It is an hour before sunrise in western India and I wake up like usual, so I can complete my long list of daily chores. But today, I am confused to find silence. There are none of the usual sounds that welcome my awakening. No peacocks with their throaty strangling cries, no bustling of the farm handsī wives, the swishing of their saris and tinkling of their silver anklets across the stone courtyard below. I am missing the snorts, huffs and puffs of the water buffaloes and the jingling of the bells around their necks as they line up for their trek across and into the sugarcane fields. There is no smoky smell of dried dung used as kindling for the morning fires. I only hear the clever wind whipping through cotton fabric that begins to torment me. I run to my window and see the dark maroon banners tied around the courtyard clapping in the breeze, the color of dark red kumkum, the holy powder, sacred and binding. In the center of the patio below is the four pillared dais, the mandap or altar, with each pillar representing the four directions. It is decorated with tumeric yellow marigolds, emerald neem and mango leaves. How could I have forgotten while I slept so blissfully? I will be sitting on that dais today. I am the eldest daughter and I am thirteen years old. Today is my wedding day.
ďOh God, not again,Ē I think as I glance at my clock. Itís already mid-morning here in Texas. Anxiety and irritation wake me from the comforting arms of a peaceful dream. Sleep has become a great escape from these noises that hound me lately since Iíve come home to my parentsí house. Clanging and clinking of pots and pans, whirrs of blenders and a handful of excited voices shooting into my room like arrows to torment me. My mother, some of her sisters, with various other aunts and friends clog up the kitchen, cooking delicate Indian pastries and sweets. Burfies and laddoos, halwa, and other assorted sugary delights are being made for the three-day feast. They are happy, giddy, as they cook and plan, chatting and laughing, teasing each other. It is a culminating moment for my mother and she is completely in her element, so thankful that her time has finally come. She had been praying for this since I finished college. The whole family has been energized for months now. I am the spinster, over the hill single daughter of my family, thirty-five years old and I am finally getting married.
I do not know this young man I am to marry, our fathers decided to join us. I stop by the small Krishna Mandir, temple, every morning on my way to the large pond to light incense and pray for a kind husband. What I mostly pray for is a generous and sweet mother-in-law whom I can call mother. I carry the earthen clay pots filled with water on my head trying hard to balance them and walk properly as my grandmother had taught me. I will not belong to my family anymore after I am married. Daughters leave their home and must cling to the husbandís family and so I will belong to them. I wonder if my mother-in-law will like me and call me daughter of her heart, or will she berate me and treat me like a servant? Will she be satisfied with the way I do my chores or yell at me and beat me like my friend Jayaís mother-in-law does? I hope and pray so much that my husbandís mother will be like my Auntie Gita, who rubs coconut oil into my long black hair and teaches me how to cook my favorite sweets, like rus-gullah, round fried dough in sweet sugar sauce. Will she teach me the recipes that her son favors? Will his family like the way that I cook? I try very hard to pay attention while I cook so nothing burns. I quit going to school a few months ago so I could concentrate on learning my wifely duties. I have a lot more responsibilities now, making sure all of my siblings are dressed and fed before they go to school. I am in charge of cooking lunch for all of the farm hands. I massage ghee, clarified butter, onto my aching feet and dry cracked hands at night after everyone is asleep, to soften them in time for the wedding. I have asked father to get Auntie Gitaís cousin to place the henna on my softened feet and hands for the marriage ceremony. I have already chosen some designs, like the petals of the lotus and vines with a koel bird.
I am still reeling, in awe of how I got to this point; why am I actually getting married? I will be tying the strings of my life, my future, control over life decisions, with the strings of his life. Each knot becoming tighter as the years go by. No more Houdini tricks that I learned in my twenties to get out of rigid, tight relationships. This one will, or should, last forever. Am I ready for this? Do I want to give up everything I have, my independence? And, to top it off, my husband to be is not of Indian origins; heís Irish-American. How did I get my familyís consent? My parents have beleaguered me to look for a husband since I was in college, at the ripe age of twenty-two. They had offered to introduce me to many young Indian men, from family friends, or a son of a family friendís friend, for years. I met a few guys, to get the family to relent and then I could say that I did try it their way. I didnít want to get married then and not sure if I really want to now. But, my family is so happy now, it doesnít matter anymore that heís not Indian. As soon as they found out that he was highly educated and I was close to making that decision, the ball started rolling. And, with my age, they thought I was lucky to have a man interested in marrying me at all. No decent Indian man would accept me now, so late in age, in my spinsterhood, unless he was already divorced or had other problems. Well, I wonít have to worry about his family expecting me to behave certain ways, like knowing how to cook a full Indian meal, or objecting to the ways I keep house. Months can go by without anyone in his family speaking to each other. I call my parents at least once every two days. Once I began traveling with my job, mother wanted me to call her at least once a day to make sure I was safe. She is ecstatic that I am finally making the step to becoming a real woman. Itís not age or experiences that makes me a woman, but my marital status and I donít understand that. My husband better realize he isnít marrying a subservient Indian woman who only cooks and cleans up after him. I am his equal and he better treat me like one.
My granddaughter is upset again. So many trivial things that girl is upset about. She feels that her husband to be is not trying to be involved in the preparations and planning of the wedding. Well, he is an American; what did she expect? How can he understand our customs, our values? She has to always remind him to greet me appropriately, with hands folded together. A proper Namaste he doesnít even give me. I cannot believe her father, one of my many sons, let her wait so long to become married. Ah, but now in this country, so many changes to our way of life. What shame, a good girl like that offered to a non Indian, a waste I call it. So many of my grandchildren stutter in Gujarati, our language; they struggle to communicate with me. Some of the younger ones I do not even recognize as Indian. Was it such a wise move to immigrate to this country? My family has everything now, homes, cars, more money, everything, except our old ways. These girls nowadays live alone before marriage, drive cars without chaperons, and do not cook or want to learn how to cook suitably. They go out to eat here and there. I have gotten used to these foreign ways. My husband would always say that one day our family would meld with the west and we should embrace it, that we are all one in the eyes of God. At least this boy can handle our food. He eats everything on his plate and asks for seconds, which makes my daughter-in-law smile. I know it was hard for them to accept, but my granddaughter waited too long. She should already have a few children by now. Who can explain these new ways? Iím glad I will not be around much longer. It breaks my heart, but it doesnít kill me. I have survived too long; nothing should surprise me anymore.
It is midnight and darkness is held at bay by the light from my computer. I am the only one awake tonight after three days of wedding ceremonies; it is finally over. The house is quiet except for the occasional cough that drifts from grandmotherís room. These past three days, in the back of my mind I often thought about her as I went through the different motions of the ceremony; while the henna designs were placed on my hands and feet, when we took the steps around the fire under a four pillared mandap or altar. I imagined that she had done a similar thing. What did she think about? She didnít know my grandfather the way I know my husband. She entered a different world after she was married, her husbandís family. Did she have expectations? Did she want to break out of her obligations to experience the world? Did she have dreams that were unfulfilled because of life? I am disturbed tonight. Did I make the right decision? There is nothing I can do to change it unless I can unwind the hands of time, go back. I think about what grandmother would want. Would she want to go back, recapture time? Before my wedding, when I asked her if she was happy during her marriage to grandfather, she gave me such a strange look. ďI did not have time to ask myself if I was happy,Ē she replied. She had no such questions. She did not give herself different choices, which makes room for expectations and may eventually give way to disappointment. Would she want to do it all over again? ďI did not have different desires, I did what I had to do,Ē she said. My grandmother was not given choices and in that she found peace, in her duty. She is a woman who persevered, sent her children to a new world so that they may also persevere and carry on family traditions with her strength and sacrifices guiding us. I must teach my children our language and traditions. I will tell them her story. She is ninety-six years old now and wants desperately to join my grandfather in the afterworld. It is what she desires now. She did not even know him when they got married.