Single to Married: With the Help of Gulab Jamun of Course
by Hana Ijam
My henna night, on December 2012 in Lahore, Pakistan, was filled with colourful surroundings, light, and music. Never did I imagine that I would be getting married and that too at the age of eighteen. I guess our Pakistani background might have a small role to play in saying “YES”, or maybe it was entirely due to the man I was sitting next to. My fiancé, Ali, and I have known each other since childhood and, after our engagement, have grown to love one another. The initial arranged marriage did frighten me a little but here I was, the happiest bride enjoying my wedding events. The guests were busy, some talking amongst themselves, some singing, some dancing and amidst it all some sitting next to me and my fiancé, greeting us, wishing us all the best for the following day, our wedding day. However, this traditional night remains incomplete without mentioning the Mathai (South Asian sweets) or my particular memory of the gulab jamun.
As I was sitting amidst 500 or so guests, and they approached towards the stage, the environment was joyous with laughter everywhere. While all the guests were waiting their turn to greet us, a round dish filled with a variety of colorful Mathai available in different colors, shapes and sizes was placed in front of us. The tradition required the guests to feed us some Mathai as one would be fed cake on his or her birthday. In this joyous moment, family and friends came forward to my fiancé and I one after the other, each picked up a piece of Mathai, and fed it to us.
I recall my mother and father coming on stage and sitting next to us, both extremely emotionally, just as I was. My father looked down at the dish and in it were variety of Mathai’s including, Cham Cham, kalakand, barfi, jalebi and my favorite gulab jamun. He then — knowing my preference — smiled and picked up the gulab jamun. Gulab jamun, which is a round sweet, has a brown outer layer, yet is of wheatish color inside, with a delicate feel to it. My father fed some to both my fiancé and I. The round jamun dough drenched in sugar syrup still reminds me of the taste of cardamom and saffron. Once placed in the mouth the sweet and juicy gulab jamuns melt right onto one’s tongue. It’s as if the smooth texture and sweet taste yells joys out onto one’s taste buds. My mother, following my father also picked up a piece of gulab jamun and brought it close to my mouth. As she was proceeding, I saw her eyes tearing up and in that moment, I realized that this was it, it was time to finally get married. Eating the gulab jamun from her hands took me into what seemed to be a dream; the moment I was waiting for was finally here. The juicy sweet taste, the softness of the gulab jamun, brought back many childhood memories of when my mother would cook the same sweet dish for me. However, this particular night had much more meaning attached to it.
The Mathai, particularly the gulab jamuns, now bring back many memories. The Mathai was fed for a reason, the sweetness was presenting the significant happiness present on the occasion, while the people feeding it were acting out their cultural role of conveying their consent and acceptance of what was the expected norm of marriage. Attendance at the wedding was considered incomplete if the guests failed to perform this tradition. The gulab jamun thus served a cultural significance which had in itself immense meaning and depth in form of celebratory customs. The night was incomplete without it.
Amidst of all the wedding chaos, it also brought forth confirmation to the fact that, yes, I am getting married. Though my husband did not join me to live as a couple for another year, the sweets had transformed me. With each bite, I accepted the truth of what seemed like a fairytale or a dream; I went from single to married. It reminded me of my childhood while also confirming that I am no longer a child. I am now an adult with the responsibility of carrying forth a marriage, the journey of respect, love and dignity. This journey may not be easy, but it is as sweet as a gulab jamun.
If you want to try gulab jamun in Mississauga, Hana Ijam recommends Shirin Mahal.
Something for those who are interested in transnational marriage practices in Pakistani diaspora, see: