My in-laws had called me in for mehendi on December 5...a day before my wedding. I didn't see it as an event till I turned up at their door. I froze when I saw my sister-in-law in an orange chaniya-choli. Behind her were women in colourful sequinned sarees and chaniya cholis swaying to Bollywood music. I cringed at my navy blue shorts and a red t-shirt as a photographer swooped in from nowhere and started taking pictures of me. I made my way to my ma-in-law who simply smiled at me. The mehendi designer, Razia, checked me out as I planted myself next to my German friend Katie. Now, I hn't got the patience to sit through a mehendi session. The first time I had put mehendi was at the time of my engagement last year and I thought I had done a pretty good job sitting idle for 45 minutes waiting for it to dry. I had an excuse, "I'm a Bong. We don't use mehendi." But this time, the excuse wouldn't work. For one, I was the bride...the colour and design had to be darker and better than all the other women. Secondly, German Katie had no problem sitting idle with henna on her hands for hours together. I, an Indian bride, would have no choice. It took Razia, who lives in the old city area in Baroda, four hours to apply mehendi on my palms, forearm, feet and calves. This was my initiation into bridehood. An Indian bride has to be patient. This was my test of endurance. I smiled sheepishly at the camera as I waited for the mehendi to dry up. A slight movement and Razia would scream at me. "Don't move. You'll spoil it. Let it dry and let him take the pictures. After that, I don't really care what you do with it." I kept the mehendi on till night, much to the amusement of the Bongs in my family who went in paparazzi mode as I tried scraping it off with the help of Vicks Vaporub. An uncle chuckled, "Now that's a use of Vicks I didn't know of." Well, I had just followed Razia's instructions and am glad I did because the next morning, the henna on my hands had turned a deep red. An aunt remarked, "That means your groom will love you a lot." I retorted, "Tell me something I don't already know."
"Look shy, bride"
I am camera-shy. Those who've seen my pictures splashed in Mumbai Mirror and Education Times will certainly disagree but it's true. I hate posing for pictures. So when I had to do it for my bridal portfolio, I mechanically followed the photographer's instructions. I have a natural grin. But the photographer didn't think that made me look like a coy Indian bride. He barked, "Look shy." "How do I look shy?" He picked up a handkerchief and pressed one end with his teeth and said, "Like this." I was amazed he actually wanted me to do a 'gaon ki chhori' for my wedding pictures. I refused. But he didn't budge. I picked up the corner of my red veil and put it between my teeth (I was worried that I might wipe off my red lipstick). He said, "Very nice. Now, you look shy enough to be bride." Indeed!
Kung Fu relief
What does a bride do when she has to wait for the mandap call? In an arranged marriage scenario, she would probably prepare herself for the uncertainties that lie ahead. But I have known my guy for over five years and I was sure I wanted to marry him. So after a discussion with my younger cousin on how does one know whether he/she should go ahead with marriage, I was out of words. I turned to my cousin, "It wouldn't really be out of the ordinary if we turned on the Tv to catch up on the news?" My cousin said, "I don't think people would mind too much if it's news." We hit the remote and browsed news channels. We hit Star World and caught a bit of an episode of Friends. Greed led us to surf through the movie channels on mute. We soon struck gold. A 1970s Chinese flick with lots of Kung Fu. Cousin and I laughed hysterically. And then...aunt knocked on my door. That was the mandap call.
"Man, does he want to burn this place down?"
The pujari who conducted our Bong-style wedding ceremony was innovative to say the least. He built the havan kund (sacred fire) on a wollen carpet. He put some newspapers first and marked out an area with bricks. He spread sand on the newspaper sheets and put dry twigs atop it. During the course of the ceremony he would ask my husband to pour ghee into the fire. The flames would get a new lease of life and would rise high, towards the ceiling of the mandap. My American aunt freaked out. "What is he trying to do? Burn the place down? Can you please bring some flasks of water in case we have a bonfire here." She needn't have worried so much, for, in course of the ceremony when I was asked to offer puffed rice to the fire, I threw it in with so much force that it was nearly extinguished . "Throw it with a little more grace. You are a bride," the pujari said. Right!