I Married a Total Stranger
But on the other hand, it was nice to finally be engaged. And the very fact
that I was getting hitched to an Indian living in America made me royalty.
Traditionally in India, the bride's father pays for the weeklong ceremony.
He also provides a "dowry" — cash that accompanies the bride from her
old home to her new one and serves as her financial security — sort of an
ancient prenup. In today's urban India, it's couched in a package of fabulous
parties, elegant saris, and, of course, heirloom jewels that mothers have
cleverly been amassing since their daughters were born. My future in-laws,
however, insisted on sharing the financial burden, setting the stage for an
equitable and very modern marriage.
For months, my 16 aunts slaved away, putting together a trousseau of the
wildest, boldest silks. My mother became the conductor of this grand orchestra,
giving orders and coordinating schedules. The days when the preparations felt
overwhelming were actually the ones when I was least afraid of my future. In
America, I wouldn't be governed by in-laws, nosy neighbors, or relatives
checking on whether I was following tradition. I imagined freedom. Relief.
The wedding was preceded by six days of partying, each one centering on a
small religious ceremony, plus a social gathering featuring fireworks,
feasting, music, and Bollywood-style dancing. Each day required a different
outfit, jewelry, hairdo, and makeup. Rather than the bachelorette parties I'd
later learn about in the States — where someone might end up with a "Chuck
Forever" tattoo — at home in Mumbai, my girlfriends and I partook in a
henna hand-painting ritual to beautify me for my future husband.
After the henna ceremony, two of my cousins took me aside and gave me the
CliffsNotes on the birds and bees. Combine an Indian upbringing with a
Catholic-school education, and my knowledge of sex was limited to "It is
a sin." Despite blushing profusely and begging them to stop, I
completed the crash course, and we all laughed.
On the wedding day, my groom, dressed in a brocade coat, arrived in a
flower-decked Mercedes — a modern-day maharaja. Together, we circled the holy
fire seven times (a tradition called Saat Pheras); then, under a canopy
of frangipanis and orchids, we were wedded for seven lifetimes. The Pheras are
the most important part of the wedding ceremony. In Hinduism, the fire is
considered the sustainer of life, and it is only after the Saat Pheras are
completed that a couple is declared man and wife. Each Phera is taken to invoke
the blessings of specific gods and goddesses, who then grant the seven
blessings: financial stability, health, faith, trust and love, progeny,
togetherness, and loyalty and unity forever.
On my wedding night, a sense of calm finally washed over me, as I made my
leap from bride to wife (armed with the Kama Sutra, which my cousins had
downloaded onto my PDA as a gift).