Weddings are fun, aren't they? They're huge, expensive affairs as it is, but in India, even more so.
The concept of marriage is a very controversial topic in today's world, with half the world proclaiming it a boon, and the other, a bane. But, in this country, it's simply a rite of passage. Being married is a part of life, like losing teeth, or getting your heart broken.
So strong is this belief, that Indians will take no chances when it comes to ensuring their species continues this age-old tradition. And so, we come to 'arranged marriage'.
Arranged marriage was originally done for a purpose, for expanding one's territory or financial gain; using one's offspring as pawns in the game of life. But in the new 'modern' world, such a practice is considered outdated and old-fashioned, so instead it is done to force people to partake in a practice they may or may not believe in.
I attended my uncle's wedding last week, and our families are very close. Being a senior in high school, my schedule is pretty much filled up and it was with much trepidation that I finally agreed to attend the wedding. What a flake, right? Can't even be there for her family.
Honestly, I love weddings, I really do. I love dressing up, dancing all night and watching two people start their life together with their closest friends and family. But when the invitation comes three days before the big day, with no premonition whatsoever, well, you have to consult your schedule for prior commitments.
Regardless, there's no way I could miss this wedding. I mean, my uncle, Vipin, was literally my next door neighbour, and really the sweetest person you would ever meet. Despite being 35, he has a boyish quality that makes him innately loveable. He sat all the kids down and whispered conspirationally about the Art of Cheating. He interacted with everyone freely, even me, the awkward introvert. He made everyone feel at ease, feel welcomed.
So, there I was, all dolled up in a shiny gown and shiny hair, pink shoes and tinkling bangles. While watching my uncle Vipin grinning from ear to ear as he laughed and chatted with everyone, I couldn't help but see a tinge of unease in his bright face. Or perhaps I just made it up, simply to read into it and write a story around it.
This thing is, my uncle had been engaged thrice, and all three times, it had broken off before tying the knot. The first time, it was a girl he had met and fallen in love with right after university and the other two times, it was someone his parents had set him up with.
There had been an ongoing rumour, that the family was cursed, as they couldn't even get their eldest son married at such a late age. So, when the wedding events progressed without much ado (except for the fire that broke out at the cocktail party), everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
You could tell his parents REALLY wanted him to get married as soon as possible and have at least one successful engagement, as they rushed through the preliminaries and finished it in record time. But one thing they couldn't rush, was the aftermath.
In Christian weddings, the bride walks down the aisle towards her to-be husband on the arm of her father, but in Hindu weddings, we do things a little more dramatically. The bride is dressed in red and gold, golden ornaments dripping off her arms and neck, escorted by her whole family as a net of flowers is held above her. The moment moved as if through honey, slowed.
I had stoutly believed in love marriages since the beginning of time, given my parents' and grandparents' less than perfect arranged marriages. However, seeing so many people so bitter towards the idea of love, I had also started wondering why I didn't see it that way. When I was about fifteen, my father (my idol, really) and I had had a casual discussion on this topic, which led me to this self-exploratory journey.
"When you grow up, Eve, I'll throw you the biggest wedding there is," he said to me amiably, hand on the steering wheel.
"If I ever get married," I joked, but he got all serious.
"You WILL get married," he informed me, "And to a man your mother and I approve of."
This statement made me rather mad, as you can imagine, being a teenager exposed to all the feminist beliefs. I then started an argument where I told him marriage was sexist and if I do get married, I won't care about his money, so he better not make it about that.
"Eve," he sighed, "You can build love as you go along, You have all your life to. But you can't be with someone who's on his way to be a sinking ship, and will pull you under."
And so, watching my new aunt shyly embrace her new husband, as the whole hall erupted with applause, I nearly cried.
After they proudly showcased their rings to the hall, all the adults forced them to display signs of their affection for each, a deeply uncomfortable event; they barely knew each other.
They fed each other food at the large table as everyone cheered. The groom knelt to the ground and handed her a rose, kissing her hand in front of all 400 guests. They shared a few slow dances together, pushed together in an intimate embrace in the midst of an adoring audience. They even shared a small kiss, both of them blushing afterwards and looking away (They had probably never had any close contact before).
But. The terrible part could not wait much longer. The thing with Indian weddings is that they're always bittersweet; everyone dances their feet off and heartily congratulate the happy couple but in the end, it's the same tragic story.
The wife has to go live with the husband and his family and serve them unconditionally (re: sexist). There were tears shed and long embraces by the bride as her mother tried to stop her tears and bid her a goodbye. My uncle stood next to her, soft words flying out of his mouth, making her laugh a watery laugh. Ever the undying sun.
The whole episode had given me tens and millions of reasons to hate marriage. The shackles of matrimony, being bound to someone forever. Perhaps to you, it may just seem like the problem lies with arranged marriage.
I had been looking for signs to give up my beliefs on love, to think it horrible and imprisoning, so I could avoid the plethora of feelings and work that came with it. To be in love with someone was terrifying and terrible, making me lose so much of myself. I hated feeling so powerless and stupid in front of someone I worshipped, so I wanted to do away with the concept altogether.
But at the wedding, watching my uncle making her laugh through her tears, I knew love would exist. That love was wonderful and unexpected. That it could happen in the worst place, with the worst circumstance, for the wrong reasons. That, despite being forced with someone you barely knew, you could make them truly happy. Be their companion. Make them laugh when they felt everything I just wrote: shackled, hurt, imprisoned.
All the signs told me not to love. That love was terrifying and terrible. That it didn't exist. But, I am afraid to tell you, I accidentally proved myself wrong along the way.