April 17th 2009
“Hello? Hello Bronwynji?”
“Hey Ashish,” I exclaimed. “How are you? Are you at home? I’m just at Haifa checking email, I’m coming soon.”
“Yes all are at home, waiting for you! The Nadine wants to talk to you!”
“Okay, sure…hello? Nadine?”
“Hey Bronwyn! Hope your day was fab! Guess what though, I’ve been invited to a wedding tonight! Want to come?”
“Oh my gosh…yes! Whose wedding? Where? Oh my gosh!”
“I’ll tell you later, but you better hurry home and get beautiful now, you have like half an hour-”
“-totally doable under normal circumstances, but is it forty degrees out, so that is a little challenging-”
“-natch, you came here for a challenge, right?” Nadine laughed. “See you at home, asap! I’m borrowing a suit from Mamta, I’ll grab one for you too.”
I practically skipped down the gali to the house, like the goats, smiling at some neighbours. Inside, Nadine was waiting for me, salwar suit in hand. Ashish lay on the living room cushions, hands clasped behind his head. Dirty fingernails scratching his dark neck.
“Are you ready, Bronwynjii? You look nice.” he giggled.
“Are you joking? I have to have a shower, I just walked home, and you know how I walk!” I raised my arms to check out my sweatstains. Impressive.
“Yes…too fast!” he shouted, as though it was a well known song.
On the rooftop, I grabbed the bedsheet that I use as a towel (to go between the bathroom and my room, a distance of five feet) and locked myself in the bathroom. Turned on the spout and poured buckets of water over my head. Back in in my room, I pulled the tight churidars over my calves, the kameez over my head. I ran downstairs in a cloud of talcum powder, trying to do up a necklace clasp at the same time, trying not to trip on my chiffon dupatta at the same time. Nadine was already ready, bangles clanging on both wrists, suit being adjusted by Mamta.
“The fit is maybe not quite right, but it will do.” Mamta said primly. She’s a bigger girl than either Nadine or I, but looks way more classy in a salwar kameez.
“Good to go? Let’s go!” We followed Mamta out of the house, stepping carefully in the stones and dust in our beaded shoes.
“Ehhhhhh auto!” Mamta yelled in a gruff voice that I’d never heard before. She instantly turned back into her composed self and flipped her dark hair.
“Chaal na? Get in.”
An enormous jeep-shaped mini bus stopped in front of us. Several sari-clad women were already crammed inside, facing one another on benches, holding on to bars above. Nadine and I simultaneously hitched up our churidars and hoisted ourselves inside. Mamta and two of her girlfriends also climbed in.The vehicle groaned to a start. We bumped over the pavement, swerving carefully around the groups of people that filled the street.
The site announced itself by colourful strips of fake silk worn by trees. Trellises had been erected to hold more fabric, a temporary garish palace of thin white and red cloth. The ground was astro-turf, like a mini-golf green.
Inside the cloth palace compound, women were dripping in gold jewellery, their sari pallus covered in intricate embroidery; men wearing western suits and looking underdressed compared to their wives. Children roamed the area, wearing miniature suits and puffy dresses. Food was everywhere: a full buffet table spanned the length of two sides of the enormous rectangle.
“Where to start eating?” wondered Nadine aloud, after we’d undergone lengthy introductions with the family of the groom.
“I don’t know. I feel overwhelmed!” Waiters hired specifically for the event scurried between guests, emptying trash bins that dotted the astroturf landscape as fast as they were filled. Still more hovered behind the endless tables that featured a lavish spread of food. They all wore the same uniform: white, sometimes stained, with red bow ties and black vests. Each young man’s near-black skin contrasted with the bright and starched white of his shirt.
We approached one table and picked up sweet and colourful non-alcoholic drinks.
“Thank you bhaiya,” Nadine and I smiled. The boy who served us looked to be maybe sixteen, stray hairs on his upper lip trying to create a mustache that would be worn proudly. Indianly. He nodded solemnly, unsure of how to react to these strange women
“Eat something, na?” Mamta said with her mouth full. Some people ate with plastic utensils, others with their hands. Her friends nodded in agreement, all stirring their own food with fingers or forks. So Nadine and I sampled chow mein, veg manchurian, tandoori naan with punjabi chole, shahi paneer in rich gravy, daal fry over buttery rice with cashews and raisins, masala salted lime soda, rasmalai, gulab jamuns and two different kinds of ice cream. A true feast!
When the bride arrive in a car, everyone began to gravitate to see her come in. She came, looking shy and afraid,
“-exactly as the bride should look! She is playing a role here, like an actress you can say. If she is too bold or looking too happy, people will talk about her, like maybe she is experienced, maybe they will doubt her. So it is her job to seem afraid.” Mamta explained.
The bride was tall and fair and beautiful: arguably the ideal Indian bride. She crept forward slowly, almost shaking, eyes lowered to the ground. With the help of two other women, she climbed stairs onto the stage to meet her new husband. The two stood side by side and garlanded one another nervously. Several camera flashes went off every second for many moments. Immediate and extended family made their way onto the stage in waves, older nanis being assisted by younger relatives. They held their hands over the newlyweds’ heads for good luck.
Nadine and I watched and ate ice cream. Mamta interrupted:
“It will go on all night, but some of us we have to go to work tomorrow! So let’s go home and take rest.” Reasoning like a true north American. Outside the cloth palace, where astroturf again met dust, we climbed into a similar vehicle. We chatted and laughed all the way home, and then linked arms to walk through the final dark gali to to the house.
“So? How was the marriage? Did you enjoy?” Lalu stood outside the house with his arms crossed.
“Oh my gosh Lalu, it was amazing! The bride was SO beautiful-” Nadine began,
“-the food was SO nice, you would have loved it, chole and-” I gushed,
“-there were so many people, and so many pretty girls! You’ll have to come to the next one!”