Getting married is a stage in life that is expected for a Malayalee girl. From when you are young, your community and family are all anticipating the day you fall into the arms of your husband. However, no one likes to talk about the realities of being a female in our community at a ”marriage worthy age”. From the moment you become an adult, people are curiously waiting for you to get married. Once you choose someone, the wait begins for the wedding along with the input on how YOUR wedding should be executed, from every single person. Finally, when the wedding is done and the papers are signed, everyone moves onto the question of “when are the babies coming?”. But of course, this question is geared towards the female, never the male.
Arranged marriage wasn’t ever on the cards for me. Not because I am against it, but because I had a gut feeling I would always find my lifelong partner organically. Arranged marriages can be viewed as backward and prehistoric but I know many friends who chose this route and are happily married. Do I have my problems with it? Sure, I do. However, I also know many women who are forced into having an arranged marriage and are quietly miserable. The process of finding a suitable partner can be sometimes dehumanising. With the caste system upheld, religion taken into consideration and even skin tone still playing a huge role in the checklist of positive characteristics, it can surely be a harrowing experience. I hope that arranged marriages can be viewed as a family involved dating service rather than a strict checkbox that upholds Stone Age values whilst supporting the patriarchal and racist values we as a society should try to steer clear from.
I was born and raised in Sydney and found a loving partner by chance, who happened to be living and working in Dubai. I cut my losses and decided to explore my life and moved to Dubai after the wedding. Although it sounds smooth sailing, the wedding planning was as erratic as they come. The planning process was back and forth of what would be the best option for the guests and I quickly came to realise Indian weddings are for guests and not for the bride and groom. I used to think my wedding would be somehow different. I thought I would break the mould and gear the whole wedding to celebrate our union and love; but no, it was always going to be for the guests. I accepted it and didn’t fuss about it. The reality is, after a while I stopped caring. I hear many brides stop caring about the particulars and they just accept that the wedding is happening.
I don’t mean to sound like I was nonchalant about my wedding; quite the opposite really. I just had spent four years of a long-distance relationship with my future husband. I just wanted to be married and be with him. That feeling is the only one that got me through the dreaded wedding planning. First of all, who likes to plan these big events? Not me. I said from day one to my parents “just let me sign the papers and we will be on our merry way”. Yet, out of respect for both our parents, we decided to go big or go home. We planned a typical Hindu-Malayalee wedding and promised each other “whatever goes wrong, we will have fun”. Secondly, why would I want 500 people at my wedding? I wanted maybe 20 people max, but here we are.
Venue: tick, clothing: tick, food: tick, guests: tick, photographer: tick and bride + groom? TICK. It was crunch time and my family and I landed in a hot and sticky Kochi. I was exhausted and we still had two weeks until the wedding. People were pulling me left and right to see if things fit or what colour I wanted. At that point, I would have said “yes” to poop-coloured brown. I really didn’t care! I wondered whether the exhaustion would be visible on my face during the wedding. The days inched closer and the worry faded. I felt waves of reminiscing memories with my family. I even cried a little, alone at night in my room. I expected the pain of parting to hit me on the wedding day, but I felt it become heavier and heavier as we got closer to the date.
The day we drove to the venue my heart was in my chest. I could not believe in less than 24 hours I would be a married woman, with a whole new family. I could not believe I would be saying goodbye to my parents, for a really long time and moving all the way to Dubai. From when I can remember, I have not lived anywhere other than with my parents. I’ve gone on little trips but always stayed under my parents roof. Sure, at some point you want to leave home and be the independent adult you hoped to be but most of the time you enjoy coming home to the comfort and familiarity after a long and tiring day. Amma and I sat in the car sharing headphone and listening to a “Shiva Sthuthi” until we reached the resort. My heart was beating out of my chest and tears kept flowing down my face as the reality kicked in.
On my wedding day, I enjoyed a few seconds of silence in the morning before everyone walked in the room, from makeup artists, photographers, family and friends. I sat in silence as I was moved up, down and all around whilst getting ready. In Hindu weddings, we give “Dakshina” to our elders before getting onto the “mandap” for the wedding proceedings. Somewhere, my husband and I locked eyes across the back of the wedding ‘mandap’ as we were giving our respective ‘Dakshinas’. He was ushered to the mandap and I was left waiting for my turn with my hands shaking. It felt like I waited a lifetime. At one point, I was all alone with a whirlwind of thoughts flying around my head. Finally, my Dad walked in and said “everyone is ready”. I walked over to him, held his hand and my hands would not stop shaking. He looked at me and said “Enthina pedikyunne? Pedikyenda tto?” (translation: Why are you scared? Don’t be scared okay?).
Walking down the aisle felt surreal, sad, painful, joyous and every other feeling there could be. It was the final few moments before I finally got to live out my dream of being with my husband. However, my heart was breaking about not living under my parents’ little umbrella. No longer a small girl, I was finally flying out of the cage. From there onwards, all I did was cry, then my husband would make me laugh. Finally, I was back to crying. I would never forget the moment when Akhil tied the Thali , I gave my parents Dakshina, touched their feet and asked for their blessings. To this day I will never forget this moment. I remember yelling at my parents throughout the wedding planning process, but that moment I asked for their blessings. I also thanked them for everything they gave up to look after me. That moment was our moment of mutual grief and love.
We finally got married and had a beautiful reception and the wedding went nothing like what I had imagined when I was young. Yet, there’s only one thing that really matters in all of this. The people I love were there to share my dreams. The food, clothes or the flowers didn’t matter at all. It was the small moments like when Akhil held my hand as I stepped onto the mandap or how after the wedding my siblings and their partners went into Amma and Papa’s room and we sat there talking. In the grand scheme of things, the things you didn’t plan are the most memorable ones. The things you didn’t put any effort into are always the ones that catch you by surprise.
Becoming a married couple was easier than I thought. The second the wedding happened I felt the shift in our relationship. There was a feeling of security and family between Akhil & I. Sure, picking up and leaving the country right after you get married is hard but it has given me the opportunity to reminisce on these memories consistently. I do think about my parents and not being able to spend time with them on a daily basis, but I am confident they have equipped me with everything I need to know to survive this harsh world. Marriage has its ups and downs and a wedding is only the tip of the iceberg. I am beginning to learn how much effort it takes to keep a stable and happy marriage going. The beauty of growing up is that you get the opportunity to learn and improve on yourself every day. Then you get a quiet moment; a moment to look back and think about your childhood, your parents, your home across the seas….. and you smile; maybe even shed a tear. This is the beauty of being a Malayalee girl who gets married. You never forget your roots and you know somewhere “I will always have my roots to fly back to”.