Alex has three older brothers, each of them living in homes one above the other and because of the spare room downstairs (that of the second-eldest), this is the home I’ve usually spent the most time in.
The mum of this home, Akila, is by far the quietest and shyest of the three sisters-in-law; tiny yet proud and beautiful, she carries herself with the same poise as the rest of the women: straight-backed and certain, her salwar dupatta (a long but light shawl that always matches the rest of the outfit) framing her face and flowing elegantly behind her.
The house is a hive of activity when I arrive next morning, entering Akila’s home first. I mean, it’s always full of comings and goings given there are around twelve individual families living together, but this time there are literally crowds of people everywhere. Within moments I’m accosted by Fiza herself, throwing her arms around me excitedly and proclaiming her utter delight that I’m here for her wedding.
I’m glad for her of course but now feeling even more wary of meeting Alex’s sister-in-law Najema, a force to be reckoned with at the best of times, and her daughter Guria; I hope they aren’t going to be too mad.
Under normal circumstances, Guria wouldn’t necessarily be here – once married, the bride always moves into her husband’s home and in fact, her husband’s family live over an hour away in a quiet little village.
But this is her cousin’s wedding, in fact the second marriage in the household since Christmas and for such occasions, girls return home and can stay any number of weeks.
Entering their home upstairs a little later, I come upon the fiercesome personality of Najema, sat beside her daughter and Shahid (Guria’s husband) and their gorgeous baby boy, Sam.
Najema smiles at me sternly before clearly chastising Alex; when I ask why, he tells me with a wary smile that they’re cross we didn’t come say hello last night when we arrived. Cross with him that is (I told you, for some reason I get away with nearly everything!).
Last time I was in Jaipur, Guria was three months pregnant, while her brother’s wife Shabnum was over six months pregnant. Now those little bumps are adorable brown-eyed toddlers and everyone is quick to point out how I’m now a grand-aunt. Except that they keep telling me I’m a grandmother! In Hindi they don’t distinguish between this relationship to the grandkids hence Alex and I have suddenly skipped a step in the evolutionary process and become grandparents… Only in India.
To my relief Najema and Guria welcome me warmly the best way Indians know how, by inviting me to have food. Within moments, I’m sat amongst them on the floor eating spicy yet delicious God-knows-what (though I’m assured it’s vegetarian).
Meanwhile, little Sam, having not quite mastered the art of walking on such tiny feet, teeters and totters his way around the house like a cartoon character, while Nabhia, his darling cousin and several months stronger, bosses us all into giggles. There’s no doubting who her real grandmother is…
After a suitable amount of time, I suggest to Alex we head upstairs to Firjana, Fiza’s mother and the last of Alex’s direct sisters-in-law (in India, cousins and in-laws are usually called sisters and brothers too and it can get a bit confusing, for example the two cute nieces who cheered my arrival the night before – Sana and Tina – are daughters of two of Alex’s male cousins, not his brothers. It’s a bit like the grandaunt/grandmother thing… and India in general: utterly confusing).
Walking into chaos upstairs, I’m welcomed with a delighted smile and shining happy heart from the friendliest and chattiest of all of Alex’s sisters-in-law.
For once, we’re not sitting in awkward silences trying to bridge the Hindi language barrier for there’s no opportunity for anyone but me to sit, everyone else is busy-busy-busy, women from the different homes passing in and out, wrapping up this suit, labeling that present, packing and re-packing a large bundle of clothes and jewellery that make up some of the endless gifts for both Fiza and her husband’s family (essentially, the ubiquitous dowry, though hush! You mustn’t call it that!)
I do get a moment or two to ask Firjana about what’s going on and she begins to reel off the endless list of gifts they’ve bought for Fiza’s husband, brother-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law and seemingly the entire extended family, gifts that include gold rings and necklaces.
And they say weddings back home are expensive.
As I watch one of the ladies dragging a massive bundle of gifts over in order to stuff yet more inside it before retying the cloth corners together, I’m blown away by the magnitude of the Indian wedding phenomenon. And Alex has assured me several times – this is nothing.
What can you do – it’s the most important landmark in any woman’s life and the Indian wedding deserves a whole blog post of its own. But for now suffice to say that while Fiza and her family are thrilled and excited about this momentous occasion (and though it’s an arranged marriage Fiza has quite the crush on her soon-to-be hubby Sharukh), there is yet an underlying sadness throughout for after tomorrow, this will no longer be Fiza’s home.
At the end of all the ceremonies, Fiza and her parents and brother will say a heart-breaking goodbye as she moves from being their precious daughter, to being Sharukh’s shy new wife. There are always a lot of tears during the Indian wedding, an occasion of immense heart-ache and loss for the bride and her parents.
But Fiza, just like most other Indian brides, will be just fine. She’ll start her own family and her own life. She’ll more than likely grow to love her husband and love her new home until eventually it feels more home to her than the one she’s left behind. And one day, she’ll be the mother sending off her own daughter or the mother-in-law welcoming in a new daughter-in-law.
This is a small insight into the Indian wedding for those of you new to it, there’s tons more to tell but I think that will do for now. After all, I’m still trying to manage one other rather tricky thing: household politics. I have a lot of making up to do with Guria. Next on the cards? Well, I need a suitable outfit for the wedding tomorrow and what better way to bond with any young lady than by going shopping?!