There are two types of people who insist that Indian weddings are fun.
The first are white people, who are frequently well-meaning but stupid and enjoy things vaguely different from themselves by exoticizing them. Do not talk to me about how you love the “colours” of an Indian wedding—the main colours come from blood and shit, not necessarily respectively.
The second type are any people who have never actually been to an Indian wedding in India with Indian people. Or, at least, have never been to the entirety of an Indian wedding, the full five to seven days, the multiple outfits, the familial requirements that forfeit your time and independence. No, these people swoop in for the ceremony and reception, they eat some pakoras and talk about how “cute” it is when little girls have unibrows, maybe they show up early for the henna ceremony and ask for a lower-back tat, and then we never see them again.
Indian weddings are a lot of things, but “fun” has never been their purpose. My family was in Jammu for my cousin Sweetu’s wedding. Thanks to an Indian online dating service—Shaadi.com, which means Wedding.com because we as a race are hardly trying—Sweetu’s parents were able to arrange her marriage to a nice boy with well-manicured stubble and a good job in America. It’s the dream. If Indian weddings for Indian people are the furthest from “fun,” trips to India for Indian people are the furthest from “vacation.”
When I told my friends about the upcoming trip, everyone purred about what a great time I’d have, told me to take a lot of photos, told me to eat everything. But if you’re going to India to see your family, you’re not going to relax, you’re not going to have a nice time. No, you’re going so you can touch the very last of your bloodline, to say hello to the new ones and goodbye to the older ones, since who knows when you’ll visit again. You are working.
My parents were in Jammu to give blessings to Sweetu, to send her into her new life accordingly. They arrived with crisp, bank-fresh rupees and red velvet pouches filled with thick gold bangles. My brother and his wife, Ann, were there to show off Raisin, the latest addition to our family, the first grandchild of my father, the eldest son. As for me, a girl and therefore my mother’s joy and my father’s responsibility, I was there to prove my parents are a success. I was among the first to be born out of India within my extended family, proof positive that my parents moved to a faraway prosperous land for good reason. Look at me, I will say merely by showing my beatific face. I am fairskinned, of average weight and height, my hair is long and shiny, I am university-educated and respectful of our customs and traditions. I know I don’t speak the language, but you can see here on my nose the indent of what was once a nose ring, thus the mark of an authentic but modern Kashmiri girl. The Kouls are thriving in the West. Feel free to signal your approval with a satchel or two of gold.
After we dropped off our bags at the hotel and after I had a hearty twenty-minute argument with my parents, who neglected to book a separate hotel room for me and were expecting that I would, for fifteen days, sleep sandwiched between my sixty-six-year-old father and sixty-year-old mother (I stopped short of screaming, “I REFUSE TO SLEEP ON THE SAME SURFACE AS YOUR RESPECTIVE GENITALS” before they made up a cot for me on the floor next to their bed), we headed over to the wedding venue, a fifteen-minute auto-rickshaw ride away. There were already more brown people inside the venue than I had seen in the last five years combined.
Nearly all my father’s family was there: his father’s last remaining brother; his sister who is actually his aunt (possibly not by blood) but she’s younger than him so he calls her his sister; his mother’s brother; his actual sister; her son, Rohan, who got married in Delhi a few years earlier with a thousand guests at his reception (I did not go); his daughter, E, the same age as then-five-year-old Raisin; and my dad’s cousin, my Vee Masi, my mom’s friend who helped arrange my parents’ marriage.
If this sounds confusing, that is because it is.
Brown people rarely explain how anyone is related to anyone. You’re simply told that these people are your family and to treat them as such. My parents do not discuss the fact that one of my “aunts” is actually my dad’s aunt, or how my mom’s many “sisters” are not her sisters and are sometimes merely childhood friends. It’s rude to ask what would otherwise be a very reasonable question: “Hey, Mom, why do you have forty sisters? Was your mother a sea turtle? Is that why she cried so much?” So the question of “how” is maybe less important than the statement of “this”: This is your family. You will hear a platitude about how much you look like them even if this is not true. You will smile. You will feel warm. Behave.
The venue was a three-floor home with a sprawling lawn for the receptions, a pyre for the ceremony itself, an indoor hall, and multiple rooms for out-of-towners to change and put their children down for naps. In one of the many bedrooms was Sweetu, sitting on a bed with her hair in tiny braids as is customary before a bride’s wedding week. (Did I mention Indian weddings last seven days? There are prison sentences that run shorter than Indian weddings.)
Sweetu is my actual cousin, her mother being my father’s younger sister. This I am pretty sure about, because we look too similar to not share blood. Her hair is long and thick like mine, we have the same nose, same fair and yellowish skin. She’s sarcastic and dismissive, somewhat of a hothead until she knows she has to pull it together for the sake of her mother, whose body will literally grow hot when she’s angry. Sweetu laughs when everyone gets upset over auspiciousness, a term used nearly constantly at Indian weddings. The accents here also pronounce the word as “aus-piss-ee-ous,” fragmented and somehow even more dramatic. The wedding date? Must be aus-piss-ee-ous. The pairing itself? Must consult the stars and ensure it is an aus-piss-ee-ous union. The placement of napkins, the volume of food circulated, the darkness of the bride’s henna? Let us all be sure this is the most aus-piss-ee-ous of aus-piss-ee-ous days.
No one, English-speaking or not, knows what this fucking word means, but it is important that we observe it.
Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India from Scaachi Koul’s book One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter.