I Sparkled on My Own Terms
Challenge tradition, Embrace authenticity, Be real
It was my wedding reception.
Let me put this into context for my non-Indian readers. An Indian wedding reception usually happens a day after the wedding. It is an occasion when all friends and family, primarily on the groom’s side, come laden with gifts and good wishes for the newlywed pair. In exchange, the guests have a delectable feast.
Now, I have to put in a disclaimer here. There is actually nothing that one can label as an ‘Indian’ wedding. The sheer diversity of religion and culture that exists within India, make that impossible. The wedding ceremony depends on one’s background and also on the oriental or occidental leanings of the families involved.
However, the wedding reception is a very handy unifier for almost all educated urban Indians. It looks pretty similar regardless of which religious or cultural background the bride and groom are from.
I was a city girl, and my parents were academics. Rituals, either religious or cultural, were not an integral part of our lives.
The groom’s family was more traditionally inclined in comparison. We reached a compromise. The wedding happened as per our wishes and the reception, as per theirs.
So, forget a big, fat, Bollywood style wedding. I got married at the marriage registrars. Just close family, the groom- a necessity I couldn’t dispense with- and my own un-bejewelled, un-dolled up self. It was simple and tasteful. Sign the register, exchange the rings, hand out some sweets and, hey presto, I was a married woman.
A day after was the aforementioned marriage reception.
My in-laws were lovely people. They appreciated and accepted me for who I was. They understood my dislike for elaborate and ostentatious rituals. However, I had to keep my side of the bargain. There were expectations amongst extended family members that they would see a traditionally decked up Indian bride at the wedding reception.
That wasn’t an issue with me. I was happy to wear a beautiful saree, get my hair done, and wear bridal makeup for one evening to keep up appearances.
However, when it came to my wedding jewellery, things got a bit complicated.
Gold is revered in Indian culture as the hallmark of financial status, success, and parents’ love for their daughters. The latter is often on display as brides decked in gold from head to toe. The 22-carat variety of gold, widely used in India, is also beyond the reach of the average wage earner. There are many stories of unfortunate parents overburdened with debt just so they could buy gold jewellery for their daughters.
My parents had never considered accumulating gold for my wedding day as a goal in life. They were more focused on helping me get educated and professionally established. We spent money on travel and good books. I can confidently say that the books in my dad’s library were worth more to us than any gold jewellery.
When my parents contemplated dipping into their life’s savings to purchase some gold ornaments for my wedding, I firmly put my foot down.
I was going to purchase my jewellery with my salary. It would be jewellery I could afford and, above all, what I wanted to wear.
My taste in jewellery was very non-traditional. I loved junk jewellery. Chunky boho oxidised metal earrings were my kind of fashion statement. Of course, I was sensible enough to know that I would not sport my boho earrings at my wedding reception.
A weekend was spent foraging in the shops and I found exactly what I was looking for.
My tastefully understated necklace and earrings were made of silver, with a plating of 22 carat gold. They were studded with synthetic rubies, diamonds, and amethysts. Not only was the set beautiful to look at, but it also cost less than one-third of what a real gold set would have.
At the wedding reception, I sat on my bridal chair, smiling and accepting gifts from the guests with a polite ‘Namaste.’ I heard murmurs of approval from the young as to how smart I looked. But what thrilled me the most was the admiration my jewellery drew from the crowd. Words like elegant, tasteful, and unique, were floating around, making me glow.
I am sure my mum in law could tell I was not wearing genuine gold. For starters, the earrings were lightweight and did not drag my earlobes down to the ground! I have to commend the lady for rising above her traditional beliefs and respecting my decision!
Then it all turned to custard.
A distant aunt of my brand-new husband sailed in like a Viking ship. She made a beeline for me and began inspecting my attire from head to toe. Her comments came at me like missiles.
“The bride is very fair complexioned, but I wish she didn’t have those green eyes.”
She made the remarks as if in jest and addressed the groom. He squirmed and looked uncomfortable. I sat there in stunned silence until my sense of humour came to my rescue and I started observing her as a potential character for one of my future stories. She was like someone straight out of a Comedy of Manners play!
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the Viking Aunt, as I had named her in my head, soon crossed all limits.
She reached for my beautiful necklace and began examining it in great detail. It was like witnessing a forensic expert examining a murder weapon! Then, with a derisive snort, she bellowed,
“This is fake! The bride is wearing fake gold,”
Everyone stopped in their tracks and stared at us. There was pin-drop silence in the reception hall. Encouraged by this reaction, she continued,
“What kind of parents buy their daughter fake gold jewellery for the wedding!”
I could feel my whole body stiffen as the blood rushed to my cheeks. One look at my new husband told me he wasn’t planning on opening his mouth!
So, it was up to me to stand up for myself and for my parents. It was time to put that strange concoction of a Viking ship crossed with a dinosaur in her place! And to pre-empt any similar discussions amongst other guests.
Tradition had to step aside. It was time to show everyone my authentic self. I was done with playing the demure bride.
I stood up and walked to the middle of the hall. Years of debating at school and uni had given me public speaking skills that were going to come in handy. Even after two decades, I remember exactly what I said:
“Excuse me, dear guests, I have something to say. Just so there are no further misunderstandings, let me make a few things crystal clear. I have purchased the jewellery I am wearing tonight, not my parents. I chose this set because it is beautiful, classy and affordable. What I am wearing is my business and no one else’s.”
I quickly scanned the faces in the audience, detecting shock, disbelief, but also, admiration. I took a deep breath and carried on…
“My parents have brought me up to be polite, but I am not a pushover. I would like to make it very clear to everyone present here that respect is a two-way street. Let us all make sure that we treat others as we wish to be treated. Thank you for hearing me out. Do please carry on enjoying yourselves.”
I calmly marched back to my seat, sat down, and flashed a dazzling smile at everyone. Of course, beneath my calm exterior, I was still seething and trembling all over.
To the credit of the guests and my in-laws, everyone carried on as if nothing had happened.
The rest of the evening became a bit of a blur for me. Viking Aunt vanished from the scene. Apparently, she made a dramatic exit, vowing to never attend any family occasion again.
What happened to my marriage, you ask?
It didn’t last very long. Not because of that incident directly, but because we were two young people who couldn’t be more different from each other. I am sure the seeds of our discord got sown that evening.
But this story is not about the wedding reception or the failed marriage. Those are merely the contexts.
The story I have shared with you is about me realising my own true worth and embracing my authenticity. It has paved the way for who I am today. My older and more mature self has drawn courage and inspiration from that young bride who stood up and spoke out against gross misconduct all those years ago.
I have also never let that young bride down. Whenever faced with any unfairness in life, I have always had the gumption to speak up against it.
I still have that gold plated jewellery set. It has become a symbol of authenticity for me.
My dad named me Dyuti, a Sanskrit word meaning radiance. Guess that makes me destined to shine on!
I believe I have been able to shine on because of the mantra my parents instilled in me and the one I have always lived by…
I will always sparkle, but on my own terms.