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Wednesday December 13, 2017
Special: South Asian Weddings in the USA
My Brother’s Big Fat Indian Wedding
Vol: 1 Num: 2    Spring 2006
Her brother and his then fiancée wanted to get married in India. Little did she know that not only would her family split their heads planning for a pepped up Indian wedding experience for her sister-in-law that would extend beyond the National Geographic setting but also that she would wish that those two weeks of her life would play over again and again.

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 experience.

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 public?

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 smiled on.

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 chicken tikka. 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 emotions.

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

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Sandhya Krishnan is an engineer who is doing MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur, India.

 

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