Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bridal Gown or Designer Suit?

-Brian Mendonca

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.  
       -Emily Dickinson

When a young lady died in an accident in Goa I was struck by the fact that she was buried in a bridal gown, in a white coffin, carried by girls. For an insider the semiotics are plain to see, viz. the lady was unmarried.

What did not escape me was why should she be dressed in her bridal gown? It is not as if she was there to see it. Is it some kind of wish-fulfillment to have her don the vestments on her last journey? Or is it the parents’ desire to express regret that she did not get married? The choice for the lady in question does not exist anymore. So society makes it for her.

Dressing a lady in a bridal gown seems to be circumscribing her choices, her destiny, her freedoms. Is a woman defined only by marriage, or an association with a husband? What about her own identity? What if she never intended to get married?

To get some answers to these questions I asked some young women what they thought of it. While many agreed vociferously with the practice, wagging their heads in dismay that someone should dare question their belief, a significant silent section differed. The bubble burst when one rose and said, ‘I’d like to wear a designer suit – as it would be the last time I would be wearing it.’

If women are given the choice they will exercise it. So some think it is best not to give it. While all sympathies rest with the bereaved family, the practice has repressive connotations. The message that it conveys to the rest of the community is, ‘Marriage –or the grave – is your final destination.’

‘The women in his canvas pray, work and mourn,’ writes Maria Aurora Couto about Goan painter F.N. Souza in  Such a stoic Greek aspect is the character delineated for a woman in Goa. This is the role she is expected to fit into. She cannot aspire to be anything more.

Breaking of her bangles when her husband dies indicates her abject dependence and a fall from grace. Hindu and Christian traditions merge here as in many other practices.*

When women make choices of their own they are often ostracized. A woman has a right to do what she wants with her life. Can we give her that chance?

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden paths   
In my stiff, brocaded gown. . .
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace   
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead . . .
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

-From ‘Patterns’ by Amy Lowell

*        See Fatima da Silva Gracias. Kaleidoscope of Women in Goa 1510-1961 (Concept, 1996)

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 5 October 2014; Pix of Sincy courtesy newindianexpress(dot)com of 14 January 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

read your article sir
liked it very much
vivek ratn (participant of debate)