Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bride in a Basket

Night before the wedding
Guntur, Andhra Pradesh

Today, I went over to Parimala's house. She's getting married tomorrow to a boy her parents picked out for her. Since the wedding is tomorrow, her friend Asha came over and decorated Parimala's hands with mehendi (henna) in beautiful, intricate patterns. She held her hands up to my face so I could smell the earthy, herbal odor of the henna. It looks like exquisite, lacey chocolate cake icing all over her hands and wrists. Two hours later she washed it off to reveal the deep-russet designs.

Parimala just met the boy in question for the first time in November - after his and her parents had sealed the deal. Until then, she hadn't even seen a photo of him, and doesn't even have a photo of him now. She is amazingly stress-free and easygoing for a new bride-to-be, considering that she really doesn't know what her life will be like in a few days. She doesn't even know the groom's profession - "I think he's an accountant," she says with a shrug. Indian kids like this completely trust their parents in all things - it's been left to the parents to choose the right guy, and having chosen, Parimala trusts that they made the right decision. In a few days, she will go to live with the boy's family in Mumbai (Bombay). There are four family members in her new house. Yet she maintains, "after marriage, I want to be an individual." I wonder how she will manage. Perhaps this family is a liberal one and will give her a bit of space.

Parimala's grandmother was there and talked (in Telugu) about how different things were in her day. Grandmother was married at age 11. Her husband was only 15 years old. She went directly to live with her husband's family - there were eight members in one household - and had her first baby (one of three) at age 14. All this took place in a small village outside Guntur. Grandmother is glad that Parimala (who's 21 years old) finished her college education before marriage.

The bride-to-be showed me the basket she will be carried in. It's a Telugu tradition that the bride be carried in a wicker basket into the ceremony by her uncles - to the raucous tune of loud nadeswaram music. Nadeswaram (sometimes called nagaswaram, or "notes of snakes" - actually I don't know whether it's "nadeswaram" -- sounds & notes, or "nageswaram") is a South Indian classical music with a kind of Indian clarinet, drums, and a funky beat that reminds me of New Orleans Mardi Gras. I will try to get some video of this event so I need to go download today's photos. Then I will go spend the night with Parimala's family at their house, so I can be up with them at 6am, when they start to decorate the bride in all her finery! Myself, I will be wearing a cotton sari, burgundy and dark green, with gold border. I think Grandmother will have to help me put it on "properly."

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