Lets drop the ‘cousin’ business right over here shall we ? We don’t really have an equivalent word for a cousin from where I come from…
Till a week earlier, I was an IT consultant pretending to solve the problems of the world. Till 3 days earlier my elder brother was struggling with designing a better a more beautiful Delhi airport. The eldest brother in the family was busy wrapping up things in London before flying off to India for a week, while the sister in Bangalore was busy convincing her 6 year old son that he will be able to manage two days of school without her being around. Suits were dusted and cleaned and jewelry was taken out of bank lockers…Hundreds of tickets were booked and a million dresses tried on, saris oohed over and menus cast aside… before we all decided to set everything else aside and come together give our sister a perfect wedding.
She was my younger sister growing up in our small little town. My earliest memories of her take me back when I was well, a kid myself. Chacha, Chachi and Pikku would appear magically during the night. I would wake up on an otherwise usual morning to find more faces than usual around the house… I used to look forward to Chacha’s trips to Lucknow from his various postings across northern India. And sometimes, I would get a day off school when they came visiting.Things as you may have noted, used to be distinctly happy.
And then Chacha, was transferred to Lucknow…. Where he and his family became a part of my childhood like few others have been. I found a playmate in Pikku, we explored unexplored frontiers of crumbling tube-well walls and ancient banayan trees around my house. She loved our dogs, and spoiled them silly when she visited. I ate more ice cream at her birthday parties than I care to remember, and while teasing her about her tastes in music became a fan of Michael Jackson myself. We fought and made up, and told each other of our first adolescent crushes and decided that no one,was really so worth it in life.
Then we grew up, went on to chase goals loftier than racing paper boats in the monsoons. On a rather cold night in the American Midwest, I received a midnight call from India telling me that Pikku had made it in the Civil Services. I found myself distributing chocolate to bemused Americans at office who failed to understand why a guy would be so happy if his ‘first cousin’ was going to end up working for the Indian government ! And a few months later, she emailed to tell me that she was now engaged !
So a year later, I found myself sitting on the side, watching her get married. The night was cold and dewy, and the sacred fire seemed strangely comforting. The cacophony and euphoria of the wedding day had given way to a rather still silence.
How does one react to the marriage of a sister? You are incredibly happy at the thought of her having found the guy she wants to be with for the rest of her life, yet your thoughts are tinged with a bit with sadness that she won’t be loafing around the house then next time you visit Chacha’s home. I wonder if the tradition of conducting marriage ceremonies late into the night has something to do with allowing people to deal with their own memories. The darkness and the play of fire allow ample opportunities to hide an impertinent tear if you chose to. The sonorous singing of wedding songs sets the stage for a person to move onto the next stage of their life. Memories are revisited and smiled at, and brushed aside with an indulgent shrug. As you remember the games played in sunny courtyards and the scraped knees that eventually lead to a slap and confinement to the bed for the rest of the day, you realize, that you are possibly older now than you yourself realize.
The tears at a wedding, are more for what has been; than what is to be…
And then, you see your sister smile. And notice how content the two of them appear when they are together. You realize how fulfilling your own life has been since the time you yourself decided to share it with someone five years ago, and are glad that your sister chose to walk down the same path.
The Great North Indian wedding is festooned with red and gold and marigold. While celebrating the marriage itself, it is also a celebration of The Great Indian Family. Aunts, uncles and the neighbors-next-door-from-10-years-back, all have a role to play and a script to follow. In an ostentatious swirl of music , food, dancing and a rare inebriated relative, there is an enormous joy and tenderness in spending time together with the people you rarely see but dearly love. It is a celebration of how a family scattered across the continents like seeds from pod, manages to be at the same place at the same time and behave as if nothing really changed in the 15 years or so since they last met. Middle aged men still get called kiddy names by uncles on the verge of retirement while the brothers who made it a habit of disappearing round the corner for a discrete cigarette or two are still found lurking in the shadows with a smoke in hand. All of us from my generation of kids were there for the wedding, possibly the first time in the last decade or so. Most of us had managed to grow a few grey hairs, put on a few kilos, get a few kids and a wife or a husband or two in the last few years.
I wonder when will all of us be together again… probably at another wedding. When the remaining brood of my family will pause a while from life as we know it and assemble around another sacred fire on a winter night…. and wish another one of our kin, a beautiful life ahead. Like we just did for Aashwita…
Pikku, we might not have been able to say as much during the wedding as we would have wanted to. Here is wishing you and Atul all the joy in the world. And we hope you know that whenever life gets a bit too much for both of you, there is always a place to hideaway at our home.
Ashish & Radhika