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I was once a witness at a meeting to decide the date of marriage of a couple. When the date was agreed, the groom's brother told the girl's father that he should ensure that his daughter stayed at home until the day of the wedding. I was incredulous. "How can she stay confined at her home for two months? What if she has to go to a dentist or something?". Both the girl's father and the groom's brother gave me dirty looks. "It's a religious custom, about which you seem to know nothing," I was told. Later, I asked my father about this strange custom. "Back when people lived in small villages, most men had deadly enemies who would do anything to disrupt a ceremony," my father explained. "So it was necessary to protect the bride from being kidnapped. Even if she had to go to the toilet (which was a few yards away from the house), she had to be accompanied by at least two women." I could understand why the mother and sister of a Pakistani bride-to-be in the rural areas had to stand outside the bathroom whenever she was there, but I couldn't understand why this was necessary in a three-bedroom flat in the city!
Then there are other superstitions involving women (meant solely to keep women within their houses). During a solar eclipse, a pregnant woman should not venture out of her house. The obvious reason for this was that during a solar eclipse, there is a lot of commotion and panic, and women are likely to get hurt. But in the subcontinent it is assumed that it is part of all religions.
The cleaning woman who works for us asked a pregnant neighbour to keep a picture of a beautiful woman or a handsome man by her bedside and look at both the pictures many times a day. "That way, your baby will be fair and very pretty". I thought this very strange, because the pregnant woman was black and married to a black man!

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