The metropolitan city of Kochi is filled with migrants and tourists alike, and is no stranger to the sight of a foreigner walking through the streets, shops, and local scenery. However, from the looks of the guests at the Grand Hyatt, it was apparent that seeing a westerner clothed in the golden garments of a Kerala bride was truly a rare thing to behold.
I had been up for 6 hours already, having barely eaten anything, and was being escorted from the room where I had been made up and draped. I was told to walk to the room where the wedding would be but got no further instructions as to where in the huge hotel this hall was located. Once I reached the ground floor, the fervor of drums made it obvious which way to go.
Up until this point, I had been anxious not about the coming event, but about the fever which caused me to wake up two nights in a row, soaking the hotel bed I shared with my mom. Anxious about not having an appetite for the incredible feast that was to follow the ceremony itself. Anxious about if I was going to be able to smile for extended hours. Anxious about having to be in a sari all day and needing to use the bathroom.
The morning itself was easy, nibbling on idli at the hotel and fetching fresh jasmine for my mom’s hair. My brother-in-law picked us up with all our luggage and drove us to the Grand Hyatt where my makeup artist and his team were waiting. I was walked to the most gorgeous room with a view of Kochi and the tropical scenes of greenery, water, and sunshine.
Samson, the incredible artist, went to work right away and treated my face as if he knew it better than me. I confessed the fever had dehydrated my skin, and he was able to fix it up so that the application the smooth. As soon as the makeup was set, I called for the photographers to come up. It was a shocking sight to see not two or three shooters but a whole team of a dozen cameramen. The quaint, private moments of getting ready suddenly became very very public. My mom was having a grand time watching me get ready and having her first experience of being draped in a sari.
Nearing the end of the preparation, there was a knock at the door. Arjun and his family came in, desperate to get the groom ready but also forming a human wall as for him not to see me. The accommodating size of the bathroom allowed plenty of space for Arjun to sort out his beard, hair, and traditional garb. My mother in law saw me and was visibly excited and happy that all the things came together so well.
After some time, the bathroom door reopened. Covering his face, Arjun left, and the family instructed me to wait for the call to come down. At this point, Samson had left, the photographers followed the dashing groom, and my mom was summoned to partake in parents’ rites for the ceremony. I found myself alone and reflective in my elegant room, feeling my heart race as the ceremony time drew nearer.
My escort, our close friend, came to the door excitedly. We chatted and caught up after not seeing each other in a year, but all I could think about was when the hell do I go get married? The photographers returned in full force to get some extra artistic shots and footage of me walking out from the room– again, and again.
So I reached the lobby, got lots of intrigued stares, and made my way down the escalators to the wedding hall. I was reunited with my mom and started seeing my friends who had come from all over to see the event. While I was waiting, Arjun was ushered in, had his feet washed by a close friend, and was sat on the mandapam, waiting for me.
The following scenes were a mix of comical, precious, and romantic. It began with my mother walking me into the hall, with the gentle corrections of aunties:
“Hold her hand!”
“No, her RIGHT hand”
“No, with YOUR right hand!”
We approached the stage and as I slid my shoes off, my mom realized this was a no shoe zone. She tried to gracefully untie her lovely strapped sandals, but in a saree this was no easy feat. I couldn’t stay back to help her and instead all the aunties came and were softly advising her in Malayalam. My mother truly is a trooper.
While my mom was sorting her shoes, I locked eyes with Arjun for the first time that day. I could see the excitement and wonder in his eyes as I walked behind him and took my seat. The moment I sat, I felt the anklet on my right foot pop off. Afraid of seeming inauspicious, I cleverly tucked it under my seat, feeling much like Audrey Hepburn’s princess character and her shoe debacle in Roman Holiday. Knowing that dozens of cameras were focusing on us, I wore a smile and kept nudging Arjun with childish jokes and sincere compliments. From then, we kept facing the audience, waiting to be prompted on what to do next.
The parents gave us their blessing, the thali was presented and fastened around my neck. Flowers fell from the hands of the family over our heads. Arjun enthusiastically smeared the red sindoor on my forehead, causing a bit of mild panic as the excess powder brushed my nose. I excitedly stood for the garland that I placed around Arjun’s neck, and smiled impossibly wide as he did the same. I was nearly overwhelmed by the colors, smells, and flooding emotions.
We were given the betel leaf blessed by our families and took to walk around the mandapam. The tradition states that we should do it 3 times, but we had an extra lap for good measure. I also nearly tripped, but made a decent save. I was gifted gold and a second saree to wear for the homecoming, which I presented to the crowd and asked for blessings.
When the ceremony had ended, we were brought to some chairs below the stage and were fed milk and bananas by relatives. Then we went on stage to stand and smile and shake hands for the next 90 minutes. We had a modest wedding of under 200 attendees, so we had a very short function compared to others that boast 500-1000 guests. Somewhere in that time, my appetite, gone dormant for three days, awoke in me like a beast from slumber.
We left the wedding hall and snapped more photos with guests, friends, and family. We then had a fun photoshoot outside, where I prayed my wonderfully applied makeup wouldn’t melt off in the south Indian humidity. Arjun generally hates posing for pictures, but was a real sport about it. I could tell he was focused on us and our happiness, and I think that’s why he looked so natural in all the photos. it was fun, though I can’t imagine ever being a celebrity.
We finally got to eat and I wanted to dive in face first to all the curries and pickles and paayasam. I dug in with my hands while my mom smartly put a napkin in my lap. I got my fill and a camera in my face, but I was so relieved to eat that I didn’t care. We had a relaxing chat before setting off for my costume change and going home.
I went from a traditional gold saree to a dark green one. While red and pink are usually more popular, my mother in law and I agreed that a bottle green would suit me very well. I found out later that this is the color that neighboring Tamils wear when expecting, so perhaps it was a product of wishful thinking! We got to my father-in-laws car, which was elegantly decorated with roses. With the typical fanfare of cameras and smiles, we set off to the home of my inlaws, about an hour’s drive from the wedding venue.
The smiles and surprised faces in the passing cars were priceless, and mom got to see a real live elephant.
Reaching the house, we were welcomed by the family. We removed our shoes and I was given an oil lamp. Here, right foot first, I would bring light into the home of my new family. After placing my lamp on the altar, we were seated and again fed milk, this time sweetened with sugar. We were whisked again outside for some final photos in the golden hour around the lovely community of my in-laws.
We made our way back into the house, and I was ecstatic to change into more flexible clothes and properly breathe for the first time in 15 hours. Festivities continued with food and drinks and sweets. My father in law made sweet gestures to make sure my mother and I felt welcome in the house. My brother in law was already teasing me, and so many others had been incredibly kind and helpful and endearing. We collapsed just after midnight, mentally buzzing from the excitement of the day, and preparing for the the next day’s cocktail party where I would transform into a princess.