It’s the moment you try and picturize a few hundred times
before it actually happens – your only sibling gets married and you are endowed
with a new family from a different culture. It’s nothing short of a breathtaking
When my brother told me about Lydia three years ago I was
amused more than anything else. A white sister-in-law – now that would be
something, I thought. These days in India, an NRI family member marrying a
foreigner is not unusual, just plain interesting.
A couple of phone calls, a few battles and
many months later, the wedding plans began. My brother would get married in
India. He and, luckily for us, even Lydia wouldn’t have it any other way. We
were to plan the entire Indian experience for them and we wanted it to extend
beyond the National Geographic setting – show them that India is more than
elephants, snake charmers, men in turbans and women with pots on their hips.
My mother and I set out planning for the big fat Indian
wedding. We wanted to extend the normal Malayalee- Hindu wedding to beyond its
usual ten minutes. (Now you know if you are in a hurry then which ceremony to go
for). We incorporated the mehndi and the sangeet
into a culture that doesn’t even speak Hindi - so that Lydia and her entourage
would have a more ‘Indian’ experience.
We split our heads looking for little ways to pep up the
whole event – after all we now had to live up to the Monsoon Wedding
expectations, thanks to Karan Johar for making people think that we Indians
always have dancing damsels and grooving grandmas.
Every wedding is a celebration – of love, new family and of
the event in itself. And, we wanted it to be just that.
By the time they reached my home in Coimbatore, Lydia and her
mom Sandra had already taken the Lonely Planet prescription. They’d covered
Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, posed with the Taj, taken an elephant ride and learnt
how to do the Bhangra. However, we weren’t ready to let them go without the
whole package. They, thus, also had to wade through heavy traffic, walk the
local streets and visit tsunami-struck beaches. They visited a coconut farm and
rode on a bullock-cart, played with little naked boys on the beach and learnt
cricket. I was jealous as even I haven’t done all of these.
Meeting Lydia was like catching up with a lost friend. In a
couple of hours we were shopping for accessories like we’d done it all our
lives. The salespersons looked on as the multi-racial gang laughed and hopped
around like children in a candy store. The camaraderie was striking and very
comforting. Everyone fell in love with Alex and Erica, Lydia’s best friends.
They loved to try every food dish that we had and at times, while my eyes were
tearing with the spice, they would return the dish asking for more ‘chilly’.
Very adventurous, I must say.
It’s tough to explain India to someone who doesn’t know her.
How do we explain people standing just half a millimeter away from you in a
queue and the same distance in public between a couple in love is taboo? Why do
people give cash gifts of Rs 1,001 and not in round figures? Why is it that we
don’t hug people when we say goodbye, but cry and wail over their bodies when
they are gone? What is it that keeps us from being natural and shedding tears in
The best thing about my new family was that they could accept
"It’s just like that" as a satisfying answer. That, in a way, was an easy step
in understanding India.
The wedding was a ball. We danced, we laughed and we lived
through all the chaos. I haven’t been to any other mehndi
before but I know that this one really rocked. At the reception we even got our
otherwise stiff family to shake some legs.
At the wedding my friends took the place of Lydia’s family
and welcomed us – the groom’s family – into the hall. The decorations were
lovely. The glowing bride looked more beautiful than any Indian bride I had ever
seen. She glided in her saree exactly like I’d told her, as amused onlookers
I played the role of the sister, helped my brother tie the thali on Lydia and whispered in her ear that this was ‘the moment’. I don’t think she
heard it amidst all the noise but I thought it was one beautiful wedding. And,
it was just the way we wanted it to be for her.
I don’t think I’ve seen any other wedding family that was
this happy and excited, even though I’m a bit prejudiced. My family, along with
all our guests, took to Lydia’s American family like the British to
Maybe it’s our little way of showing we are growing up beyond the division of
color, caste and creed. Or, perhaps, it’s our little contribution to the
changing stereotypes of both countries. Or, maybe it’s just plain human
After the wedding, they moved on to other Discovery Channel
recommendations –ancient temples, the backwaters of Alleppey and the red beaches
of Kerala– and I sat back to think what really constituted my country. I think
they got a fair idea.
I’m really glad this is the way things had to happen. I’m
happy my brother found Lydia for him and for all of us. I now understand what my
Dad meant when he said Indian weddings are not about two people getting together
but about two families. This was truly one of those. Everyone from the US ate
with their hands the entire trip and my family has now begun hugging to say
goodbye. When it was time for them to leave, for the first time at a goodbye, I
was in tears. Lydia- I’m glad it’s you and no one else.
Ed: Names in the story have been changed so that nazar na laag jaye