If you’re new to the blog, start reading thedelhibells series from here. This is post #9.
Sunday. I wake up for the last time as a single girl. I look around my room – it’s still the same as it has been for the last 4 years, except for the cupboards that are now half-empty and the floor with half-filled suitcases lying on it. I look over to the right side of my bed – that side has been empty for many years, I’ve slept in a room alone for too many years. I feel the mattress beneath my palms, the pillow I had bought specially for myself when I had shifted to a hostel, the dressing table which I’ve kept messy despite my mother’s multiple attempts to get me to keep it clean, and my beloved bookshelf which I’d gotten made when I was in Class IX in a shade that matched the rest of the furniture in my room.
Everything is about to change.
I go to my parents’ room, still half-asleep – something I’ve done everyday for the last 3 years. They are not in their room, and I hadn’t expected them to be. Their first daughter is getting married today for heaven’s sake; major preparations are already underway!
I have a light breakfast – I’m not feeling too hungry. And barely any time has passed by when I realize it’s time to pack up for the parlor. I am supposed to reach by 1 pm, so I pack up super quick and have an even quicker lunch.
I tell my sister to hurry up, because we need to leave. She gets all her things together, and I’m about to step out of the house when my mother calls out to me “Bhagwan ko pranam kar ke jao!” So I run back into my room, open the door to the “mandir”, say a quick “thank you and I wish everything goes well” to God and rush back to into the car with my sister.
I am not coming back home as a single girl again after this. But this is not how it was supposed to happen.
You see, in my family, the bride and groom come back to the bride’s house post the wedding and spend their first night there. The vidaai then takes place the next morning, when the rest of the baraat comes to pick up the newlyweds. But my groom is a Punjabi. And in their family, the vidaai happens “taaron ki chaaon mein”, which basically means that I have to say goodbye to my family from the wedding venue itself. When I first realized this, I was totally against the idea. From when I was a little girl, I’ve only seen one thing – the bride and groom come back to the girl’s house. The vidaai happens the next day. My mind is spinning when I’m looking at the alternative. My groom has told me multiple times – just say what’s on your mind, what your wish is, and we’ll try getting that done. You are the girl after all, it is your vidaai, maybe nobody will mind if we do it your way. But an Indian wedding is not a marriage of two individuals, but of two families. So I leave the decision in my parents’ hands, and they are totally cool with sending me off directly from the venue once they realize how important the “taaron ki chaaon mein” vidaai ritual is for the groom’s family.
Although it’s not how it was supposed to happen, it IS happening. And honestly, on wedding day, there is no freakin’ time to think. I am feeling nothing but sheer excitement and happiness, and I’m just storing away all my feelings about not going back home after the wedding in a safe place in the corner of my heart. We’ll deal with those feelings later (that day will come 4 months later!)
We reach b:blunt just a little bit late, and my MUA gets to work immediately. She puts my hair in curlers (a bun is easier to make if the hair is already curled up) and starts with my makeup. I take out my phone and start reading out a list of do’s and don’ts to her – I’d jotted down all the things I did not like about my look on Sangeet so I could help her create a look I liked a little bit more for my big day.
She’s making me a bun, which I was also completely against before wedding day. But she explained to me that a bun is needed to keep the dupatta in place, and she’s promised to make me a modern bun. I sit there with my fingers crossed, hoping I don’t get the “Aunty bun”, which is basically a bun that makes a bride appear much older than her actual age.
Before she starts with the bun, she wants to put on the maang tika. I stand up and go to the area where all the packets are kept – and I start digging around the multiple packets looking for my jewellery box.
And…I can’t find it.
Guess what? I’ve left it at home!
I take a deep (very, very, very deep) breath and call my mother. She’s in a parlor near my house, but she tells me that one of my aunts is at home. While I’m calling up my home landline, I realize I must have placed the packet containing the jewellery box on the sofa in the drawing room when my mother had asked me to go “do pranam” to God. When my aunt picks up the phone, I describe the packet and the jewellery to her (she hadn’t seen my wedding jewellery before that) and thankfully, she finds it. And instead of wasting time sending my driver back home to pick it up, the second driver (who is already at home) is asked to rush with it to the parlor (which is 15-20 minutes from my house). On a sidenote, can you imagine how foolish I was to leave my WEDDING JEWELLERY unattended in the middle of the drawing room for a full 2 hours?
Thankfully, this driver drives quicker than Schumacher when it’s required. He’s there in under 15 minutes and work on me begins again. The MUA places the maang tika in my hair, glances down at the rest of the jewellery and a look begins to form in her mind. She gets to work, while I get back to gorging on Hide & Seek biscuits.
The makeup is done, and I’ve put on all my jewellery. But before she can drape the dupatta, the photographers want to click a few pictures. We have enough time for a few clicks.
When she starts to drape the dupatta, it starts to get a little painful. I’m going “ouch, ouch, ouch” a million times a minute! But she asks me to please bear with it a bit because it’s the pins in my hair that will hold up the dupatta.
Once the dupatta is draped, I’m all done. It’s 5.30 pm. The baraat has already reached the venue (dot on time, may I add – at exactly 4.30 pm!) but is yet to begin dancing. I make the payment and my sister and I get back into the car. We’re now officially on our way to my wedding venue! While we’re in the car, I pop in a Combiflam, because I don’t want the pain of the dupatta on my head to come in the way of my having fun (yes, it was slightly painful because the pins kept poking my scalp!) I proceed with sliding the Choodas onto my wrists (at that point of time, nobody had told us we’re supposed to do a puja with a pandit and there’s a whole ritual involved with putting on these bangles!) with the help of a little Soframycin. I finish up with a pair of gold bangles that my nana nani gifted to me for the wedding, and I’m all set to get married!
I reach the venue by 6 pm, and the baraat is just beginning to start dancing. I can’t enter through the front entrance, so the car is taken in via a back entry, and I’m literally standing in the backyard of the farmhouse for a full 5 minutes before my cousin manages to find someone to help open the door from inside.
And then, I wait…
And also get some pictures clicked in the meantime, of course!
I enter the room that’s been reserved for me, the bride, and soon I am surrounded by my closest friends and family members. Excitement sets in, as does nervousness. I can hear the faint sounds of the baraat in the distance now. My time is almost here.
I hear the baraat getting closer. It’s getting louder. I assume they are at the gate by now. The music stops, and I start mentally preparing to head out into the crowd. My time is here.
I head towards the door, and place myself in the centre under the phoolon ki chaadar. My brothers, chachas and friends are holding it up, and with my girlfriends behind me, I’m all set to go.
Suddenly, I feel a tiny hand clasp itself around my right hand, and I look down to see my 5-year-old niece standing right beside me. Damn, that kid’s cute! As tiny as her hand is, it’s reassuring to have her next to me. If for no other reason but to have something to do with my hands while (what seems then like) a gazillion eyes staring right at me! I have to confess – I’ve dreaded this moment for the past many months. I hate being the center of attention, and I’m afraid my awkwardness will show up all over my face while I’m walking up to the stage. But I keep saying to myself “just smile and it will all be ok.”
When I step out, there are smiles all around me. I recognize so many faces in the crowd, I keep trying to give a discrete nod of recognition to as many as I can. I don’t think I’ve smiled so much in my life. And oddly enough, the smile comes so naturally. I am just plain happy!
But my eyes are on the lookout. Where is my mom? I finally spot her. She’s smiling, but she’s getting teary-eyed. Already mom? Really? The wedding hasn’t even begun! And finally, my eyes find my groom. And a sliver of emotion begins to make its way up my veins – my day, is here.
He comes to the edge of the stage, and gives me his hand to hold. With one hand in his, and the other supporting my lehenga, I walk onto the stage for the first part of our wedding ceremony.
We’re both given jaimaals in our hands, and the crowd on the stage parts into two clearly distinct groups – the boy’s side and the girl’s side. For my groom and I, it’s a tradition that will signal the beginning of our wedding. For our families though – This. Is. War.
The groom’s friends ready themselves around him (one is literally under him!) to pick him up. I’m facing my groom, jaimaal in hand. My cousin brother, who is standing on my side, whispers to me, “let them pick him up” to which I respond, “shouldn’t I try to get him before he’s out of reach?” He shushes me, and before I know it – the groom’s friends have picked him up, he’s in the air, and I’m watching as my family grabs his jootis while his friends are busy holding him up! Oohhhh! So THAT was the plan! Brilliant! Unfortunately, only one jooti has been grabbed, and a tug of war has begun for the second jooti. The groom is still in the air, but half his friends have forgotten that they need to hold onto him; they’re too busy trying to not let go of his second jooti! I don’t get to see most of this, because my cousin has wisely and swiftly taken me to the corner of the stage where I’m safe from the pulls and pushes of the war that’s taking place in the centre.
It’s a tie. The groom’s friends have managed to keep one jooti with themselves.
Round 2 of jaimaal begins. This time, both of us get lifted into the air. I used to play basketball as a teenager, and I’m channeling my inner child at this time (not that I was ever very good at making baskets). The groom’s shoulder’s glisten like a basket’s rim, I take a shot, and…SCORE! The jaimaal lands in place 🙂
Soon after, our feet are firmly on the ground and we head off to the mandap. It’s already 7 pm and we haven’t even begun the wedding ceremony!
My poor groom is walking to the mandap minus any jootis (he wasn’t carrying a spare) but nobody can help him at this moment. He gets to sit at the mandap first, along with my parents. I wait on the side, and use the time to gulp down a few appetizers on the sly 🙂
The wedding ceremony goes on smoothly, and before you know it, it’s time for my groom to tie the mangalsutra around my neck.
When he has to put sindoor on me, I quickly and quietly tell him “don’t put too much, ok?” When he applies it, the pandit says “zara ache se lagao” and he puts on a little bit more. What the pandit doesn’t realize is – in my family, 5 women have to put sindoor on the bride after the groom is done, 3 times each – a total of 15 times! Once everyone is done, I have a line of sindoor that begins in my hair and goes down all the way to the tip of my nose. I can’t see myself, but I’m sure it’s happened to me – that dreaded red nose. As for the groom, he doesn’t have it any better either. While I’ve been mulling over my nose, the groom’s sister has removed his sehra, and his hair’s a mess.
We need to make ourselves look presentable, so we excuse ourselves and rush to the room (reserved for the bride) inside. My sister passes me my emergency kit – I use a wet wipe on my forehead and nose, and dab on my foundation after that. The groom combs his hair. We’re done in under two minutes, and head back onto the stage.
My parents are the first people to come onto the stage to meet us, and my dad shakes my hand and says “Congratulations Mrs!” After that, it turns into a meet and greet. There is a sea of faces that pass us on stage, most familiar, some not so familiar. There are introductions, and more introductions – and the groom and I are standing with our hands perpetually folded, ready to say “Namaste” to the next set of guests.
At one point of time, somebody realizes that the groom is on stage without any footwear! My sweet cousin brother, who is wearing the sherwani from his own wedding, gives my groom his jootis to wear as they match his sherwani and he ends up walking around barefeet for the rest of the night!
Finally, all the guests have congratulated us, and we get to step off the stage. Our photographer, Tarun, whisks us away for some couple shots under the mandap, and while we’re posing, he quickly realizes that the groom may not be very comfortable with getting mushy photographs clicked while so many eyes are on us. We head back into the room inside, and finally, my groom feels a little freer to let his emotions flow. Although I am not into posing too much for pictures, I’m glad Tarun made us take out some time for this, because we’ve got some wonderful images from those few minutes. He made us pose a bit, but it’s the candid moments that got captured between those poses that make for the most beautiful pictures.
Is it time to eat yet? Wait, there’s one last thing to get done – negotiations for the jootis. Correction – jooti. Singular. As if the day isn’t long enough, my sister and cousins negotiate with the groom for over an hour. By the end of it, I beg someone to get us our dinner. The groom is not touching his plate because he’s still in the middle of the argument, but after a point, I just can’t take it. I shamelessly begin to eat my dinner, completely switching off from the ensuing battle of how deep a hole my sisters will leave in my brand new husband’s pocket.
After this long drawn battle, I am beginning to feel a little tired. And the Combiflam is beginning to finally wear off – I can feel the dupatta pulling at my head. Not soon after, I’m surrounded by the women in my family, and some vidaai rituals are done (read: my mother just follows instructions given by experienced mothers of married girls). The groom and I then begin our walk to the exit. I keep thinking about how tired I am.
The car pulls up in front of the gate. My mother says “bye” to me, and I’m about to get into the car. But I quickly realize – wait a minute, this is my vidaai! I should say a proper goodbye to everyone. (My mother later told me even she didn’t realize that this was it – this was goodbye – because like I said, we’ve never done this vidaai straight from the venue thing before!) I give her a hug, and move on to give a hug to everyone else in the family. By the time I’m done, I look around to find my mother crying and even my sister tearing up! I know that if I keep standing there, I’m going to cry – seeing your closest family members in tears can have that effect! So I run to sit in the car and once I’m in, my groom gives me a concerned look. I just manage to mumble “Everyone. Crying. That’s why.”
I am trying to take deep breaths to calm down when my groom puts his hand on me reassuringly (and he keeps it there till we reach his house). And in that moment, I know. It’s that feeling that probably should have come during the kanyadaan, but it strikes me now. I have left my family, but a new one awaits. My HUSBAND awaits. He will take care of me, as I will of him. And calm spreads through my veins like water through a burst dam. I am going home.
Photographs by Tarun Chawla Photography
You can read the whole thedelhibells series here: