As much as this is a time for such pomp and glory, the typical Indian wedding is not bereft of its own problems.
A glimpse of many years ago and the experience, which even today is so vivid in Maya’s mind can become some of the realities of an Indian wedding.
Sunil’s family (Maya’s future husband) were his parents ( a retired father and a housewife mother) and three children of which the oldest was the guy, Maya met and consented to marry when the question was popped.
Maya had a past that Sunil was aware of and constantly reminded her that it didn’t bother him and was of no relevance to his family as he was the one marrying her and not them. Little did Maya know that this statement was far from the truth, a reality that hit her quite quickly afterwards.
Maya had met the family and was assured that the family were happy to accept her as the new member. She was asked an opinion and since her future husband (with the few flaws that she saw) was someone she could talk to, could laugh with and someone who she connected with, consent was a quick nod of her head.
The badgering started soon after. There was no time when Maya wasn’t asked if a date had been fixed, why would she delay the wedding, we want this finalised etc. No phone call if any went without this question, to the point that a month was thrown at them to detract them. No sooner than they were 6 months away from that month, the questions started again. The constant irritant in Maya’s life which she couldn’t get away from.
The mother wears the pants in this house and she is the one who is control – in control of the lives of all. The Father carries on and throws his tantrums ever so often, in an attempt to establish his presence. Sarcasm is second skin and can be quite scathing in his remarks.
The insight into Maya’s in laws is to give you a glimpse of the demands that were made for a wedding date. So much that Sunil succumbed to the pressure and agreed to their requirements forgetting the legal side and the complications of the Hindu Marriage Act.
Common sense is not so common they say and it escaped Maya’s dictionary in a moment of weakness when she said December 2007.
From July, she was constantly asked if the date was fixed and if her family would arrange for the wedding. As you may guessed for reasons that are best known to Maya and Sunil, they were not ready for a Dec 2007 wedding, but there was no backing out. Maya was completely trapped, long chats yielded no results and finally quite ashamed of herself, she went with the plan.
Living away from her family, Maya had created a make believe world of work/ friends and colleagues who were the most integral part of the life she led. She was not encumbered by the rituals and customs of a typical Indian girl, she lived life on her own terms. The only solace in all this was her life would continue in this way once she puts the wedding behind her and she returns to her world.
Maya visited her parents, took their blessings without informing them and then packed her bags with expensive sarees and jewellery for a wedding sans her creators.
Through the short flight from home to the city where the wedding was planned, she was battling demons. Am I doing the right thing. Is the pressure warranted? Will this be back to bite ? If they don’t support me, will they understand at all? Was it too late? While these questions tossed around her mind, tears welling in her eyes, she heard the landing announcement and the touchdown was the fastest ever experienced. 5 mins later Maya was walking out of the airport and he heart skipped a beat….there in front of her stood Sunil. She had tears in her eyes as he hugged her and deep in her heart she knew that she wanted to be with him but at what cost? Life was a tangled mess of emotions, relations and everything other than Maya and Sunil.
The ride to his brother’s apartment was a good 1hour away. The conversation was limited yet, only they knew the emotional roller coaster they were on. Drama was high, expectations and needs were the order of the day. Sunil wanted the best for Maya, his life, he knew he needed to give her time, but….things had gone beyond his control . He wanted Maya to remember this day, a new beginning for her and cherish the moments, but this was not to be.
Some of the requirements were justified, understand that a wedding is the time for pomp and show of a family…..the list was endless. Sarees and gifts for all the aunties (this could mean relatives, friends and even ladies that they had never heard off), the elaborate decorations and arrangements that the family wanted, even if this was meant to be a simple no frills affair….the extravagant lunch and dinner menus for a few thousand invitees (the joke was not to have a wedding on a Sunday) and before you realise it, the savings of the past few years has evaporated, not while building your future, but while pleasing the family so that they can revel in pride of a wedding that is talked about, until the next one!
The honk of the taxi as they reached their destination, brought Maya back to reality, she was getting married the next day. The bags were deposited in foyer of the house, there seemed to be a million faces in there and the frenzy of activities bowled her over. The sudden cries of “the bride is here ” reverberated around the house and everyone stopped to look. Maya blushed, and demurely folded her hands in the typical Indian style of reverence – the namaste!
She was soon whisked away by the numerous cousins and friends to partake in the activities around the house. Always smiling, always full of life, she easily drifted in, while her eyes kept darting around to catch a glimpse of Sunil. Her heart longing for a few moments alone with him, the last few stolen moments with him before the mele.
Soon wedding dresses were on display, the numerous outfits that had to be changed and the young fashion conscious girls were matching the jewellery that Maya had gathered over these years in anticipation of this day. Gold and diamonds glittered and the the women folk were dazzled by the ornate pieces of jewellery. The grannies wanted all the jewellery to be worn in a display of wealth, while the younger gen had other plans for Maya di.The henna design was the only agreement as tradition overpowered even the most modern…!
As the evening set in, the doors of the house were left open for the constant stream of visitors…there didn’t seem to be a single room where there were no strangers! Along with cool December breeze wafted in, the aroma, a heady mix of the scent of flowers, the incense sticks and the scent of cooking – cardamom and the other spices!
Maya had her hands covered in henna designs, the soft breeze was fluttering wisps of her hair on her face. The colour of the henna was staining her palms to a bright red. The glow from the oil lamps that bedecked the corridors and the rooms, flickered and cast their dancing forms in shadows.
The heavy silk brocade sarees that the older women wore; the rustle of the silk and georgette ghaghras that the young girls floated in; the sparkle of gold; the string of jasmine that adorned the hair. The atmosphere was festive and people rushed about with their last minute chores. – be it shouting orders to the caterers,more errands to run and making arrangements for the rituals in the morning.
The constant flow of guests arriving at the airport, the train station and even in their own cars didn’t seem to stop. Hotels/ friend’s place and even with other relatives seemed to be options for the night before, stay.
Maya was being ushered into a room to catch up some sleep so that she could look her best on the big day. The hustle and bustle didn’t seem to ebb. The food, drinks, laughter and music continued into the wee hours. An Indian wedding could span into 3 or 5 day ceremonies depending upon the family. Maya and Sunil wanted a low key wedding but were roped into an ostentatious 2 day affair. The Sangeet and the henna ceremony had been rolled into one on their insistence.
The mandap for the traditional Hindu rituals had been set up and was decked in auspicious marigold and sweet smelling jasmine, in the middle of the garden. The golden gauze curtains fluttered in the pleasant morning breeze as the silver and bronze lamps and vessels glinted in the morning sun.The layout was stunning and the atmosphere created by the chants of the pundits was divine. There was peace and calm amongst the chaos of the wedding and the mandap felt like the sanctum sanctoram of a temple.
Elsewhere, there were frenzied activities as the Hindu weddings are performed at auspicious time determined by the stars and the astrological predictions – time was of essence.
Maya was draped in her heavy brocade sari and the jewellery laid out would require another hour to dorn. She had no make up on with the exception of of black kohl that brought a glint to her large brown eyes and a hint of colour on her lips. The sari complimented her skin tone and made Maya look ravishing. Her hair was braided and tied up and Maya looked very much the demure Indian bride.
She had a smile on her lips and tears in her eyes as she went about the morning in a trance. Deep down, her heart was heavy, her soul was not with her and the only person who understood this was Sunil. All the messages since the night before professed his love for her and how they would overcome all the challenges ahead. Sunil promised Maya everything that life could ever give. They had sat in different corners of the house texting each other with an outpouring of emotions.
The chants continued and the air was filled with the aroma of camphor, burning ghee and incenses. The rituals were in full swing and Maya was soon called to take her place on the mandap. Sunil would be there first, seated and participating in the prayers.
All eyes were on Maya as she gracefully walked up to the mandap flanked by the young girls of the family. Sunil’s best mate and his wife gave away the girl in a ceremony called the kanyadhan, at the start of the wedding rituals.
The next twenty minutes passed in the blink of an eyelid as Maya went through the instructions given. She was praying for longevity in marriage at times, she was circling the fire to seek blessings and at other times she was following Sunil through the various steps of marriage…a union that was being solemnised in the presence of fire, signalling a new chapter in her life. The drum beats and the pipes signalled the union when the mangalsutra was tied and as Sunil applied the red vermillion on the parting of Maya’s hair, a tradition in an Indian Wedding. The shower of flowers, and blessed grains of rice, the wishes from all around and now it was time to seek the blessings of the elders.
Maya kept the smile on her lips as she sought blessings, touching the feet and many times it was a tight hug and whispered wishes. He was the only one she felt connected to in this crowd. A stream of people walked up to congratulate them, and the next two hours passed in a blur. Uncles and aunties took this time to narrate stories from Sunil’s childhood, while some others were passing invitations for a meal to the newly weds.
The video cameras whirred and moments were being captured on celluloid, while flash bulbs continued to blind Sunil and Maya. Friends, family and well wishers gathered for the pictures while the lunch buffet was opened up.
All the stress of the past two days had killed their appetite, however Maya and Sunil were being offered plates by all. Politely declining the offers, Maya and Sunil instead walked around the guest who were enjoying their lunch.
As in every Indian wedding, food was a plenty and the live stations included chat corners and South Indian snacks. One couldn’t miss the non veg section with its aromatic biryanis, chicken and meat delicacies, while the vegetarian section saw a medley of rich cream laden curries and breads. The desert corner was another dreamland – every Indian desert one could think off was spread out for those with a sweet tooth, kulfi, rasmalai, jalebi, gulab jamuns and the list was endless.
By mid afternoon, as guests started leaving, some were off to find a corner in the house where they could catch a few winks, while the caterers slowed down the refills. It was back to family time again and all that Maya wanted was to get out of the wedding finery and slip into her comfortable clothes, unbraid her hair and let it fall loose.
This is moment that will remain etched in Maya’s memory for ages. The whole family was around relaxed as the house seemed to return to normal, when out of the blue her father in law made a comment that landed like a ton of bricks. With no warning, with no premonition, he simply stated that he would insist that his second son gets married with a dowry – an Indian practice where the brides family has to meet demands from the groom and his family for cash, gifts and even houses.
Maya was not just shocked, she was taken aback with this statement as she knows the lengths that she has gone to for this wedding. Between her and Sunil, there were many a heart to heart discussion on the economic differences in the two families and all that Maya wanted was to share her life and every moment with Sunil. These materialistic conversations were not important to her, but now she knew the impact. She had looked towards Sunil helplessly, but Sunil chose to ignore….and his only comment was that this was a joke! An expensive joke for Maya as her world came crashing down hours after the fan fare that she had planned to keep her in laws happy. She hoped that the life she had chosen would not be a joke on her in the years ahead!