Funny Boy

The Bride-Bride Sari Symbol Analysis

The Bride-Bride Sari Symbol Icon

During his childhood “spend-the-days” at Ammachi and Appachi’s house, young Arjie plays the game “bride-bride” with his girl cousins, which consists of staging a fantasy wedding. During these weddings, he invariably gets the position of honor: that of the bride herself. When he puts on the rudimentary sari (a traditional draped cloth garment) he made out of a bedsheet, Arjie feels like a film hero and declares that he is “ascend[ing] into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self.” Many years before he even realizes that he is attracted to men, this sari illuminates and stands for the changing and conflicted relationship between Arjie’s gender expression, social norms, and the promise of romantic love.

Beyond clearly representing his break from gender norms and affinity for things considered conventionally feminine—which soon gets him in trouble—the sari also shows how Arjie, as a boy who does not fit in, only gets to pursue his real desires (here, the desire to be beautiful and fall in love) in the register of fantasy. Indeed, when Kanthi Aunty finds him in the sari, she marches him out in front of all the other adults, who fall silent in horror at Arjie’s effeminate outfit. In this sense, the sari comes to represent Arjie’s shame before his family, and his family’s shame before the world; it crystalizes what is wrong and “funny” about Arjie in everyone else’s eyes (except the children’s). Even his most innocent desire—to play with the girls—becomes seen as a deviation from the “correct” way of being and threat to his family’s honor. When he withholds the sari in order to try and win his role back from his vicious cousin Tanuja (“Her Fatness”), Arjie and Tanuja end up literally fighting over an emblem of womanhood, which Arjie tries but fails to hide (like his feminine disposition and his own sexuality later in the book) and ultimately gets punished even more harshly for seeking out. His conflict during bride-bride is both a prediction and a microcosm of the struggles he will face as gay teenager in his conservative Tamil family and Sri Lankan community.

Ultimately, the sari both exposes and ridicules the unchallenged norm of heterosexual love. By donning the sari, Arjie gets to fulfill his nascent desire to love a man, but only in fantasy, by roleplaying a heterosexual marriage; the children have no concept of a marriage except as a bride marrying a groom, and so when Arjie dons the sari, one of the girl children—namely, Arjie’s sister, Sonali—ends up with the unwanted role of groom. In this sense, while it reveals the strong norms of gender, tradition, and heterosexuality that ultimately constrain Arjie’s self-realization throughout the book, the sari also circumscribes an inverted realm of play in which femininity is power and masculinity is irrelevant.

The Bride-Bride Sari Quotes in Funny Boy

The Funny Boy quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bride-Bride Sari. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Funny Boy published in 1994.
1. Pigs Can’t Fly Quotes

From my sling-bag I would bring out my most prized possession, an old white sari, slightly yellow with age, its border torn and missing most of its sequins. The dressing of the bride would now begin, and then, by the transfiguration I saw taking place in Janaki’s cracked full-length mirror—by the sari being wrapped around my body, the veil being pinned to my head, the rouge put on my cheeks, lipstick on my lips, kohl around my eyes—I was able to leave the constraints of my self and ascend into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self, a self to whom this day was dedicated, and around whom the world, represented by my cousins putting flowers in my hair, draping the palu, seemed to revolve. It was a self magnified, like the goddesses of the Sinhalese and Tamil cinema, larger than life; and like them, like the Malini Fonsekas and the Geetha Kumarasinghes, I was an icon, a graceful, benevolent, perfect being upon whom the adoring eyes of the world rested.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Janaki
Related Symbols: The Bride-Bride Sari
Page Number: 4-5
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Her Fatness looked at all of us for a moment and then her gaze rested on me.

“You’re a pansy,” she said, her lips curling in disgust.

We looked at her blankly.

“A faggot,” she said, her voice rising against our uncomprehending stares.

“A sissy!” she shouted in desperation.

It was clear by this time that these were insults.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Tanuja / Her Fatness (speaker), Sonali
Related Symbols: The Bride-Bride Sari
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Bride-Bride Sari Symbol Timeline in Funny Boy

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bride-Bride Sari appears in Funny Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Pigs Can’t Fly
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...the next spend-the-day, Arjie can tell that Amma does not want him to bring his sari. After breakfast, Amma orders Diggy to make Arjie play cricket. Both the boys are distraught,... (full context)
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...group will not even be able to play bride-bride if he does not bring the sari. He also has to avoid the cricket game, and he cannot bring the sari bag... (full context)
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...him, but Her Fatness objects to Arjie playing bride-bride—until he reveals that he has the sari. Arjie says he is willing to play any part in the game, and Her Fatness... (full context)
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
...letter, then another cousin, Lakshmi, to take dictation. Her Fatness interrupts, insists on seeing the sari, and threatens to tell Janaki that Arjie is playing with them, so Arjie retrieves Sonali’s... (full context)
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
But the sari is not inside Sonali’s bag; Arjie realizes that Her Fatness has already discovered and hidden... (full context)