That December morning in Auckland was brighter than usual. The sun peeped in through the French windowpane and spread across the paraphernalia lying on the table. The cards and envelopes were finely measured for dimensions, cut out from scented lilac and white paper and were basking in the glory of the summer sun. The golden hue of the engraving on the cards vivified the sunrays, and that is how that morning was brighter than the usual I believe. Perhaps it was the happiness that was in the air that made everything look brighter, and a bit more beautiful than every day. I picked up one of the cards and held it close to me with both hands. For a moment, I paused to smell the fragrance of the paper, and then took a pen to write the names on it. As I sipped in hot tea, I could inhale the smell of chamomile vapor amalgamated with lilac. I wrote the names on the cards, folded them back neatly, placed the shagun (gifts on auspicious occasions) in the envelopes, and sealed them with glitter coins. While I repeated this exercise, I watched the arrangements outside the window. The world outside the window was a world of its own – the lawn being decorated, the tables and the marquee being set, the drapes being decided, pillows and cushions being piled up, the strands of flowers being hung from the walls of the house, the clinging of the strings of chimes and bells as they were brought in, pylons being erected at the entrance, the hustle and bustle, the people coming in, their luggage being taken, the greetings, the welcomes, and the music playing the notes of –
Banno re banno meri chali sasural ko
(My bride is going to her in-laws house)
Ankhiyo me paani de gayi
(She gives water in the eyes)
Duaa me meethi gud dhani le gayi
(She takes sweet jaggery in our prayers)
Twenty years ago my parents had emigrated from India to New Zealand, and settled down in Auckland five years later. They moved for good – in the wake of building a home away from home. Marriage is a familial affair – it’s never just about love – my parents learned when they decided to tie the knots for their blooming love, and they learned it the hard way. I was three years old when my mother had brought me wrapped in her arms into the apartment at the heart of Wellington city. As my father had placed the last suitcase on the weighing machine at the airport in Calcutta, and pushed the trolley carrying me, I had told him, ‘Baba, look behind. The ice cream corner is behind us.’ I remember the firmness in his voice, ‘We are not going to look back.’ After three years of living in Wellington, my brother was born, and then we moved to Auckland.
Auckland has been my home where I have been raised, and the city where I was born is foreign to me. I grew up in a world within a world. My parents setup a two-way street between two different parts of the earth, one part that they never traveled to anymore. Despite being away from their roots, they tried their best to keep the blue-prints of their origins intact. My parents acclimatized in an unaccustomed land and created an atmosphere of familiarity for me and my brother, though an imported one. Perhaps that was the reason for my penchant for Indian ethos and my constant longing to know about the country that was once home for my parents.
During school holidays I used to accompany my mother in the store room where she rearranged the already arranged stuff. My favorite activity used to be browsing old photo albums to see the lives my parents left long behind and look for the smidgens of that life, if any. I had noticed sundry wedding photographs; all placed beautifully in handcrafted scrapbooks and photobooks. I had always longed to see my parents’ wedding photographs. But I never found one. When I was growing up, glancing through the photographs of their romantic encounters, courtship and bonding days was like reading a love story over and over again. The two pillars of my life are poles apart in more than one way though belonging to the same diaspora of the subcontinent, and yet they established a foundation that is so concrete that none can ruin the base. They see the path differently but they traverse the same boulevard. Falling in love with these two people is easy because their bond emanates a spirit to live life, and live it despite all odds. So, it goes beyond saying that I was always fascinated to see the memories of the union of these two souls. However, amidst the remembrances stocked in the less frequently visited chamber of the house, I failed to trace the photographic captures of my parents’ wedding.
An Indian wedding is a tale in itself, a tale of intertwined families, their varying cultures how much geographically connected they might be, their clashes, likes, dislikes, idiosyncrasies, and eccentricities. I wonder at times if the two individuals being united in marriage lose their quintessence in the fanfare. But on the other hand, an Indian wedding is a concoction of every possible human emotion, each of which surfaces in a different fashion at a different time during the tenure of the wedding and its preparation. It is not merely a celebration but an event that symbolizes both the esteem and joy of a family. Every individual sometimes even distantly related has a distinct role to play, and the family becomes alive in harmony. The whole affair might sound very complicated but the underlying truth is that the theory that backs up a wedding in the land of diversity is a simple one. It is about two people being united and such that everyone who loves them celebrates their meld and takes an interest to make it a memorable day for the ones being wedded. My parents never had this kind of a wedding. Legally, they have been married for more than two decades now but I knew that their hearts had yearned for that feast day which fosters not one but many relationships.
Last summer I was travelling to Europe to join my parents in their holiday there. Since the reverse season flourishes in the upper half of the world, I was looking for woolens to bear the cold in London. I was rampaging a closet in the store room when I happened to find a wooden chest. It was the same chest that I had always seen my mother cleaning when I was a child. I had all sorts of curiosities associated with that chest but inquisitiveness faded with time as the chest became less visible or probably made less visible by my mother. Time had decided that it was about time for me to see its contents. It was full of chits of papers – movie tickets and restaurant bills marked with memoirs and dates, buttons from a shirt, vintage sunglasses, sticky notes with writings, Indian coins in a faded bejeweled pouch, a rusted box of vermilion, a pair of shoe laces, postcards, a dysfunctional fountain pen, dried basil leaves wrapped in a paper, sea shells, a tiny placard saying happy birthday, dried roses, and bits and pieces of uncountable recollections. Truly, love can be seen if only one could see it in this scattered world inside the chest – a love so treasured, so pure, so intact.
“I want a wedding, Ayaan”, I had said on my flight to London. “Really, that soon? Change of mind, Miss S”. “I want my parents to have a wedding Ayaan, I really do.” “They have been married for more than twenty years, Shivangi. What is the matter with you?” “They have never had a wedding, they have been simply married”, I had said. “Do you mean you want a big fat Indian wedding?” Ayaan had teased. “It’s their wedding, and it has to be the way it is supposed to be – happy, beautiful, and breathtaking! If that is called a big fat one then probably it will be” I had smilingly replied.
Following that bright December morning was a week-long celebration in our family! Love wins over everything. I don’t know whether it was love, distance or time that had won over my grandparents who had now crossed seas to unite their children in the presence of divine chants and the holy pyre. It must be sounding like a fairy tale and far from real, does it? It did seem dubious to me when I set out on this pledge. From dancing to perky Bollywood notes to gulping of rich spicy food, from bright big chandeliers to shimmery drapes, from henna laden hands to turmeric coated faces, from overnight chit chats to day spanning stories, from festooned lehngas to bedecked sarees, from traditional ornaments to contemporary jewelry, from colorful turbans to pajamas and dhotis, from cheerful jabbering to tensed contemplation, from choral cheering of nuptial songs to chanting of sacred hymns, from candid photography to customary rituals – all and everything of an Indian wedding was witnessed in the house of emigrated Indians and their bi-world children.
Din Shagana Da Chadheya Aao Sakhiyon Bhi
mera Sajana Mera Sajana
mileya Sajana Milan Vadhaayeeyaan Ni
sajan Doli Sajan Doli Sajan Doli Leke Aana Ni Mera Sajana
o Mera Sajana
As my mother descended the stairs of the house, my father saw her from the distance, and asked me, “What are the ladies singing?” I told him, mom had translated this for me a long time ago, “The auspicious day for the marriage beckons, Come my beloved and friends, I am being congratulated and blessed on this wedding day, Come my beloved with the palanquin and take me as your bride.” My father had smiled, and replied, “You see that woman who is descending the stairs – she disturbed my equilibrium, and saw me through, like a tiny droplet of water she touched the very fabric of my life. I asked him, “What did you do then, dad?” “I coalesced with her, and let the droplet transform into a flow.” I smiled, and said, “I will go and get her.”
As I held my mom’s hand, she had told me, “You see that man who is waiting for me – he is my soulmate, he tore down my walls and surfaced the dormant me inside my soul.” I asked her, “Why do you love him, mom?” “He is my sunshine. The earth revolves around the sun – there is no dictate, there is no reason. It is bound to it and so am I.”
Next morning, when I wrote, ‘Love, Shivangi S.’ on the card for the trousseau, Ayaan asked, “Why do you put your father’s initial as the initial for your surname?” “My mother puts it that way. We adore this man in our lives”, I had replied. He smiled, and said, “He is your hero!” I said, “He is her hero, and that’s how he is mine!”