and family were gathering inside 70 Clifton, thousands were
pressing toward Lyari in the center of Karachi. We were going to have two
receptions after the wedding ceremony, one in the presence of family and
friends, the other, a few hours later, among the people in the poorest section of
Karachi and a stronghold of the PPP. We had sent fifteen thousand invitations to party supporters who had been imprisoned during the years of Martial Law and to the families of the martyrs for the Awami or “people’s” reception. The Awami reception was to be held at Kakri Ground, the large sports field in Lyari where my father had been the first politician to speak to and for the underprivileged and where six people had been killed and others beaten and teargassed by the police in the August 14, 1986, demonstrations. Sections of Kakri Ground were also set aside for the public to join in the celebration.
The night before the henna ceremony I slipped off to Lyari wearing a
burqa to check on the preparations. Members of the Maritime Union and
members of other unions were putting the finishing touches on the fifty by forty foot main stage at Kakri Ground, solidly constructed out of wood and eighty tons of steel. Emergency generators were in place to light the grounds if the regime decided to cut off electricity, as were twenty big-screen television sets placed around the grounds to show the proceedings over closed circuit. Bowers of jasmine, marigolds, and roses were being put up around the seating areas on either side of the carpeted stage for our two families and chairs were placed in between for Asif and me.

Hundreds of strings of lights, red and green in the PPP colors, and white,
hung the length of the two-story buildings surrounding the grounds, and
spotlights shone on a huge painting of my father putting his hand on my head in
blessing. We were expecting one hundred thousand people to come to Kakri
Ground for the people’s reception. At least ten thousand were already camped
there, some having walked or bicycled from interior Sindh. As my brothers and
sisters, they felt they didn’t need invitations. They had come to a family wedding.
The sound of drums and wooden sticks. Women singing. Ululations of
greeting from my relatives. The groom’s procession arrived at 70 Clifton on
December 17th for the mehndi, Asif’s relatives bearing a platter of henna carved in the shape of a peacock, complete with real tail feathers. My female relatives placed garlands of roses around the necks of the Zardari entourage as they moved into the garden. Asif was in the middle of the procession, his sisters holding a shawl over his head. I was relieved that he had arrived on foot. He had threatened to ride in on his polo pony.

We sat together on a bench with a mirrored back and inlaid with mother of
pearl at the top of the steps to 71 Clifton. I looked out through my veil at my
family and friends clustered below me on the side of the carpeted steps, Asif’s
family contingent on the other. I doubt anyone had heard the likes of the lyrics
from my side as the singing began. Asif must look after the children while I am
out campaigning and not prevent me from going to jail, Yasmin, Sanam, and
Laleh, and other friends sang. “You must agree that Benazir will serve the
nation,” they warbled in Urdu, then responded for Asif: “That is all right with me, for I will serve the nation by serving my wife.”

The guests, two hundred close friends, clapped and talked under the
colorful tent set up in the garden before moving on to the buffet tables. I saw
tears on my mother’s face. I didn’t know whether they were tears of happiness or frustration over the number of foreign photographers who had somehow gotten past security and were crowding around Asif and me. The mehndi was supposed to be a family affair, but the press billing of the two-day celebration as the wedding of the century on the subcontinent had brought press from the Arab states, Germany, France, India, the United States, and England as well as the wire services and, of course, members of the local press.
“Don’t walk so fast. You’re not late for a public meeting,” Sunny whispered
to me through the pink veil covering my face as she and Mummy led me to the
wedding stage in the garden.
“Brides walk sedately,” echoed Auntie Behjat as she held the Holy Quran
over my head and tried to keep up.
I tried to look demurely down at the ground as I took my place on the
wedding dais. My cousin Shad came up, smiling.
“What’s taking the men so long?” I asked, wondering what was happening
on Asif’s side, where the maulvi from our family mosque was reading the
marriage vows.
“Manzoor ah-hay? Do you accept?” Shad asked me in Sindhi. I thought he
was jokingly asking me if I was ready.
“Ah-hay,” I replied. “Yes. But where are they?” He only smiled and asked
me the question twice more. “Ah-hay. Ah-hay,” I repeated. Before I realized it, I had consented to the three questions of the male witness, and was a married
woman.

Seven items beginning with the letter “s” surrounded me, as well as plates
of sweetmeats, nuts dipped in silver and gold, silver candles in silver candelabra. Thousands of white lights spangled the garden, the light dancing off the silver tinsel encrusting the dais. My female relatives held a green-and-gold diaphanous shawl over my head when Asif joined me. Together, we looked into the mirror placed in front of us, seeing each other as partners for the first time. Ululations filled the air as my mother and aunts ground sugar cones over our heads so our lives together would be sweet, then knocked our heads together to signify our union.

Karachi went wild with celebration last night. Thousands pressed together
outside 70 Clifton for a glimpse of Asif and me when we moved to Clifton
Gardens for the private reception just a block away. PPP volunteer guards had to struggle to keep a path open for our guests, who walked the few hundred yards from 70 Clifton. When we left for the Awami reception in Lyari an hour later, the streets on the way were just as crowded with well-wishers, jeeps blasting the wedding songs which had popped up all over Pakistan to commemorate our marriage. There were strings of PPP lights everywhere, festooning the center of the roundabout where so many had been teargassed the year before, draped from buildings along the route.

The crowds at Kakri Ground swelled to over two hundred thousand,
spilling into the streets. This was Asif’s first taste of the love and support of the
masses for the PPP and he looked worried as the security guards urged the
crowds to open a passageway for the Pajero. There wasn’t an inch of space on
the sports field, or room for one other person on the balconies of the buildings that rimmed the field. For days women members of the PPP had been wrapping
wedding sweets into PPP colored boxes to distribute among the crowd at Lyari.
Forty thousand were gone in an hour.

Jiye Bhutto! Jiye Bhutto! Folk music floated out over the crowd. People
danced, cheered. Miniature hot air balloons were released, trailing streamers of fire. A display of fireworks sent rockets soaring into the night air, while fountains of silver and gold erupted on the ground. I waved to the crowd. They waved back. It made no difference to their hopes and dreams whether I was married or single.”
“Today, on an occasion so personal and solemn for me, I want to reaffirm
my public pledge to the people of Pakistan, and restate my most solemn vow to
devote my life toward the welfare of each citizen and the freedom of this great
nation of ours from dictatorship,” I’d written in a statement released the morning of my wedding. “I will not hesitate to make any sacrifice, be it large or small, as in the past. I will work shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters—the people of Pakistan—to create an egalitarian society that is free from tyranny, from corruption, and from violent tensions. This was my goal yesterday, this is the dream I share with you, and this will remain our unwavering commitment forever.”

Daughter of the East – By Benazir Bhutto

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2 Responses to ““I will serve the nation by serving my wife.” – 25th Anniversary of the Wedding of the Century.”

  1. Shoulder to shoulder the work is going on BiBi——– President Asif A.Zardari ( ur carrier of ur wishes & commitment) & ur children Aseefa, Bakhtawar,Bilawal are carrying on ur mission & so are the die hearts of PPP .

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