Well, this new semester of classes is kicking my butt. I find that between work, class, homework, my own writing and extra stuff like eating, exercise, etc. at night I’m mentally exhausted. It’s important to me to document my experience as I lived it to help my friends and family understand the experience and the challenges that L and I have faced. So I will continue, albeit slower than I would have originally hoped.
The morning of my wedding I woke up with diarrhea. The stylist that was to do my hair and make-up was supposed to come to my hotel room at 6:30, but I knew realistically that meant 7. Luckily I was right because at 6 am I was in the bathroom for a half an hour. The pain of dysentery (which I would later confirm I had) would stick with me for an entire week and further screw up my system even after I got back to US. But I didn’t care about that. I just wanted to get through the day.
The stylists began working on my hair at 7 and I was able to tell them exactly what I wanted through L’s mother who I had called. I was nervous about this at first, because L’s mother is an opinionated woman who will often go with what she believes is best despite others’ ideas. It just so happens that she’s right 98% of the time. But in this instance I didn’t care if she would be right, if my hair would ultimately look better if the stylists did it her way. I wanted to take control of something and that was more important than looking good.
By 7:30 I had five people in my hotel room, by eight that number had grown to fifteen. Luckily I wasn’t the only one getting ready or getting my hair/make-up done. L’s cousin Teenu as well as L’s mother came later. I felt relieved to have some of the attention off me. My hair was pinned in an elaborate spider-like bun with stick-on jewels attached to four braids flowing out to the center. They placed a gold crown on the top of my hair and attached a veil I would soon come to hate. The five-tiered veil was made of a light net material with jewels sewn into the mesh. The largest tier went to the floor and only after twenty minutes of having it on my neck ached. (Unfortunately, I can’t find one good photo of the veil)
I was covered in jewelry. I had earrings, necklace, bangles, two rings, two anklets and two toe rings-not to mention my henna. But nothing was more beautiful than the saree. My new found Indian cousins and aunts all told me that I looked amazing in the saree, that the dress looked great on me because of my skin tone. I think they’re crazy, of course. I still don’t understand how my pale skin could be more desirable or look better than their rich, brown skin. Yet, I felt beautiful in that dress. It was not beautiful in a western sense, it did not accent the best features of my figure (I’d never willingly show off my belly). Instead I felt like I was wearing a work of art.
By 9:30 my friends and family had already taken about 500 photos of me. I am not one who thrives at being the center of attention. In addition, I had eaten three pieces of toast and some watermelon and felt horrible. But I was determined to get through the day as happily as I could, and not go to the bathroom. I didn’t even want to try to maneuver in that dress!
There was a lot of chaos getting to the church, although I’m not sure why. I remember posing for a lot of photos and my friends and family twittering around me. They were speaking in English, but they might as well been talking in Malayalam. The purpose of that day was finally hitting me. I was about to get married to a man I loved. Neither L or I knew what the ceremony would be like, what we’d have to do, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to understand most of it. But at the end of the day we would have gained some legitimacy and some freedom.
We arrived at the church to find over a hundred people milling about in the parking lot. L and I were to enter the church first with the priest followed by the other guests. I was escorted by John, L’s cousin, and L was escorted by his brother. Seeing L at the top of the stairs made me instantly feel better. He was not only handsome (as expected) but in his smile I could tell how relaxed and happy he was. It was if I could hear him telling me “This isn’t that big of a deal. Let’s just have a good time.”
Once inside the church the whirlwind of voices and commands again took over. We were lead to light a candle. Then we were instructed to sit, then stand. The Father announced to everyone that “although 95% of the people in attendance did not speak English the majority of the service would be conducted in English for the few people who did.” I was asked to read a passage from the Bible- something about God taking a rib of Adam to create Eve. Then L read a passage. If you had asked me during his reading what he was saying I probably couldn’t have answered. I was focused on the hundreds of people behind me, the heavy veil that was never in the right place and the stained glass windows. I looked to my right and saw my father amidst the other priests, his video camera pointed right at my face.
While the Father spoke to both of us, he stared only at me. He would often say things like “you may not know this because you’re not Catholic,” or “Because you’re not Catholic you don’t…” He stressed that the purpose of marriage was to have at least one child. I learned earlier from this Father that, in his mind, infertility is adequate grounds for annulment and that adoption doesn’t count in the eyes of God. If anyone of the 250 people in attendance happened to look at my hands during this part of the service they would have seen me furiously scratching the top of my hand in order to keep my tongue still and a serene smile on my face.
My favorite part of the ceremony was, however, when the Father urgently received a piece of folded paper, and looking at it appeared to sigh heavily with purpose. He went to the podium and said that the owners of a car with such-and-such license plate needed to move their vehicle since it was blocking the next wedding party.
Because I am not Catholic, and therefor could not receive communion in the Catholic church, our ceremony was limited to the wedding service which did not include a Mass. Thank God. Our wedding was over in forty-five minutes. After the blessing of the rings, the tying of the thali, draping of the mandraghodi (those things explained below) and blessing with holy water it was done. More picture taking ensued, and we were rushed out of the church onto the next event, the reception.
Maybe because of the fact that I was the center of attention, but I could not help feeling horribly selfish about the whole thing. It wasn’t until that morning seeing L’s mother, stressed and tired but trying her best to hide it, that I realized how much work she had done for this wedding. It wasn’t simply because L’s parents wanted to have a wedding that lived up to the standards of their extended family. They were trying to give L and I something beautiful the best way they knew how. I had translated much of their suggestions and demands as attempts to conform me to the tropes of their culture, to have me fit in as best as possible, in many ways to not embarrass them. Sitting in the wedding car with L, his brother and John I knew that his parents were modest, insightful, if not a little stubborn, people who wanted, above all, for my family to feel welcomed and for me to feel like I belonged.
Thali – The thali is a small diamond shaped piece of gold with a cross on it. During the ceremony seven threads are taken from the mandraghodi and combined together to make one long strand. The thali is then hung on this long strand. At one point in the ceremony L ties the thali around my neck. How he ties it is important because it signifies our success in marriage. He didn’t do too bad a job.
Mandraghodi – The Mandraghodi is the saree I wore for the reception. After the ceremony I then change into the Mandraghodi, but before that it is blessed by the Father with a prayer and holy water. Then (to my surprise) it is draped over my head for part of the ceremony.