Please Note: This is Ep.21

Please click here for Ep.20

(As everything I write is true, names have been changed to protect identities.)

21

The Child Bride

On the morning of the wedding I was up before sunrise to make it in time for my hair and makeup appointment. I’d hardly slept the night before with all the nerves and excitement.

We’d had some small ritual ceremonies in the days prior, and today was the big day. I hadn’t been a part of the decisions at all, so, I had no idea about anything beyond that both the registration and ritual ceremony would be happening on the same day, and what to wear (which Maanav’s mother had decided for me. I would have loved to have worn a Western style, white wedding dress for the registry, as was the trend, and an Indian saree for the traditional ceremony but Maanav’s mother said I had to wear a saree at both, I didn’t argue with her), Maanav’s parents had organised the lot.

Even my parents hadn’t much say in any of the planning but everything was split equally down the middle, 50/50. The wedding was on Valentine’s day and the reception, the following month at a venue called The Colloseum where we had around a thousand guests. I saw my father hand over a cheque for £20,000 (which is around 20 lakhs, or 2 million rupees). This was a comfortable amount for Maanav’s family, but my wedding left my parents in debt.

I later learned that my parents had cashed in their life insurance policy and borrowed money to afford it. I didn’t know any of this then. Perhaps Maanav’s family could have scaled back their plans for the sake of my family’s paucity, but Maanav was their only son, they wanted to give him the best wedding he deserved at such short notice; they invited as many people as they wanted, ordered everything (including specially flown in roses from Holland because roses in bulk at the last minute were hard to come by on Valentine’s day) and, no matter what, my parents had to pay half of everything.

After around three hours of being primped, primed and poked with what felt like hundreds of pins in my hair and saree, we headed off to the registry office for the legal ceremony, followed by a brunch, then a traditional hours’ long Hindu/Jain wedding around the fire with a jolly, old, pot-bellied priest from India who turned out to be a stand-up comedian too.

I remember a couple of his jokes: He said he would share a mantra with us that would fix any problems that we might stumble across in our marriage. This was the most important mantra for marriage and it would be good if we memorised it there and then. He said it worked with his wife every time. The magic mantra was… ‘Yes, dear’. He also said that when the Mrs. is angry at you for some reason it’s best to stay calm, perhaps go for a walk. He then smiled and said that’s why he’s so healthy, he gets a lot of fresh air.

I smiled widely with joy throughout the ceremony, I mean the priest was amazing and really funny, but I was told later that it was very unladylike for me to do so. I didn’t get it, it was my wedding day, I was happy and in love and yet I wasn’t allowed to show it. I was told by some aunties that a bride is supposed to act shy and demure and look down throughout the ceremony. What a load of nonsense, I thought. Who makes these rules that a man can do what he likes and a woman can’t smile at her own wedding. (Note, if you don’t want the bride to smile, don’t get a funny priest 😄)

The ritual wedding was followed by a photo session with all the guests and a late lunch, then the long goodbyes where the bride is bid a final farewell by every member of her family.

Each one hugs her and cries as if they’re never going to see her again. I was only going twenty minutes by car up the road, but back in the day in India the bride would be packed off to another village entirely and it was unlikely that she would see her family much. The crying thing had become a tradition, it was expected.

When I’d attended Indian weddings in the past, I couldn’t understand all the howling and tears. I thought these were meant to be happy occasions. How silly, I thought, I swore I’d never cry at my wedding.

But the pregnancy hormones meant I was continuously teetering on the precipice and the slightest thing could set me off; if everyone you’ve ever been close to is crying at you, yep, that’ll do it. And so here I was now blubbering as if I were being shipped off to foreign lands, completely unprepared for the new world ahead (perhaps there was some truth to this), I clung to my cousins and sobbed bridal makeup all over their shoulders.

Although most of them were older than me, I was the first of us to get married and all the emotion of everything I’d gone through with my family poured out unrelentingly. As difficult as it had been with my parents, in this moment I felt like a little child being ripped away from her mummy all of a sudden. In fact we all cried so much that some of Maanav’s family, his sisters especially, cried too, they knew what a journey I’d been on, thank goodness for waterproof mascara.

As we made our way to the car, just as I was about to sit in it, my father appeared. He’d been quiet and had held back during the goodbyes under the wedding canopy. But now he was with me, his arms holding me tightly to him, hot tears streamed down his cheeks and he kept repeating, “Sorry, Sorry… I’m sorry.” It was the moment I’d been waiting for, the moment I’d hoped for ever since I could remember. Perhaps I would have preferred it in private and perhaps it would have been good to have had a proper conversation instead of this in front of almost everyone we knew, but I was touched that I finally got a hug and an apology from him.

As he settled me into the car, he placed a glittery, purple gift box, around the size and shape of a pillow, on my lap.

The day was over for my side of the family, but the evening for the rest of us with Maanav’s family, my new family, lay ahead. The bride now heads to the groom’s home where she is officially welcomed, they play some ceremonial icebreaker games, some more rituals are performed and the couple receive blessings from all the elders, then dinner.

As I walked up the stairs at the end of the night, my legs wobbled then buckled the moment I entered the room. I’d bent down and stood up so many times to touch the feet of all the elders in Maanav’s family that my legs had finally gone on strike and given up on me.

I sat on the floor of our room fishing for the hundred pins in my hair crying out of sheer exhaustion. Maybe this was why they say get married first and then get pregnant because you simply don’t have the energy or the mental state to do it the other way around.

My eye fell on the box my father had given me in the car. I removed the purple bow and opened it. Inside I found four familiar looking characters — they were a set of soft toys, The Teletubbies.

The Teletubbies was a children’s television programme that became a phenomenon in the 90’s. It was the silliest programme I’d ever seen, and I absolutely loved watching it, even at my age then, seventeen. I thought each Teletubby was so adorable.

Because the show was so popular and every child in the UK wanted a Teletubby, the shops couldn’t keep the stock on the shelves and so families were limited to buying only one.

My father had gone to the trouble of hunting down all four of them, the full set: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po, no easy feat. He knew I’d love them and appreciate the effort.

21 - the child bride 1

I was so moved. It was the best present anyone could have gotten me. I remembered days forgotten, days of innocence, days of sitting on my dad’s knee, him ruffling my hair. Days of fun, laughter and dancing around the house, days before the old man, before the abuse, before the fighting at home.

It might have been my wedding day and I was expecting a baby, but I never felt more like a child than I did that day.

Click here to continue to Ep.22

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