First week of February, 1995. A riot of color and noise lit a small town on the map of north-Central India. Marigold,jasmine and rose garlands hang over a large tent filled with blinding light. A thousand, glittering people attending a Hindu ceremony – four days of feasting, staying up late, singing until the throats are parched, dancing like no one is watching, sore ankles, hung hands drying henna, of suitcases of flowing saris and lehengaas and matching jewelry. Of unending celebration.
I am tired after hugging non stop and touching feet. I am drenched in blessings, covered in make up and draped in lavish silk, jewelry with a heavy, floral garland around my neck. I am the one everyone wants to see, touch and talk to. I am stuffed with sweets every time a relative stops by. My overloaded stomach is making me giddy but I am smiling. Because I am happy. It is this day, I have always dreamt of and it has surpassed my expectations. I have surpassed my expectations of being patient; of acknowledging each of the thousandth guest and beginning a journey that will start at the end of today – when wedding ceremonies will end and marriage will begin. The wedding is only a grand preamble.
Now, fast forward the clock by eighteen years to the weekend of July 13th, 2013. Our neighbor’s daughter is getting married to her only boyfriend and high-school sweetheart, not too far away from where we live. To say, I am excited, is a gross understatement. I had been told over and again that this would be a laid-back affair but since this will be my fist opportunity to witness a Christian wedding – I am thrilled beyond reason.
I sift through my heavily embroidered, vibrant panels of saris to pause at a simple, elegant dress that may be appropriate for the informal, summer event. I put on minimal make up (astonished at the fact that I spent many hours getting ready for each event during my elaborate wedding). We arrive at the posted time and are quickly enchanted with the simple venue – the buzzing, invisible wildlife on tall trees by the side of a small lake. Somewhere over the rainbow plays and compliments the lucid surroundings as we sit and chat with neighbors and friends. And I am reminded of the
informal events of my wedding in complete contrast – loud with blaring songs, interrupted with striking gold and silver and consumption of surplus food before, during and afterwards of everything.
The music changes as the groom walks and waits. The bridesmaids follow with the best man and other friends. Finally the flower girl makes way through the corridor covering it in purple, rose petals. A few steps away, the shadow of my neighbor lurks setting the veil over his daughter’s shoulders – holding her hand, looking over her head as if collecting all those years of her growing up in every, measured step. A father’s love and protection basks the bride as her dad is going over a million, mixed emotions before presenting her in marriage to another man who will make same promises but reflect them differently. My eyes instantly water; the salt in my nerves tickle as I recollect my father hugging me tight after a ceremony that lasted the entire night, of giving me away. His concern, his happiness, his tears drew the graph of life that I traversed under his shadow.
The vows begin. Words are simple – ‘till death do us part – but have a lifetime stuck in their bellies.
In sickness and in health – the loyalty to each others being than just physical presence.
For better or worse – the strength of the bond not just permanent as ink over paper but engraved in the souls as a holy script.
I recall the Sanskrit verses – the promises we made to each other in front of the priest, our parents and all family and friends as we embraced life in all its grandeur and folly – circling the sacred fire seven times for our seven lives together.
The rings are exchanged and the boy and girl are pronounced as man and wife with the common last name occupying the first part of their identities as a couple. While the change only takes a moment, it is what they will be addressed in correspondences, in home leases, in insurances, in tax returns and in the birth certificates of their children.
I hold my husband’s hand, who is seated next to me. I smile at my daughter seated on the other side. After eighteen years of ride, I have understood marriage some and every day has been worth the promise I made. There were frustrations and there were misunderstandings. There has been bliss and there have been challenges. There were doubts and there has been an underlying faith. Of love and fidelity. Of passion and stability. Of anger and peace. Of going away but coming back in the next moment. Of developing as individuals but growing as a family. Of having a day of stupendous wedding but accepting the hard work behind the simplicity of constructing marriage everyday.
And the essence of this profound tradition is same – no matter the geographic location, the culture or faith.
Small pieces of paper are passed around to give personal advice to the newly wed couple. I look at the struggling pen, blank paper and watch the bride and groom as they dance – hand in hand, looking into each others eyes, lost in their love and its bliss. I start writing.
The routine will pick up tomorrow. Grocery lists, laundry, monthly bills will creep between you. You will pause; you will wonder with your head bowed as how did you end up in a big pile of never-ending responsibilities. At every such crossroad, you will need something to remind you instantly why you chose to be with each other. You will need to refresh your hooks to the foundation that kept you together all these years and brought you this far. So, keep this instant close – the one that is slipping away but is the culmination of your steadfast love; the one that says that you can move mountains together and the one that whispers that nothing else in the world matters because you have each other. And you will be fine. And happy. And better.
I look up and see my husband holding a spot for me in the dinner queue. He is signalling me to not rush. I smile in appreciation; walk to the glass jar full of creased wisdom; fold my advice and on second thought, tear and throw it away in a trash can. I found my way through my marriage and I am sure they will too. On my way, I hug the newly weds, wish them love and happiness and silently pray for them to always see and remember the best in each other and nurture forgiveness. Then I go and stand next to my husband.You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days. Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow. ~Khalil Gibran~