My Mother’s Indian Wedding
My mother dreamt often of her Indian wedding,
of the house in Uttar Pradesh where it would take place
with large adobe rooms and open lawns,
a prayer room on the roof, swathed in sun.
A house she had seen only once
when visiting from England with my father;
surrounded by farmland: paddy fields and sugarcane.
Beyond it, the jungle writhing with swamp deer, rhino,
python, tiger’s tail. My mother dreamt
of women in saris and shalwars, silks of sindooram,
cottons of sarason woven with mirrors, knotted
with gems, golden chains trailing from ears, noses, necks;
men in traditional Indian dress or tailored suits
and polished shoes, beards oiled, turbans wrapped,
shaking hands and pounding backs,
joking Now the real work starts.
She dreamt of my father in a gold-threaded kurta,
chin and cheeks unshaven, head bound in pink cloth;
saw herself beside him, swathed in flaming red,
a chunni pulled over her crown and forehead.
She dreamt of the singing men who would chant,
over the harmonium and tabla, the words
of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book
she and my father would circle four times
joined by a piece of plain cloth.
She could see it clearly –
his naked feet as they stepped before her
and hers following after.
She could hear their footfalls echoing one another,
a tattoo of arches, tendons and soles.
She could feel the warmth of his body
radiating through his clothes,
could almost smell the marigolds around her neck
dripping their sweet demanding scent –
but dreams were as close as she got.
My paternal grandmother didn’t like my mother’s hair
(too thin, too European. If you tried to plait it,
my grandmother claimed, the design would fall apart,
hair snaking out, escaping in wisps).
My great-grandmother didn’t like my mother’s voice
(too quiet, not loquacious, unable to provide
a single arresting detail or anecdote from her time
in Delhi – She has nothing of interest to say).
and what they all agreed on was my mother’s unsuitable ancestry
(her father being Catalan, a mechanic with communist leanings)
knowing, as my father’s family did, that whatever religions preach
in a world like this, love is not enough.