Introduction: It was about this time and day, many years ago that two significant mileposts that no longer remain anymore impacted my life, one permanently and one transiently.
I had no anticipation or training on how to survive the impact gracefully without shattering into pieces or crumbling bit by bit into dust. Now both are gone, one destroyed and the other dead leaving behind a lot of pain and anguish in those that survive.
It is the evening of my wedding. I enter the restaurant and glance at the room which is elegant and simple in cream, and gold, the white linen on the tables, the soft rose velvet on the gilded chairs, the chocolate truffle cake with orchids on its side is dreamy. Soft music fills the room in anticipation of the guests.
A sofa with plants on each side and an oriental carpet in front of it (from my apartment) is the only sign that it is an unusual event for the restaurant.
I pivot at the 360 degree view out of the wall to wall windows. the Hudson river with its lighted barges and boats, the glimmering garlands of lights outlining the bridges that cross over to Queens and Brooklyn and those that bridge New York to New Jersey. Through one of the windows the lady of freedom is lit up to proclaim that the “liberty” in the “Statue of Liberty is alive and well
Smack in the heart of Manhattan and right next to the Lady Liberty a Pakistani Muslim girl is marrying an American boy who has converted to Islam
The Windows on the World on top of the World Trade Center is famous, where only the rich and famous can afford to come for a meal. One can see through the bank of windows, the bridges with the garlands of lights sparkling in the Manhattan night. The lady Liberty holds her torch high up to acknowledge and welcome the freshly off the boat naïve Pakistani girl to the land of the free and cunning.
After pausing at the room where the wedding ceremony and dinner will be held I am led to the ante room that the manager has prepared for the bride’s use. He is filled with apologies for its size and sparse furniture, as this is their first wedding.
I wonder why the manager is apologizing for it, as for me it is beautiful in its subdued elegance that you would only see in one of the most sophisticated and lavish southern mansions.
We have managed to convince them that it is a simple wedding. The Imam of the mosque at Queens has agreed to come and do the Nikah and other than a sofa for bride and groom and Imam to sit and two chairs for the witnesses, we do not need anything else. We have chosen the signature “chocolate truffle cake” as our wedding cake, it is a specialty of the Chef who makes the cakes for the White House.
The room of the bride is situated to one side of the restaurant. The doors and crown molding are creamy white, edged with a slim trim of subtle gold. The wall paper is embossed cream tone on tone. The chandelier is brilliantly lit with crystal. The chair that I sit on is cushioned with thick velvet the color of uncut rubies. The mirror is framed in creamy white and subtle gold edging. They have brought a slim cream colored table for me to place my personal items.
The hairstylist in Connecticut has refused to do an “updo” as he claims it is too old fashioned. I am left with no choice except to put my hair up to the best of my abilities. They say that the best make up and hair for a bride is the light (nur) of innocence and anticipation that comes from within especially if the bride is a naïve young woman marrying for love against all worldly odds.
listen while you read on:
“The groom has not arrived yet ma’am” the manager informs me respectfully, his voice tinged with anxiety. He stands at the door his hands folded in front of him, his expression worried. I look up at the clock which shows we are one minute late. “Why is he worried?” I think to myself, it is only one minute after six and don’t all grooms arrive late back home? I had no experience in those days of the degree of punctuality of the American weddings and that an absent groom at the assigned time of a wedding meant no wedding.
“Let me make the payment for tonight” I beckon the manager as I pull out my check book, thus trying to allay his worries that since the groom has not arrived on time at his own wedding, there may also be a glitch in the payment.
He brings me the invoice and I sign away the last penny I have from my hard earned savings,. I have a fleeting twinge of regret that here I was paying for my own wedding when I had five brothers and two parents alive and well. None had come forward to shoulder this responsibility.
Meanwhile a drama is unfolding at the other end of Manhattan where the groom’s hotel is located. It is six o clock, the time of the wedding and my mother in law and all the groom’s guests are absent while he waits in the hotel room wondering if she has made a last minute ditch.
My mother in law had taken all my husbands friends and relatives who had come to attend our wedding for a whirlwind tour of New York city on a Friday. They have been gone all afternoon.
As the short winter day enters the night my mother in law arrives a full 30 minutes after the wedding time “…………..ah the traffic was terrible” she says to the groom. At this point they are at least another 30-40 minutes or more away from the wedding venue given the traffic from uptown to downtown, Most American weddings would perhaps be called off if the groom did not show up for an hour. Thank God for Desi time, and my ignorance of the American customs which made no dent in my happiness.
As they say where there is a will there is a way. Twenty minutes later the grooms mother and all the guests have been bundled into the subway by the groom heading from uptown Manhattan to the last stop downtown at the World Trade Center.
Thus with the first act of marginalization of my wedding began an era where unbeknownst to me the mother of the groom, now my mother in law would manipulate, undermine and sabotage the contract I was signing today.
I in my naiveté and being on cloud nine did not see this delay in arrival to my wedding as a predictor of what was to come. I was happy that she was attending my wedding as my father in law had refused to attend our wedding. He had told me that he was delighted that I was raising the status of his family as his son was marrying a doctor but was unhappy that I had “changed his son’s religion”.
She on the other hand even though she thoroughly disapproved of our marriage hid her disapproval well, till much later. When it surfaced as to how much she looked down on the color of my skin and the faith I followed which had inspired her son to accept, it was too late for both of us.
My brothers though present at my wedding with their families were like all the other guests and had no significant participation nor shouldered any responsibility in it.
I asked my eldest brother to say a few words at the nikah as he had also been there for my husbands Islam embracement ceremony. He had been open minded about my cross cultural wedding, and wished me well whereas others gave our union a survival time of six months. He and some of my other brothers in the years to come went on to follow in my footsteps and marry American women.
I draped the last folds of the red sari my father had sent for my wedding. My youngest brother had carried it across the ocean from Pakistan. The subtle gold and tiny sequins on my sari glimmered in the fading light of the evening, very much like the lights of Manhattan outside the windows, which had come alive in the night in celebration.
The sari had been preceded by a letter from my husband to my father asking for my hand and in response my father had written a seven page letter of instructions to him on how to be a good Muslim if he wanted to marry me.
Today neither my mother law is alive nor the Windows on the World in the World trade center in Manhattan remains.
The destruction of the world trade center has wrought havoc in the lives of people all over the world pushing 56 million men women and children out of their homes and filling the roads to no where with destitute feet.
My mother in law has left a subtle path of destruction in our marriage which is unparalleled in my experience. Despite the fact that I felt I did everything to honor her as a mother and persuaded my husband to do likewise as outlined in the Quran, nothing changed her tactics or her essence.
The destruction came not only from her but from the erosive combination of her New England cunning and my Pakistani idealistic inexperienced naiveté.
Our marriage burned slowly with the stoking of fires from the mother of my husband, slowly and gradually. I had no positive support system nor was I armed with the knowledge and practice of Tazkiyah tun Nafs (Purification of the Heart) to give me strength and courage to be the servant of Allah and be content with that alone.
Two beautiful “brown” children came out of this union for which I am deeply thankful. Of the two “brown children” as described by my mother in law, one lives successfully and has made her own path and the other left us at the age of 19 throwing in the towel at this cruel and non compassionate American society to join the souls of the pure.
It was tonight many years ago when Manhattan was decorated with garlands of fairy lights for my wedding and I saw it all through the Windows on the World.
Today neither exist: She who chipped at the foundation of our marriage is gone as is the Windows on the World. They only live in the memory of a few………..All that remains is the legacy they left behind.
To be continued………