I woke up last Sunday morning in my own bed for the first time in three days. When my feet hit the carpet, a terrible ache spread through them, but with each step into the plush carpet, the ache ebbed away. Looking around at open suitcases, overflowing with dirty laundry, gold and silver pumps, and hastily folded saris and petticoats, I flashed back to two nights ago, to the beat of music, to the mass of bodies in motion on a ballroom dance floor, and to my uncomfortable shoes cast aside under a banquet table. My family and I had danced the night away at a lively wedding reception.
But, there in the early morning light, not ready to conquer housework, I made my way to the bathtub. The washing and unpacking had to wait.
I had to soak my poor feet.
We’d just driven home from Orlando, Florida, the land of Disney World and palm trees, where we’d attended the wedding of Nirali, my husband’s gorgeous younger cousin, to Mitesh, an adorable young dentist. Though Nirali is Dharmesh’s cousin, she is so much younger than us that she is really of a different generation. Her wedding reflected her generation’s style of tradition, which combines the reverent and meaningful, with the festive, to create an event that both she and her husband will undoubtedly cherish, and those of us around them will relive the over and over.
Today’s Indian weddings among Gujarati young people are a far cry from the 1990s weddings of our friends and family. I actually nearly cried during the first Indian wedding that I attended as a young adult because I felt so out of my element. I was the only non-Indian person there. To my dismay, the men and women sat on different sides of the hall during the ceremony, and since I knew few girls there, I sat uncomfortably through the very, very (extremely) long ceremony, which was full of language and ritual that I did not understand. However, though I did not understand what the rituals meant, I remember being touched by the show of emotion by the bride and groom’s parents, as their children were ushered into that new phase of life. I only imagined how bittersweet the parents’ tears must taste.
When finally reunited with my husband after that ceremony, I clung to him with joy, and begged him not to leave my side for the rest of the event. He rescued me and had me sit with him at the men’s table to eat after the ceremony, instead of us dining separately with our own gender groups. The occasion was formal and subdued, with the bride and groom making their way down a long line of family and friends, touching their feet and receiving blessings from them all.
All of this was interesting to me, but not very engaging for me as an outsider. I was used to Christian wedding ceremonies, where the minister or priest would preach a message of faith that reached out to not only the immediate family involved in the ceremony, but also those there to witness the union. And I was also used to the fun receptions, with a band and a bar. The best part.
My how much difference twenty years can make. Nowadays, among our circle of family and friends, weddings include the important religious ceremonies along with a few changes.
Men and women sit together, the wedding ceremony itself is often much shorter than it used to be, and the vibe is much less formal. At this weekend’s wedding, Nirali and Mitesh appeared relaxed and happy, and the giddiness between them reminded me of the shiny, new love my husband and I shared during our first years of marriage. Their laid-back openness toward each other, and toward their family and friends, was contagious. But even though the mood was more relaxed than I remembered of decades ago Indian weddings, the emotion was the same. Perhaps because I am now the parent of two children on the verge of adulthood, I could sense the emotion of Nirali and Mitesh’s parents as they had to let go of their babies. I only hope I can remain that composed at my own childrens’ weddings.
After the priest concluded the ceremony, we guests were treated later that evening to a big party to celebrate the happy couple. Drinks flowed, delicious food was served, and people danced. Oh, how they danced. One of my favorite parts of the reception was when Mitesh showed a video he had created for Nirali, in which he used clips from Tom Cruise’s famous appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where Cruise talked about his love for Katie Holmes. Hilarious! At the end of the video, people rushed to the dance floor to do the “Gangnam Style” dance. Later, the newlyweds danced their first dance to the song to the song, “Home,” by Phillip Phillips. One of my favorites. Finally, after friends and family had roasted and toasted the couple, everyone, old and young, danced to a mix of popular American and awesome Indian music all night.
By the time my five year old tired of dancing and playing with his two year old cousin, he conked out on my shoulder. I gratefully stopped dancing and sat with him, rested my feet, and watched the partiers have a good time.
Though wedding styles have changed over the years, it seems to me that their significance remains the same. Indian weddings are still about the meaningful Hindu rituals that join a man and woman, and their two families for life. But now, it seems to me, weddings are also about sharing the couple’s joy with everyone in their lives, through a rocking party!
The next cousin in line to get married is in her early twenties and won’t be getting married for several years down the road, when she finishes her schooling. I look forward to being at her wedding someday, but I am glad for the break. My feet need plenty of time to rest!