A hurricane of cacophonic chaos directed all hands along the voice of my mother’s matronly commands. The girls all wore their traditional Saree`s, and the sparkling jewels that shimmered off the rich fabrics only added to the confusion. I hastily aligned my Panjabi and tightened the belt, slipping into the leather sandals that accompanied the occasion.
A Bengali wedding is a tumultuous time of great cultural significance in my world. It runs for a week, and all relatives and families are invited. On the wedding day, the bride and groom are painted with white pastel, identifying them as the golden couple among a sea of friends and family. The paste also symbolises their status, as well as the blessing of the relatives around them. Music and food are served for days as family catch up with each other and digest the latest tabloid.
As the wedding unfolded like a virtual parade of whose who of the family bloodline, I found myself surrounded by a frenzy of excitement over India’s domination of the Oscars with Slumdog Millionaire. The day has proceeded unimpeded thus far, and it was looking to be a most prosperous occasion. Just as the thought occurred to me however, a sudden hush overcame the entrance where I sat. It was only a moment, a second of eerie silence in days of revelry, but between the stirring symphonies of conversation it was a thunderous fermata.
The family of the bride greeted a familiar looking woman with a light skinned daughter. The adults seemed to continue their conversation unabated, but their eyes betrayed their sudden interest in the woman who entered. I turned to my cousin Haseena – the walking dictionary of family gossip and made a formal enquiry.
“That’s Aisha who married an Australian husband.” She replied, grinning.
“Oh?” I responded with surprise. “Where is her husband?”
My cousin regarded me pointedly, “Have you been living under a rock?” She mocked cattily “Don’t you listen to your parent’s gossip?”
“Divorce.” She replied as a matter of fact. “To no one’s surprise but her own I guess. All the aunties warned her, but she refused to listen.”
“What?” I raised an eyebrow. “That’s horrible!”
“It was a matter of time.” My cousin said, waving her hand in the air as if illustrating the logic behind her statement.
I looked through the crowd but I could not find the mother. However, I saw the daughter been placed in the kids table. The other kids seemed preoccupied by their own little worlds, but she stared at the table with a stoic and serious expression unbefitting of a girl her age. It was a stark contrast to the festive laughter and the sugar-induced excitement of the other children. Laughter ran from one side of the wedding banquet to another, but she seemed so verily alone. Family was everything to my culture. Everyone from an early age share a collective bond that defined who we are. What was it like to be alone like her mother? I tried to imagine how she felt, abandoned by the husband and rejected by her blood relatives. Her daughter sat demurely; she had light brown hair and a rich olive complexion. I wondered what her mother felt in this occasion, imagining the heartache if I could not make my own children feel accepted and loved.
“I’ll be back later.” I said to my cousin, whom continued to rattle with great enthusiasm about the divorce drama.
“Where are you going?” she enquired.
“What’s the girls name?” I enquired in return.
“Claire, a white girls name.”
I made my way through the throng of laughing adults towards the kid’s table. On the way I detoured via the groom’s table and asked for a satchel of wedding sweets that was given to the children at the end of the day.
“Mehdi! Hows it going cousin?” I asked. “Jalal! Hows your new high school?”
“Zayed! Did you learn to ride that bike yet?” “Samin! You still playing Halo?”
In a moment I gathered the attention of the table as they each greeted their eldest cousin.
“Claire.” I said to the surprise of everyone on the table. Claire looked up with equal surprise in her eyes, wondering how I would know her name. “Why are you so quiet cousin? Join in and have some fun.”
I produced from behind me a large satchel of Bengali sweets. I placed it into her hand, which was tiny and moist.
“Share this with your cousins.” I said. “I trust you to be fair.”
Claire looked at me curiously as the other kids shifted around the table towards her, or more accurately towards the sweets in her hand. The effect was gravitational.
“Jalal” I said, putting a hand on one boys head.
Claire dispensed some sweets and Jalal giggled.
“Samin” I repeated
Claire followed suit.
“Mehdi.” “Zayed” “Jamal”
Claire still had a handful left.
“And for you little cousin.” I smiled as the kids sat in a ring around her, greedily consuming the honeyed sweets.
I returned to my table with a lighter heart and a spring in my step.
“Where did you go?” asked my cousin.
“No where.” I replied with a smile. “Here is where I belong.”