by Tamara Baluja
I didn’t want to go to India. In all the years of living in Canada, I never once felt any desire to visit my birthplace. Don’t get me wrong – I love Indian food, dancing to bhangra and indulging in the occasional Bollywood film.
But go to India? Nope. Too crowded. Too dirty. Too sexist. Too traditional.
But then I got a call from my best friend who was getting married in Delhi. I tried to make up excuses and tell her I’m too busy with work, but my friend was having none of it. I was guilt-tripped into attending the Big Fat Indian Wedding: a four-day affair with 300 guests and the groom arriving on a horse. At least it wasn’t an elephant, I thought.
Ten months later, I found myself at Indira Gandhi International Airport. I steeled myself and stepped out to breathe the polluted Delhi air.
Day 1: It’s the mehendi night, when the womenfolk sing songs of grooms arriving on horses, while the bride-to-be and her friends get henna tattoos. The designs are pretty, but try doing anything when you have goop that takes hours to dry. I submitted to the minimal amount on my hands and escaped to the verandah as soon as I could. I was soon joined by the bride’s father (mehendi nights are the only time men feed women since they can’t do it themselves). I asked him for a beer. He blinked with surprise, but raised the glass to help me drink. After more strange looks from the the auntijis, it occurred to me that I was the only female drinking. Oops.
Day 2: Another pre-wedding ritual: the sangeet, a.k.a. more obligatory Bollywood singing and dancing from family members as they serenade the couple. Think awkward and grimace-worthy. No way was I taking part.
Then the guilt-tripping started. “You’re her best friend, you dance professionally, blah, blah, think of how happy it will make her to see you do Bollywood,” urged the bride’s sister.
I do love dancing, so I reluctantly gave in. But would my sari stay up? I find it hard enough to walk gracefully in a sari, but dancing wrapped in nine yards of cloth would be an even bigger challenge. Frea
king out, I ran to all the auntijis looking for safety pins to strap in my sari, but no one had any. In desperation, I used bobby pins. And in the midst of my Bollywood dance, I started having a good time. Perhaps I even enjoyed the wolf whistles and cat calls. Okay, so maybe the Big Fat Indian Wedding wasn’t so awful.
Day 3: The wedding. We’re told to be ready at 3:45 p.m. sharp. I am ready at 3:30. No one is to be found. Oh yeah, I had forgotten about “Indian standard time.”
At the ceremony, I was emotional in spite of myself. When the groom tipped the sindoor, or red powder, on my friend’s forehead I felt a lump in my throat. And tears fell as we showered the couple with flower petals as they did pheras (a symbolic walk around a fire marking they are finally married). I realized then that no matter how much India can grate on my nerves, a small, indestructible part of me will always be Indian.
After the wedding, I ran up to hug my best friend. “So,” she asked, “have I convinced you to have a Big Fat Indian Wedding?”
I laughed. I knew that no matter how much I love dancing bhangra or gorging on Indian food, there is no way I want my fiancé brought to me on an elephant.