Monday, January 28, 2008

the face of the bride

"at last i have my daughter-in-law," said mrs. agrawal, the mistress of the house where i am renting a room in sarnath. for four years they had been searching for a suitable match for their son and only child. time and again the astrological charts of the son and the prospective brides did not match. time and again they went back to the portfolios that families prepare when putting their daughters on the marriage market, portfolios that feature a sort of CV listing the would-be bride's character traits (open your thesaurus: the more synonyms for docile, gentle, and obedient, the better), a description of her skin-tone (extremely fair, very fair, quite fair, etc.), her educational qualifications (a definitive plus in many circles these days, when two-income families are no longer unthinkable) and detailed accounts of her relatives' names, marriage alliances, professions, and subcaste. oh, and a photo of the bride in a traditional sari.

but finally, a 25-year old local girl turned out to have been born under precisely the right stars for this family's beloved son. the son was educated in india's best private schools and, with the assurance of access and privilege that comes with that, went on to a management position in microfinance or something like that, off in hyderabad. his parents, from whom we rent rooms, have done all they could to assure that he had all the best in life indeed, and he has done very well for himself.

one afternoon, the son had gone to see the prospective bride in person after the charts were found to match, approved the girl and proceeded straight from the meeting to the airport to fly off to his job. he will not come back to varanasi until the wedding itself, planned for april.

meanwhile, for mrs. agrawal, a truly gentle and mild-mannered woman who had no daughters and has spent her years as an adult caring for the two men in her life, husband and son, the joyful anticipation of welcoming a daughter-in-law into her close circle was clearly genuine and deeply felt.

the next major event in the cycle of formalities leading to the actual wedding was the presentation of the bride to the groom's extended family. for with all the curiosity an extended and inwardly focused family can generate, the relatives gathered for 'high tea' on our lawn. after a day of bustle - the casual sort of bustle they do best here - in which a sign-painter was still calmly retouching the sign to their house as guests were pulling up in their cars, mr. and mrs. agrawal seemed stiff and nervous to be hosting this big event. after hearing of the inauspicious astrological charts of all the other prospects, i and the other nun staying here, jampa tsedroen la, were also invited to come see the bride.

her portfolio was quite accurate in many regards: she is very fair, and does indeed work in the operations department of a life insurance company, a fact in which she expressed considerable pride. as for the string of adjectives describing her compliant character, time will tell - a whole lifetime of married life in this new and fine family.

for more on arranged weddings, see this from the first year in india

photos are of mrs. agrawal with jampa tsedroen-la, the bride, an assortment of guests and the buffet table - sumptuous indeed though curiously lacking the 'tea' which i had expected to have for my 'high tea'...

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