Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Some highlights from the WASP-Hindu wedding....
-A dozen women got mendhi (henna painting) on their hands two nights before the event (this was done at the bride's house while we womanfolk assembled the guest gifts; the men were across town drinking and driving Formula One race cars). The muddy mendhi was drawn all over the bride's hands and feet in intricate designs, and took Prasad-the-mendhi-wallah two hours to do. (She seemed unimpressed that I knew some Kannada, even though her father's from Bangalore). Afterwards the bride, Queen E, could not move her hands, just gesture for sips of margarita, etc. "It's supposed to be that way," said Prasad, who wore some very tall boots. By then the groom's family had taken over the kitchen anyway. It's traditional for the mother-in-law-to-be to feed the bride, and she did; it was quite cute as Queen E is an angular blonde Amazon and the mom is wide and very kapha. Many photos were taken while Prasad painted hand after hand after hand. My eyes were tiny from lack of sleep when it was finally my turn, which lasted about ten minutes. The stuff is supposed to last two weeks but it's already almost completely faded (no I've not been swimming). After putting it on -- it's like dried black mud -- Prasad went over it with lemon juice and sugar, to make it set. Then she said we couldn't wash our hands for 24 hours, and had to go to bed sans shower with the mud sticking to us. It wasn't just me who didn't get much sleep that night. Apparently when the groom finally got home there were so many mendhi fragments in the bed he thought the cats had tracked kitty litter between the sheets.
-The weekend was a whirl of long days and nights, driving everywhere in the Benz SUV for airport pickups, trips to the supermarket and party rental store and sister-in-law’s house (for homemade Gujurati food) and flower shop and ice cream shop (if you’ve never had cardamom and pistachio-laden kulfi ice cream, you haven’t really lived) and wedding hall, which was actually a science center where we set up the dance floor and chairs ourselves. It was on the edge of a dense forest. Inside there was a giant iguana that never moved, a nervous ferret, sleepy turtles and some other incarcerated wildlife; outside there was an owl named Hedwig who never recovered from a broken wing and lives out its days in a giant cage, eating dead white mice and keeping an eye out for annoying children. Whenever you got close to it, the beak would clack, the feathers would puff up and it would try to look menacing. But then it would blink its oddly mammal-like eyes, and your heart would go out to it. Actually they looked like the eyes of toy dolls that close when they’re horizontal....Inside the hall, where the ceremonies took place, there was a giant stuffed grizzly standing on its hind legs, teeth bared and poised to strike (didn’t I have fun trying to explain “taxidermy” to one of the younger wedding guests). The bear added a delightfully surreal element, as it was a few feet away from the Mandap or elaborate canopy under which both the Hindu and civil ceremony were performed.
-No one at the sister-in-law’s house seemed impressed by my Indian dress or trips to India or the fact that I knew who Shah Rukh Khan was when he popped up on TV while aunty prepared the pomegranate seeds. The food was so good (Biryani , sag paneer, roti, sambar, some things I didn’t recognize, rasmala), I didn’t really care.
-Also at that house: the Kitchen Wars, in which the bride’s mother slaved over the multi-layer wedding cake all day Saturday while the TV blared and the Indian women tried to do their own cooking.
-Best scene at the weddings (apart from the Hindu ceremony which was quite beautiful and featured the red thrones and ghee and a Brahmin priest and prasad and knotting the dupatas (scarves) together and tying the thali (necklace) and walking around the fire, etc.): The Indian contingent returning for the afternoon civil ceremony in even nicer saris and dresses than they’d worn earlier (except for a couple of the little girls, who changed into western dress and showed this Windian a thing or two about dancing a few hours later).
-Best scene under the tent: the bride’s estranged parents talking to each other for the first time in decades, while two of their issue (from the first litter) kept a wary eye on them.
-Best reception scene: A smattering of multiculti pomo children buzzing about the dance floor during the couple's first dance as married folk.
-Second-best scene: Men in long kurtas doing crazy, Bhangara-style dances.
-This was also the first time I’ve seen middle-class Indians drinking and dancing (and eating chicken), en masse (even the mother-in-law did some traditional Gujarati moves).
-Best near-miss: The bride forgot to bring the wedding ring to the ceremony (45 minutes away from the house), but the Iranian friend stepped in and saved the day.
-Second best near-miss: This sleepy, spacy, wincing Windian was the designated "point person" for catering on the Big Day.
-Runner up: It turns out the tiny bananas I was eating for breakfast each day were earmarked as prasad (blessed food) for the wedding ceremony.....Oops!
-Biggest hit: Having my own quiet corner room - with a breeze (still had the insomnia though)
-Second biggest hit: Filling up on freshly-made masala dosas at Cambridge's Bombay Club with the newly-minted Smug Marrieds and friend-from-the-Bay-area before heading out to the five-hour debacle at the airport.
For more on Hindu weddings see