After a day and a half hanging around the scrappy streets of Paharganj, it’s time to make a move. Today’s January 2nd and Alex’s niece Fiza is getting married on the 4th, so we’ve got to get to Jaipur.
As ever, when travelling with my husband we go in style as opposed to sticking to my budget ideals. Thus we spend the following 6 hours on a comfortable air-conditioned bus that somehow manages to glide through the manic, pot-holed roads. (My memories of earlier journeys on cheaper government buses include significant bouncing and bruising.)
It must be said I always experience strong trepidation on the road to Jaipur, wherever I’m coming from and no matter how comfortable the journey.
For many women and men around the world a visit to the in-laws can be something to dread or worry about, a complex challenge for myriad reasons.
But try doing it in a foreign language you’ve not properly learned, in customs completely different to back home and with zero privacy in a household of more than fifty people that you see only once a year at most. You get why I was nervous?
This time, there are two other important factors to consider, first off being the higher-than-normal chaos and crowd that awaits me: I’m arriving two days before the wedding day, which in India means arriving into hundreds of extended relations (and no I’m not exaggerating!).
Shy little old Liz, is about to be landed in it, like sweet Dory being dropped in a tank full of sharks. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely, generous, well-intentioned sharks, the kind that would voluntarily declare “Fish are friends, not food”. But they’re sharks nonetheless.
Within minutes of arriving at the house, I’m hiding in the little room I used to always stay in on the ground floor. Part of one of Alex’s brother’s homes, it’s the only one that opens directly to the street (everyone else goes through the courtyard and uses the main gate-way). Just outside this room in the courtyard itself, we can hear numerous women singing and playing Indian drums in typical pre-wedding fashion.
I’m a little anxious about meeting just Alex’s immediate family yet it sounds as if his entire extended tribe is currently in the home. According to his two nieces, who are happily sewing up fancy new wedding outfits in the room we’ve entered, toilet and bathroom facilities, to say nothing of sleeping arrangements, are stretched to the limit; forget beds, floor space is at a premium!
It is with great relief that a basic yet spotless little hotel is located on the street just behind the house for me.
It has to be said that I really don’t like being in the spotlight and staying with the family now – with so many relatives for whom it might be their first time meeting a white person – would transform me into mini-celebratory status.
Endless photos and questions (that I might or might not understand), requests to come here or pose for this or that person… Even if I wasn’t still jet-lagged, this level of attention would be utterly exhausting.
I’m like a recluse in hiding, scurrying away for safety. I haven’t even said hello yet to any of my sisters-in-law, the lovely wives of Alex’s brothers and cousins, who run the household (while allowing the men to think they’re in charge of course).
But they’ll all know I’m here, thanks to blabber-mouth-cousins Sanna and Tina, Alex’s two gorgeous nine year old nieces that I fell in love with as adorable toddlers six years ago, the summer we got married. Of course now they’re morphing into stunning young ladies but they’re still young enough to not have any inhibitions about shrieking out in delight that I’ve arrived.
“Liz Cha-Chee Liz Cha-Chee – happy new year!” (Cha-chee means Aunty in Hindi)
In the midst of playing outside with several other kids, they charge up to me when I arrive, buzzing with excitement. For sure the entire household will now know of my arrival.
Which means tomorrow I’ll have a lot of explaining to do, particularly to Najema Bhabhi, Alex’s oldest sister-in-law, whose tiny frame is more than compensated for by a formidable force of character. If anyone more deserves the title Boss, I’ve yet to meet him or her.
And that’s where the second issue arises: her son and daughter got married two years ago in October. It was a massive celebration, Alex of course was there for it but I wasn’t. I had already booked tickets and made plans to come to India just two months later for a six month trip. I didn’t have the funds for a second journey.
Yet here I am at Fiza’s wedding. And no matter what I say, I know they won’t fully understand why I managed to come for this one and not theirs. It looks bad and I feel bad. Hence I’ve been pestering Alex for the past two days for words and phrases in Hindi to try to explain myself and reassure both sweet Guria and her kind-hearted yet slightly terrifying mother, how much I wish I could have made it to that wedding too.
For now, it’s after 10 pm and I’m wrecked and ready to get some snooze. I’ll have to face the music tomorrow and considering where I am right now it will either be cheerful hip-thrusting beats or intense dramatic violins.
Underneath my worries though, lies a small nugget of comfort: for some reason, which I’ll never fully understand, Alex’s family has always forgiven my every error like I’m their cute precocious child that can do no wrong.
So I’m pretty sure it’ll all be ok in the end. After all, this is the home of Bollywood and cheesey happy endings.
If it’s not ok… then clearly it’s not the end!