I turned towards Nina, who really was the sweetest thing, looking a dream in her wedding sari. This was pink too, but a celebratory pink: deeper, richer, embellished with thick gold, a bridal bonus. The top of her gleaming black hair, parted down the center, was covered with the same fabric, her smooth white forehead dotted with tiny flecks of red paint in an arched design spliced in the middle by a gold-and-diamond bindi. Her hands, lavishly hennaed, reached up to push back a wisp of hair that had fallen into her half-closed eyes. Nina was praying, and blushing, swooning from the heat. She and her groom were sitting in front of a small bright orange fire, both sets of parents by their side, deep in their own thoughts as our family priest, Maharaj Girdhar, uttered thousands of Sanskrit words that no one but him understood.
The ceremony was about done, and now came my favorite part--when the groom slipped his finger into a pot of sindoor and traced it down his new wife's hair-parting. The gesture seemed to say, "You're mine now. We belong to each other." He looked at her with something that appeared to be pride mixed with awe. While it might not yet be love, the happiness seemed real, born of gratitude.
He also seemed relieved. He had done it--found the perfect bride. Now the fun would start. Later, they would spend their first night together, and kiss for the first time.
The groom had won Nina's heart without really trying. She'd fallen for his looks, his height (five-foot-eleven), his casual, easygoing demeanor. It was an arranged match. They had met twice and then gotten engaged. That had been five weeks ago.
The couple stood, poised to garland one another and exchange rings. Nina bowed her head before her new husband, who looked upon her excitedly, like an archaeologist who had just stumbled across some rare artifact and couldn't wait to examine it. Within seconds, they were surrounded by waves of well-wishers who hugged, kissed, shook hands and leaned in to see up-close just how big the necklace was that Nina's parents had given her. Everybody wanted to know the precise carat weight of the marquis diamond her groom had placed on the slender ring finger of her left hand.
It was time for me to make my way through the pack of people towards the couple. En masse, they smelt of sweat, turmeric, paan leaves and Pantene hair oil. I could detect here and there a whiff of Charlie perfume that I knew had been sitting in someone's metal Godrej cupboard for fifteen years. I winced for a second, but when I reached them, summoned up all my warmth and goodwill and embraced them.
"You look gorgeous, honey, I'm so happy for you. God bless," I said, kissing Nina's smooth, warm cheek.
"Didi Anju," she whispered, taking my hand. I loved how she always referred to me as "didi"--big sister. "I said a prayer for you while I was walking around the fire taking my vows. You'll be next. I asked God, and God always listens to the prayers of brides."
The pure sweetness of the gesture made me want to cry, but tears here would be misconstrued as a sign of longing and sadness, so I pinched them back. I turned to the groom and looked up at him.
"Congratulations, sweetie," I said, reaching up to hug him. "You look after her."
I became, as the word didi implied, the generous, solid, single, big sister.
That duty done, I turned and wove my way through the clusters of chattering people who were shuffling out of the hall to a large dining room below. I found my parents in one corner and padded, still barefoot, over to them. Next would come the horror of trying to find my shoes in the pile outside. Bombay weddings were notorious for shoe theft, and I began wondering--belatedly--how good an idea it had been to wear my Dolce & Gabbana mules today.
"Okay, come, let's go downstairs and eat," said my mother, as she automatically adjusted the part of my sari that was coming undone.
From For Matrimonial Purposes, by Kavita Daswani . Copyright (c) June 2003, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc, all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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