'Wedding in the Flood' by Taufiq Rafat; An In-depth Analysis

Poet's Introduction

Taufiq Rafat (25 October 1927 – 2 August 1998), was a prominent Pakistani poet and author. It is generally accredited that Rafat introduced Pakistani Idioms into English literature. Taufq belongs to the second phase of Pakistani English Literature in the sense of origin or evolution. Before Rafat's appearance in the literary scene, Pakistani literature was considered as an imitation of British literature. He was one of the towering figures who made Pakistani literature distinct from the British. He wrote many poems and published them in collections. Taufiq Rafat like his contemporaries Daud Kamal and Alamgir Hashmi was the representative of Pakistani culture especially the interior Punjab. You can read A Brief History of Pakistani Literature in English for further in-depth discussion.

Taufiq Rafat has written many famous poems like Kitchens, This Blade of Grass, Ducks.

 Let's start to interpret the poem to trace the Pakistani marriage culture.

Structure of the Poem

The poem 'Wedding in the Flood' has five stanzas and the narrator changes after every stanza. The poem can be divided into three descriptive parts.

1. Girl's departure and her parents worry

2. The pot licking myth and rain as a tragedy

3. Dowry (Tin Trunk, a cot, and a mirror)

Overview

In this poem, we will find out the Pakistani culture, the economic situation of Punjab, and some of the ironic situations developed by the poet. The poem is rich with images.

First Stanza

They are taking my girl away forever,

sobs the bride’s mother, as the procession

forms slowly to the whine of the clarinet.

She was the shy one. How will she fare

in that cold house, among these strangers?

This has been a long and difficult day.

The rain nearly runied everything,

but at the crucial time, when lunch was ready,

it mercifully stopped. It is drizzling again

as they help the bride into the palankeen (palanquin)

This girl has been licking too many pots.

Two sturdy lads carrying the dowry

(a cot, a looking glass, a tin-trunk,

beautifully painted in grey and blue)

lead the way, followed by a foursome

bearing the palankeen on their shoulders

Now even the stragglers are out of view

The first stanza is narrated by the mother of the bride and she is worried about her daughter's departure. The celebration is slowly going to end. The mother thinks that how her shy daughter will adjust herself to a new house among different faces. The rain has always been an encumberment on the day of the wedding. In this poem, it stops at the time of lunch but soon it comes down when the palankeen was ready. It is superstitiously considered that this bride might be licked to many pots. Now the poet throws light on the dowry (a cot, a tin trunk, and a mirror) attractively decorated. The mother of the bride is narrating that four people lifted the palankeen and take her daughter away from her house. Now she is unable to see the slow pace people as well. Palankeen also symbolizes the funeral that picks up by four people. It shows that according to the mother her daughter has been taken away forever.

Second Stanza

I like the look of her hennaed hands

gloats the bridegroom, as he glimpses

her slim fingers gripping the palankeen’s side

If only her face matches her hands,

and she gives me no mother-in-law problems,

I’ll forgive her the cot and the trunk

and looking glass. Will the rain never stop?

It was my luck to get a pot licking wench.

The second stanza is narrated by the husband. The bride's hands are hennaed which makes her husband happy and he thinks if her beautiful hands match her face, he will accept her without any problem. In the last lines, the poet makes fun of her by adding that it was my luck to have a pot-licking wife. This stanza shows another picture of our society that in rural areas boy is not let to see his fiance till marriage. Same here the husband just imagines her beauty by seeing his wife's hands, which are attractive.

Third Stanza

Everything depends on the ferryman now.

It is dark in the palankeen, thinks the bride,

and the roof is leaking. Even my feet are wet.

Not a familiar face around me

as I peep through the curtains. I’m cold and scared.

The rain will ruin the cot, trunk, and looking glass.

What sort of man is my husband?

They would hurry, but their feet are slipping,

and there is a swollen river to cross.

The third stanza is narrated by the bride herself. The bride thinks about the journey that it is dark inside. It has been raining, by the dint of its fast flow, the roof is leaking. She couldn't speak about it due to shyness. Outside the palankeen there is cold and a scene of horror. She is worried about her dowry and makes fun of her husband.  There is a big journey to do and the situation is getting worse.

This stanza also depicts Pakistani culture that on the marriage day bride cannot speak. It is very obvious in interior Punjab and other rural areas.

Fourth Stanza

They might have given a bullock at least,

grumbles the bridegroom’s father; a couple of oxen

would have come in handy at the next ploughing.

Instead, we are landed with

a cot, a tin trunk and a looking glass,

all the things that she will use!

Dear God, how the rain is coming down.

The silly girl’s been licking too many pots.

I did not like the look of the river

when we crossed it this morning.

Come back before three, the ferryman said,

or you’ll not find me here. I hope

he waits. We are late by an hour,

or perhaps two. But whoever heard

of a marriage party arriving on time?

The light is poor, and the paths treacherous,

but it is the river I most of all fear.

This stanza is narrated by the father of the boy. He complains over the dowry that the bride brings things just for her own use. It would be better if she brings a couple of bullocks and so on. The myth of licking too many pots is again stated by the father of the boy. The party is still on the way to the bridegroom's house. The paths are very difficult and it gets dark everywhere. Plowing is an old tradition of Punjab and it's been shown here by the poet.

Fifth Stanza

Bridegroom and bride and parents and all,

the ferryman waits; he knows you will come

for there is no other way to cross,

and a wedding party always pays extra.

the river is rising, so quickly jump aboard

with your cot, tin trunk, and looking glass,

that the long homeward journey can begin.

Who has seen such a brown and angry river

or can find words for the way the ferry

saws this way and that, and then disgorge

its screaming load? The clarinet fills with water.

Oh, what a consummation is here:

The father tossed on the horns of the waves,

and full thirty garlands are bobbing past

the bridegroom heaved on the heaving tide,

and in an eddy, among the willows downstream,

the coy bride is truly wedded at last.

In the last stanza, the poet shows that parents are keenly waiting for the bride while on the other hand, the river goes on rising. In the last lines, the poet shows the scene of the journey towards home. The river gives rise and up in an aggressive way and finally they cross the river and this girl is wedded.

Theme

Man proposes, God disposes

Cultural depiction

Flood is symbolic of sweeping the arrange marriage tradition which has been erased by the sudden explosion of modernism. Everyone dies in flood meeting with the ends they thought of in sexual and economic perspectives, canceling all the human success and dignity.

Interesting!

Can you wear Pakistani dresses in Europe? The answer might be yeah or no. But one of the famous poetess Moniza Alvi, portrayed her feelings in a poetical way, titled The Presents from My Aunt in Pakistan, which is really interesting. You can enjoy the reading.