I am a Bengali and he is a Gujarati. We decided to get married on the same day and to each other! It was a decision born as much out of impulse as it was well thought out. He proposed "suddenly" after knowing me for a decently "long time" and I gawked! He took that as an Yes and I blushingly let him. That was the beginning.
I didn't realize that National Integration, breadth wise, wasn't a matter of joke. The rosogollas and dhoklas aren't usually eaten in the same meal. "Mathho" (flavored sweet curd) wasn't the same as "Mishti doi" (sweet curd) . But we had to try.
The thing with parents is that, no matter how many times you let them know of your boyfriend they will choose not to acknowledge it until it really happens. In the heart of their hearts they wish to be in control of your marital destiny. Surprisingly both my parents and his had a love marriage. For my parents, the Bengali of the east had married the Bengali of the west, and I was born as the hybrid, or in bong words, "Bati". According to me, I took it to the next level. I was the Indian of the East getting married to the Indian of the West.
"It is this very Amricaan thinking that has ruined your brain, no?" my parents barked.
" Who asked you to go to Amricaa? I knew it. Horrid country, I say." my mother concluded and my father nodded in agreement. It is unusual for my parents to agree on the same topic most of the times but when it came to my marital destiny they teamed up. I realized since I had managed to unite my parents, all I had to do was to unite them "FOR" me.
The rosogolla battle wasn't an easy one. I cooked for them (something my dad hated to eat), I regaled them with amazing stories what an ideal hubby the guy from the west can be (much of it sadly was made up), I told them of the enormous respect both of us, especially he had for them and so on and so forth. The thing with parents is , no matter what, they aren't convinced their bumbling baby can be taken care of well enough by anyone other than themselves, or maybe another Bengali dude in my case. They eulogized the amazing Bong culture which oozes out of every Bengali. It didn't work.
Every Indian considers their culture superlative- how can there be any comparison? Every Bengali boasts of rich literature, creativity and "Robiguru(Rabindranath)" and so does every other state - except Robiguru, coz that's unique to us. But because of this ingrained superiority complex which almost every culture suffers from, which surfaces most vividly during a love marriage, there is an inhibition in accepting that the other one can be better in several aspects than their own. That there could be a world of good among non-Bengalis, believe it or not! Despite the hiccups, I was winning. My sister pitched in as well.
Meanwhile my would-be hubby was managing a mini-thepla-war at his end. (thepla - a sort of gujarati parantha). I pitched in with my amazing social skills and tried bowling them over. My would-be sister-in-law was pretty perky too. She chipped in with her unbiased opinions (which were in my favor, after I had managed to convince her to be on my side).
Then the day arrived. "Sondesh"(famous bong sweet) exchanged hands with the "Puranpoli"(famous gujju sweet). Gujaratis and Bengalis both spoke broken Hindi and guffawed at the same random joke. (I am sure each understood it differently). It was a moment in history. I was the translator, who translated only the good from either side.
On the 18th of last month, my wedding day occurred. Big Day for both the parties. To arrange a traditional Bengali wedding in a foreign land like Mumbai is no mean deal. My parents decided to import stuff straight from Kolkata. My mom, dad and relatives were heavily involved in goods transport - from the wedding dresses for the bride and the groom, to the "boron kulo"(the decorated plate to welcome the groom) to even the wedding garlands were flown in. The garlands appeared magically on the early morning flight! No matter what, a true Bengali has to get the thing straight from Kolkata!
An eclectic bunch of people accumulated. My best friend was a Tamilian girl and his best buddy was a Kashmiri guy. The wedding was heavily attended by Marathis, Punjabis, Rajasthanis and organized by a handful of Bengalis while the groom's side were all Gujaratis. It was National Integration of some sorts.
The Spinster's Rice, the Yellowing of the body, the before-sunrise-meal, decorating the welcome plate, the ritual of calling the dead forefather's blessings - all occurred in sequence and as per Ranu-di's instructions. Ranu-di was called upon again, now from Mumbai. She was becoming quite the wedding consultant on her own.
On the D-Day, "Mumbaiya" photographers and videographers arrived. My parents let them know what an excellent job the Kolkata photo-walas did.
"Arrey don't worry Auntyji and Uncleji. We are guaranteeing it will look excellent. So good that you would want to get married again, just for the photos!"
It is amazing how Indians sell their trade with guarantees. If I am an ugly looking hag, no matter what, their camera will capture it. A camera doesn't lie but the camera-man sure did.
I went to a famous parlor in Mumbai for my makeup. They had been well instructed about how a Bengali bride oughtta look because they had no clue. As expected they made several modifications. I wore the Saree in Gujarati style and had bright stone stickers on my forehead instead of the "kum-kum and chandan"(red color and sandalwood design). Every Bengali item used to decorate the bride was scrutinized. (They had all been flown in from Kolkata). They decided to give me the National look and appeal. Thankfully when my mom beheld me she didn't go into fits. Except the Bengalis no one knew exactly how a Bengali bride ought to look.
For my wedding, my sister and my mother wore Gujarati style Sarees and mehendis (henna hand decorations). I was mighty pleased with my mom for her adaptivity.
The Groom arrived with his entourage. Since none of them had any past experience in Bengali weddings, everything was new and fun. The welcoming "ulu"(sound made by women to drive away evil spirits) almost drove half of them away! The groom had been prepared for this eerie sound before so he stood his ground.
As the "barati-s"(groom's side) were escorted to their seating area, I sat in my secluded room awaiting the "Ashirwaad"(blessings from the in-laws). I touched my in-laws feet with some extra gusto and some thankfulness for their cooperation. After it was done, my sister and my best friend escorted me out with a beetle leaf covering my eyes. I wasn't allowed to see the groom's face until the auspicious moment. It was called the "Shubho-drishti". After seven blinded circles around the groom I was pretty much reeling from the torque. The groom on the other hand was having a gala time. Dressed up as a Bengali Babu, he looked pretty unique. His relatives found the "topor"(groom's headgear) like the leaning tower of Pisa and wanted to play with it afterwards!Once I set eyes on him, I smiled and he laughed. I hadn't treated him with such scales of royalty before. Holding the fan of his "dhoti"(traditional equivalent of pants) and helping me with the other hand, the groom ascended the stairs of the "mandap"(place of wedding) with me.
The punditji this time was younger and resident of Mumbai. My sister had googled him up. He claimed to speak fluent Hindi which is what every Bengali claims and only another Bengali understands!
He started his elaborate proceedings. He had an assistant who seemed to be mesmerized by the non-Bengali "junta"(attending public) and consistently botched up the punditji's instructions. Meanwhile my starving father was trying to get the ceremonies done in the fast-forward mode. This time he was tactful.
"Punditji, you are really good at this and I know it has been years of experience for you. Why don't you selectively do the critical aspects in order to get them married quicker?" Dad ended with a coy smile.
"I can do it elaborately for 3 hours you know, I am pretty seasoned at it. But I will consider your special request", punditji smiled back.
My dad nodded understandingly and told a relative to leave a hefty "dakshina"(fees) for the punditji.
The ceremonies began. Our names was repeated a zillion times starting from our great-grandfather and ending with a "Swaha", which was a cue to pour more "ghee"(clarified butter) into the fire. Punditji kept forgetting my name, and repeatedly asked,
"So who are you again?!"
As for the groom, his name was distorted in the Bengali equivalent of itself and except for my elbow nudges he had no clue he was being called!
The remaining Gujaratis hovered around the mandap and mainly gossiped among themselves trying to decipher the Bengali proceedings and trying to find their equivalent in their own wedding ceremonies. Since it was new for almost all , none had a reason to complain. The only people squabbling were the pundit and his assistant.
The photographers had their own secret agenda. They chose angles and disrupted punditji's "mantra"(spells) flow several times. They moved the fire away from our faces onto the pundit's face to get a better lighting! As the pundit sweated, we smiled for the lenses.
Throughout the wedding, my dad was omnipresent. He was jumping up and down trying to say mantras, throw ceremonial rice at the fire, inviting people in, growling at disruptive children and actually calling for divine intervention in Hindi!His Hindi had got significantly better while he managed to pick up one Gujarati word, "Kem cho"(how are you). (That was because he thought it was a shorter way of saying "Kemon Achoo" (how are you)).
My mom on the other hand was an one-woman-army. She was the ONLY know-it-all in this proceedings and had to constantly remember the sequence of things needed for the ceremony (as per Ranu-di's outline). But in Bengali weddings, the daughter's mother doesn't get to see the wedding. So my mom sat quarantined in another room with intermittent company from my relatives and my sister.
After the pundit was done, the photographers took over. They managed to bring out the film-star in us. I posed in every shape and size and so did my newly-wedded hubby. The more they asked him the more he obliged, totally forgetting there was a wedding-reception which had been underway one and a half hours ago! I realized that I had to be the smarter one in my new family from now on. I took matters in my own henna-decorated hands. I shoved him aside and posed for my solo "chobbi-s"(pics)!
More posing, smiling, clicking, thanking, introducing followed in the next venue. My dad had organized the wedding and the reception in side by side locations on Marine Drive. We had to rush from one to the other and because they were so near, no one wanted to drive. My parents had anticipated that my hubby would find it difficult managing his "dhoti" and had a change of suit-and-boot ready. Their thoughtfulness didn't extend to me and like every other bride I tried maintaining my bride-like poise running between the "mandap" and the reception hall. Several couple and group photographs later, they allowed us to eat. Since I was the Bengali bride I had been starving, but the groom wasn't. He had been enjoying his regular meals plus delicious snacks! Pretty unfair I must say. Gujjus should incorporate wedding day starvation ritual.
The food was spread under the open terrace with the sea breeze blowing in from Marine Lines. (And it was neither Bengali nor Gujarati but somewhere in between). As we finished with food amid our friends, our parents chatted in Hindi as well. Broken or otherwise, they seemed to understand what it felt to have their children married. Each of them had dreams surrounding their amazing daughter and their brilliant son, but neither had married according to their wishes. No matter how infinitely better a Bengali dude for me or a Gujju bimbo for him would have been , none of us understood it.
As the breeze cooled the land, it relaxed the people as well. I glimpsed my mother-in-law trying to hug my mom, who isn't used to public display of affection while my dad was getting overwhelmed with several hugs from the male members of the Gujju barat. Gujjus are openly affectionate while Bengalis try it subtly. So when one meets the other, their hug is a catch-me-if-you-can game! Despite it being new, it was nice. A hug edge ways, a smile sideways - the Bengalees and the Gujaratis managed to find many things in common. As the stars shone down, the east and west met each other with open arms and amused faces - all on my wedding day!