Wedding ceremonies in India generally don’t take place until the evening, so it’s not until 7 pm that we start getting ready. I sit with Guria and Shabnum, dressed in my unforgivably awful suit, while they add bangle after bangle to their already-immense collection of costume jewellery.
The whole thing makes me feel rather underdressed in my minimal make-up and silver jewellery.
Guria’s wearing a stunning turquoise suit that flows and glides behind her, her dupatta lined with a pretty pearl border and the hem of her suit a shimmering gold. She would look phenomenal except for one tiny thing: both her and Shabnum are wearing bizarre neon-pink eyeshadow. Neon. Pink. With pale-white foundation and kohl outlined eyes they remind me of geisha dolls.
But who am I to talk?! My gothic blue nun look sure isn’t giving them a good impression of style in the west.
Time ticks by and Guria’s still adding sparkly bangles to her wrist. There’s well over a dozen at this stage on each side. Throughout it all, Guria’s brothers and her husband wander in and out, looking incredibly smart and sophisticated in their suits, hogging the mirror as they puff up or gel their hair.
Everyone compliments me on my beautiful suit (nobody mentions the major nitty-no-no of my wearing dark blue), but naturally I don’t believe a word of it, not when all the girls look so effortlessly elegant in their long flowing perfectly-fitted outfits and I feel like a frumpy dumpy potato.
After a while, Najema phones Guria to see where we all are so Ilu finally brings his car over to the house and six of us, plus the babies Sam and Nabhia, pile into it. It’s about the size of a Toyota yaris.
Luckily the wedding venue isn’t far. A huge walled garden, it’s a typical rented wedding spot but one of the more expensive ones and as I enter the gates the first thing I see is a large stage with a lavish and ornate ‘throne’ – the place where the groom will sit during the ceremony.
To the right of the large garden are tables laden with food and crowds of people milling about while to my immediate left is a vast display of numerous sets of pots and crockery, a bed, various jewellery gift boxes, a motorbike and even a tall wooden armoire. The dowry you see.
I have to stop and stare. There are quite literally around fifteen stainless steel pots, from tiny to huge, for Fiza and her new husband. How much food are they gonna be eating?!
Even Alex is a little taken aback. It’s extravagance taken to a ridiculous level, for no reason other than to show off wealth and status. Oh India. You are insane at times.
I greet Firjana briefly, who’s delighted to see me but clearly preoccupied with the stress of the event, so I then head over to the large hall nearby where Fiza is waiting.
As we stroll over I try to guess how many people are already here, and reckon it could be a couple hundred. And that’s only from the bride’s side.
The hall itself is a big room filled with rows of chairs and a small stage at the top where Fiza is sitting and waiting on her own ‘throne’. Kids run in and out and some of the older women are sitting inside chatting. As I approach Fiza I’m stunned – she’s wearing a plain, everyday salwar keemeze and hasn’t even a scrap of make-up on. I’m confused. Is she the rebel bride who’s stepped outside of the box and is doing things differently for once?!
Nope. It turns out she’ll be changing later once the groom arrives, though I’m stumped as to why she has to wait (I later learn the groom must bring her wedding suit with him, which seems kind of romantic).
Ayway, at least her henna is incredibly intricate and ornate and she shows it off proudly, seeming incredibly calm and content for an Indian bride as she points out something with a mischievous smile.
“Dekho, Sharukh ka nam!” (Look, Sharukh’s name!)
Written along the inside of one finger and across the palm of the other hand, slightly obscured by the lines and swirls of the henna patterns across the top, is the name Sharukh – her sweet fiancee.
I grin back at her, utterly delighted that the spark and excitement of new love is there even in such a traditional arranged marriage. She is one smitten young lady.
Of course things have changed vastly over the years thanks to the advances in technology; like most couples these days, Fiza and Sharukh have probably been chatting every day on their phones since they got officially engaged. Compared to the days of old where a traditional wedding meant marrying a complete stranger, the arranged marriages of today are in a whole new league.
Fiza’s surrounded by kids and aunties and Firjana stops by every now and then so I leave her to it. My nose is leaking a little but I’ve come prepared and grab a tissue from my bag, wondering if I’ve allergies. It’s probably from the dust and pollution.
Despite the fact that it’s after 9 pm, there’s still no sign of the groom. Seriously, when is this wedding happening?!
With a yawn, I notice my nose is quite runny now and I’m really feeling tired. But then I’m snapped out of it as I see Guria, Shabnum and scores of other young ladies all lined up at the entrance to the garden, holding baskets of rose petals as new guests enter and in the distance, there’s a small instrumental din gradually growing in volume. The groom is finally, finally on his way.
As he approaches, the smattering of people arriving turns to a steady flow. The volume of music builds and grows and then there’s a blistering beating of drums and at last, Sharukh’s brothers and cousins arrive in and start flailing and throwing shapes to the music like they’ve become possessed.
It’s all for show of course. There’s a camera-man filming the entire wedding and this is their moment to take center stage. The procession is paused while they boogie wildly for the camera and the rest of us and finally, moments later, surrounded on all sides for protection, comes the groom on his bomb-proof wedding-horse.
It’s quite the scene, but Sharukh can see nothing of it, wearing the traditional ornate veil of jasmine flowers that covers every groom’s face as they arrive to their wedding.
Gradually the horse is guided by throngs of relatives over towards the stage where already several of Sharukh’s cousins are now dancing like mental monkeys. With his grand entrance done, I wander over to Fiza’s area to see what’s happening there.
She’s now got her face covered with her dupatta, presumably because her soon-to-be father-in-law and elder male-in-laws are around, not to mention the holy man who will marry her and Sharukh, though each will be done on their own.
Unlike in the west, people don’t pay too much attention to the ceremony, bar the parents of the bride and groom and some of their close relatives. Fiza gets to change into a stunning, bright red and gold suit amidst a lot of shuffling and people holding up large cloths for privacy and later the holy man arrives and sits with her and several older female relatives. A little later, the photographer arrives and now we all know the big deed is done and Fiza and Sharukh are officially married.
My nose is now a running tap I can’t turn off and my tissues have almost dissolved, reduced to soggy/crumbly shreds. I’m getting really tired. As yet more tissue flakes away from my remaining used bundle, Najema is asking why I don’t have a hanky – every good Indian woman carries a hanky with them!
As my face grows paler and my yawns begin to take over, the ladies blatantly complain to Alex as to why he hasn’t yet taken me back to my hotel. Feeling grateful for their bossy concern, I’m only too ready to go – falling into bed seems like a really good idea.
Alex rallies up Ilu, Guria and Shabnum to get ready to leave and it turns out that Guria and Shaheed are making their own way home, while Arshad and Ilu’s younger brother Reesheb are joining us. I wonder how we’ll squish into the back this time with a fine bulky young man replacing Guria’s petite frame but in fact, the fine bulky young man squishes himself up front between Ilu and the passenger seat.
Poor Arshad is pretty much sitting on the hand-brake and Ilu has quite the challenge trying to change gears. Then, just to add some comedy to an already hilarious event, the wipers start going by themselves, squeaking across the dry windscreen at the pace of a snail.
Despite my fatigue and now aching sinuses, I’m laughing every bit as much as the rest of my Indian family, maybe even more so, the squeaks and creaks of the dragging wipers just putting the cherry on top for how beautifully ridiculous life in India tends to be.
And though it may be ridiculous at times, such as when we cut across onto the other side of the road and I once again find myself in a vehicle driving the wrong way down the street (because it’s a lot shorter than going the correct way around, do I really have to explain?!) it’s also incredibly tender and heart-warming, such as when Alex’s nephew Arshad carries the sleeping Nabhia on his shoulder once home and plants a gentle kiss on her perfect little cheek, or when he and his cousin Reesheb walk me back to my hotel like the sweet kind young gentlemen they are.
No system is perfect, certainly not the strict rules and customs of traditional India, but her big emphasis on family life and care and love for children, truly is a nourishing heart-warming experience for us westerners.
Slipping out of the scratchy suit and wiping my make-up off with coconut oil, I sink gratefully into my bed with one last jaw-cracking yawn. I survived the wedding, I have a new supply of tissues here in my hotel and I don’t ever have to wear that damn suit again. Life is good. Real good.