Sunday, May 26, 2002
A wedding is a construction project. Sunday morning we make a convoy of pickups and cars. At the wedding site, like a crew of rock and roll roadies we erect the mandap and finish decorating it with flowers and paper wrapping. Helped by our friends, we string lights on the railing, place candles and vases, and wire speakers into the sound system. We are at Harbor House, a hall with a deck which overlooks Princeton Harbor and the famous Maverick's surf break.
Back home, we dress. Tux for me, suits for my sons.
And here we go. Returning to Harbor House, there is fog with occasional mist - Pacific coast weather. The mandap is put to immediate use: first thing, everybody writes a message on a yellow ribbon and tacks it among the flowers and ivy. Mine, “Be fruitful and multiply!” Not that I'm pressuring them or anything...
Hors d’oeuvres are artfully presented on the deck, but I’m too excited to eat. At 4:30 the groom arrives astride his steed - the white Mustang convertible - music blaring, aunties dancing, guests blowing bubbles. Before the bride can greet the groom, the aunties and mother-of-the-groom wrap her in a shawl, pinned just so. And bury her in jewelry.
Krishna, who is a pharmacy student, serves as punditji and conducts the ceremony in the mandap. There are rituals to perform, all a mystery to me. My wife and I, sitting in chairs, notice the ugly green wine glass that was intended to be stomped - that we have hated for years - on the altar, filled with rice. Now it can't be stomped; it's a sacred vessel. I turn to Mark, knowing he’ll understand because he's Jewish, and say, “Quick, find a light bulb and wrap it in a napkin.” He returns and says, “Don’t look in the bathroom.”
Fishing boats chug in and out of the harbor, passing our little ceremony. Rock music from a bar band floats over the water.
If you grow up in a Christian house and later find yourself playing a major role in a Hindu wedding, just do what you're told. Sip water when instructed, toss petals, sprinkle rice, chant prayers. At one point, unexpected by me, I am asked to put some folding money out as a donation. This rented tuxedo has endless secret pockets. Which one has my wallet? As I fumble, I'm thinking that I brought a wad of hundred-dollar bills to pay the catering crew in cash, something they greatly appreciate. Do I have small bills? The folding money that I donate at this moment will later be tossed into the ocean as some sort of offering. Will I have to toss hundred-dollar bills into the ocean?
Still fumbling for my wallet, I mutter “I hope I have some,” and then to the punditji I say “Do you take credit cards?” which gets a good laugh from the audience. At last I find the wallet - and some dollar bills. Whew.
I smudge a red spot on the bride and groom’s foreheads.
Suddenly in the middle of the ceremony the aunties in their colorful saris interrupt, crying "No no no!" Shouting in Punjabi dialect, they climb over chairs and swarm into the mandap rearranging icons and instructing the pharmacy student/punditji on what should happen next. The bride and groom have tried to streamline the ceremony, which in a true Indian wedding can go on for hours, but the aunties aren't buying it. After some negotiation, all handled in dialect I can't understand, a few more rituals are added. The aunties, satisfied, take their seats. Imagine this scene at Christian nuptials. My friends are all smiles. This is the most entertaining wedding they've ever attended.
Of course what I'm thinking is: what do the aunties have to say about the mandap? Does it meet their strict standards? Will they berate me after the ceremony? They seem like warm and wonderful people, great dancers, but now they scare the crap out of me.
The punditji tells me to toss petals at the couple: “Big toss. Lots of bless.” The bride and groom stand and read a variant of traditional American vows. No “obey” and no “I do.” But recognizable. Then after several stomps (it’s a small bulb), the groom breaks the glass.
Hours later after dinner and toasts and more dancing, it’s over. The bride and groom depart in their white Mustang for their hotel and, tomorrow, a flight to Paris with certified passports in hand. We disassemble the mandap. Flowers and ivy are still fresh, seemingly nourished by the misty breeze. The structure held.
Next morning, returning for a final garbage pickup, I install a new light bulb in the bathroom.
Later, we gather with the guests for a final goodbye. One by one, the aunties take me aside. Each says the same thing: "It was a beautiful mandap. The best."
(The story continues here, eleven years later.)