The first change I noticed whilst stepping out into the streets of Mumbai, was that this city was in incessant movement: the atmosphere was chaotic and faintly unorganised, and there was always a monotous yet exciting buzz of the rickshaws, scooters and constant chatter. It was difficult to locate any of my aunties, uncles, cousins or even my grandparents through the sea of brown faces due to the heavily polluted and dusty, beige air, and within a matter of minutes, the scorching sunlight and intense warmth began to make me feel a little giddy.
Swarms of beggars were scattered around the foyer of the airport, and upon seeing less fortunate ones than me, I felt pangs of guilt and sorrow as opposed to the startling oblivion displayed by others who were clearly used to seeing the picture I had before my eyes. After a very, very long introduction complete with many hugs and kisses to all the members in my mum’s extended family, we squeezed ourselves into two taxis and set off on our way to my uncle’s house.
And that’s when I realised the mayhem I had been exposed to earlier on, wasn’t even half of what was yet to come! The first few days leading up to the wedding of my auntie, stirred up a cocktail of emotions: a blend of excitement and liveliness as well as impatience and agitation at the same time. Preparation for the much anticipated ceremony took up most hours in our days, and although I only got about four hours of sleep each night, I never failed to keep up with the energy levels the next morning.
I was dazed by the amount of little chores that had to be done within the short time limit such as making sure there were the same amount of tea lights on each table, and that the rose petals sprinkled upon them were just the right shade of crimson which contrasted with the green silk drapes. One thing I was surprised to discover was that a girl could come to a point where shopping was exhausting for her!
Wandering through the narrow, muddy streets which had small market stalls selling a huge variety of materials in kaleidoscopic shades, iridescent jewelry, and rows of bindis and bangles had gotten my legs aching and my throat drying up from the dehydration and thirst. Two days later and it was time for the most enjoyable pre-wedding ceremony – the ladies sangeet, otherwise known as gaun. It was celebrated on the grandest scale and everything about the sangeet was extravagant to say the least. The sangeet was held at a beautiful ancient fort which seemed as if it was deeply engrossed in a romantic aura.
It was situated on the banks of a lake and on arriving at the fort we were greeted by peacocks that were roaming freely on the well manicured, rich green lawns. The caramel coloured, intricate designs carved into the marble of the vast building were just one of the features, along with the exquisite Rajasthani handicrafts, royal paintings, the finest vibrant Persian carpets and illuminating crystal chandeliers that made the building appear almost divine.
Although everyone was high-spirited and the mood was …. on spotting two underpriviliged children our age outside the fort, Sonia and I found ourselves a little less jubilant than others. With a look of longing in their eyes, their ragged clothes and dusty skin, I suddenly felt a deep sadness creep within me making me realise that although I was there having the time of my life, another girl standing close to me had probably not had moments of happiness for a long time. However, we both soon got carried away with the crowd as one of the bellboys led the huge party of us into the main hall which was decorated accurately to my auntie’s taste.
There was a large spread of delectable dishes at each end of the circular room, and whilst walking around, I made a mental note to try all the palatable looking dishes that I hadn’t yet heard the names of such as Murg Noorjehani. Just recovering from an awful accident, I had no energy left to dance to the latest Bollywood and Bhangra tunes and instead chose to scrutinize people of all different shapes and sizes with my cousin. Sonia and I had an insensitive habit of feeding our hunger for laughter by poking the fun out of those who striked their moves on the dancefloor thinking they were the next Michael Jackson.
Some wore hideous clothes, some had strange hairstyles and some just repelled those within 5 metres of them with their hideous dance steps, and we took turns to mimic the most freakishly queer. However, that’s not to say there was a shortage of some very good looking people, with their emmaculate sense of style and beautiful features, and I even caught a stranger eyeing up one of the dancers. When it was time to eat, Sonia and I did a saintly deed by sneaking some food to give to the children sitting outside on the road, and I can honestly say, that was one instance I shall always remember as it taught me to live with gratitude.
Twenty four hours after that was the big day. I remember scrambling into the cartaking extra care not to ruin my auntie’s wedding outfit, the one I looked at in awe and wondered whether my wedding dress would be as beautiful. The wedding was held at a luxurious hotel, not very far away from the one we were staying at and upon reaching the Taj hotel; we managed to catch sight of the groom who made a grand entrance by arriving on a horse with a band of musicians behind him to set the exuberant atmosphere. The ceremony itself fascinated me a lot and my mum explained each ritual to me whilst it was goling on.
Firstly, the bride and groom were brought upon the stage by their siblings and best friends and were handed a flower garland each, which they exchanged whilst the priest chanted religious hymns, signifying their acceptance of each other, which was then followed by the aarti. My auntie and to-be uncle were led to the wedding mandap afterwards, where a knot was tied using the ends of the stolls worn by them, and this signified the sacred wedlock and unity. They then circled the holy fire seven times, making seven promises to be fulfilled in the married life, and after this, they were considered to be officially married.
This ritual was called ‘phere’. Suddenly, within a matter of minutes, the radically changed and there were feelings of woe as the bride’s relatives struggled to keep their tears at bay, watching their ‘little girl become so big’. The bride’s sobbing echoed around the hall and although it was disheartening, it was hard to completely wash away the joy everyone had been feeling earlier on. My auntie was carried and put into a pallequin by her brothers, as everyone bid her goodbye and wished both of them a long, happy, prosperous married life.