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The Indian Wedding

8 Jul
Khyati and I in London, 2007.

Khyati and me in London, 2007.

This is my dear friend Khyati. We met in student government when we were 12-years-old. Somehow over the years we have managed to stay in touch, and I feel lucky to have her, even if our friendship is now maintained over sporadic g-chat sessions. She is the most honest person I’ve ever known, never afraid to tell me when my hair color looks unflattering (the black bob I had in high school) or when I’m making a poor life decision (moving across the country with someone I wasn’t happy with). That makes her an invaluable person to have in my corner. So when a year ago, she asked if I would consider attending her wedding even though it was all the way across the country in California, it was an easy “yes.”

Khyati is Indian, and I knew her wedding would be semi-traditional. But I still didn’t know what to expect. The months leading up to the wedding, she sent me a slew of emails explaining all the events, the expectations of the day. She flew to India to get invitations and her dress amongst other things. Knowing I’d be one of three non-Indian women at this event, she had me send her my measurements so she could get a dress made for me.

Even though the wedding was on a Saturday, I flew in on Friday morning to attend her Mehendi at her uncle’s house in Pleasanton, California. Walking into the house, I saw colorful drapery and flowers everywhere. There was singing and drums and laughing. Somebody led me to her where she sat in the middle of the events, looking tired but blissful, every inch of her skin covered in turmeric powder to “purify” her. I hadn’t seen her in four years since her fiancé, Ravi and her had visited me in New York. Her sister led me to a woman in the corner who got to work painting Henna on my hand. The food was overflowing. Chai tea, weird honey candy things, flower cracker things, Indian crepes filled with spices and vegetables, sweet rice balls. I met up with one of the other non-Indian women, and we made plans to meet up the next day.

My Henna

My Henna

After all the food, music, Henna and brief catching up, I began the two-hour drive South to Monterey where the wedding was going to take place. She had given us coupons for pizza which I ate in my little hotel room before passing out while watching CNN. I knew the next day was going to be a long one.

The next morning, I got up at 8 to get ready in order to be outside the venue around 9:30 for the beginning of the ceremony. Everyone headed down the street to meet up with Ravi who was on a white horse to be led into the wedding area. His friends all had drums and speakers to play Indian music. Her cousins explained to me that this part of the proceedings was to let the whole town know that there was a wedding happening. Her family members were gracious and amazing throughout the whole day, stopping to explain to me what was going on and why. They also distributed a program that explained the significance of each part of the ceremony.

Riding in on the horse.

Riding in on the horse.

So much dancing. So much celebrating. So many strange little traditions. Khyati’s sister came out with a sculpture on her head to greet Ravi. He had to break a clay pot with his bare hands to prove to Khyati’s parents that he was strong enough for her. At last, she came out, under a large sheet with a flower lei in her hands. They exchanged leis (representing a time when arranged marriages were negotiated) before she went back to her waiting room and he went ahead to perform rituals with a Hindu guide.

First sight of the beautiful bride.

First sight of the beautiful bride.

The ceremony was lengthy with a variety of symbolic moments involving her sister, her parents, his parents, his sister. The overcast weather turned to sunlight and the wedding was framed by the calm Pacific Ocean. One point of the ceremony had Khyati and Ravi walking in a circle together representing the different aspects of their union. After the four circles (pheras), there’s an important moment when whoever sits down first will rule the household. The friends I sat with joked with me about whether Ravi would even try to beat Khyati to the punch. Of course, he let her sit first, and it was a moment of knowing she had found the perfect partner for her. Someone calm and quiet, willing to let her have her way, while also providing a loving counsel to help her grow as a person. I’ve seen the good he has brought out in her over the years and know how good they are together.

The ceremony

The ceremony

After the ceremony, we waved ribbons as they walked toward their “Just Married” car. Ravi’s friends lifted him off his feet and stole his shoes. Another tradition in which the groom has to negotiate to get his shoes back before he is allowed to leave the wedding venue. Khyati posed for pictures and rolled her eyes in a playful way, “Is he STILL negotiating?!” she’d ask.

We all drove to a small garden a couple of blocks away where an Indian buffet was waiting. After eating our full of incredible Indian food, some of which I recognized, most of which I didn’t but enjoyed nonetheless, my new friends and I grabbed a couple of beers at a bar nearby while the rest of the wedding party changed into their second outfits.

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Bride and groom in reception outfits. Me in my Indian dress with one-hour-in-sunlight-sunburn.

A couple of hours later, the reception began with a performance created by Khyati’s sister and starring her cousins re-enacting Khyati and Ravi’s love story through a variety of classic Disney songs. Speeches were given, then the dancing began. My skin was burned, my feet were tired from a long day, I was a little tipsy from the beers, but I danced and danced and danced without rest. I was so happy and excited for my friend.

Khyati is my first friend whose wedding I have attended, and I wondered how I would feel about it. I had said goodbye to a great guy a month earlier, one more in a string of lovely humans who just aren’t what I’m looking for. I was worried I’d feel sad or worse jealous. But throughout the day, I felt nothing but pure joy in the celebration of love that existed on that day. I’ve attended weddings before, but to go to a wedding of someone who I’ve known more than half of my life meant a much greater emotional investment. I danced with such an elation for her, for the amazing life and loving marriage that I wholeheartedly hope is ahead of them. Not an ounce of sadness, loneliness, or jealousy to be found in my body. If anything, it made me feel like I’m on the right path. I want what they have, what she has found: a partner that fits for me that makes sense for my life and my personality. I’m okay with not having found that yet, and I felt more certain that day that I would never settle for anything less than that “right for me” feeling. Why would I?

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