1666 words

The Mount Tamborine air is chilly in May. Therefore, when after a fourteen hour flight, I left the air conditioned Delhi airport and stepped into 45 degree heat, the breath was sucked from my body.

It was six years since my last visit to India. At that time the Delhi airport was hot, dirty and depressing.

I looked about. Gone was the multitude of homeless who had previously slept on the ground outside the entrance. Gone were the hordes of beggars who usually swooped on me, asking to carry my bags or whatever. Everything was now neat and orderly – even modern. India had certainly improved in a short span of time.

My protégée, Ajay was unable to meet me at the airport. He was about to become betrothed in a typical Indian arranged marriage and according to tradition, was not supposed to leave home the week before the wedding. The reasons why were never explained to me but he had assured me he would send a friend to meet me in his place.

I was slightly anxious as the plane had arrived an hour late. Ajay had moved house since I last saw him and I did not have the new address. Hopefully my greeter was still waiting. Not one, but two of them, certainly were! I couldn’t fail to spot them as they called in my direction. A gigantic bunch of flowers obscured the face of one but his arms waved wildly above the blooms. The other young man lifted a placard bearing my name, a huge grin splitting his handsome face. When I reached them they bowed low, brushing the backs of their hands across my feet.

            “What are you doing?” I asked.

            “Blessing you,” they exclaimed, straightening up. “You are famous here and we all love you.”

On my earlier trips to India, although I was warmly, even lovingly received, no-one had ever blessed me. Two of my six adopted children were from India and I had an Indian daughter-in-law. Therefore I had extended family in India – all who treated me like a Queen, yet none had ever bent low, blessing me.

            “We must hurry,” one said, after introducing himself as Amit, and dragging me towards the car. Too breathless to reply, I clutched my enormous bouquet to my chest while sucking burning air into my lungs.

 “Ajay is soooo excited about seeing you again,” he said, drawing out the word SO.

. Indeed, as we bolted perilously through the tumultuous traffic, Ajay phoned us five times to check our progress.

Upon reaching his home we found him pacing beneath a canopy strung across the narrow side-street. He flung himself at me as I alighted, and smothered me in a tight embrace, his face beaming with a mixture of joy and love.”

            “I am so grateful that you came, Mama,” he blurted after finally letting me go.

I was a little bit overwhelmed by this unexpectedly zealous welcome.

            Everything in this trip, including Ajay’s new home, was turning out to be a great surprise. I followed him inside to renew acquaintances with his mother and the younger siblings. Gone was the bare three meter by three meter room which the family of five had previously squeezed into. I recalled my sadness the first time I saw it – and the dismal community ‘kitchen’ and ‘bathroom’ that they shared with many others after they walked a block further down the street.


This new, three-bedroom apartment had its own kitchen and bathroom. Indeed, I could see nice furniture and a flat screen TV. The entire family was better dressed and furthermore, Ajay who did not even own a bicycle when I met him, now had a shiny yellow Vespa scooter parked outside the doorway. This extreme improvement in their lives warmed my heart.

            Six years earlier I had met Ajay, then a teenager, when he left a temple where he had been praying for a job. He was desperate to get enough money for an education. Poverty stricken, he was eking out an existence as a shoe shine boy on the streets. He told me that his mother, because of ill-health, missed many days at her job of scrubbing floors. I hired him that day to accompany me around the city. During our few hours together I discerned that he was a very bright boy with high ideals. Touched by his plight, at the end of the day I said “God has answered your prayers. I will pay for your education and a little extra so that you can have time to study and not spend all your time working on the street.


            Now only six years later he had a good job with a travel agency, the lives of his family was elevated and he was about to get married.

The build-up to the wedding lasted for days. During that time Ajay did not change out of the white cotton robes he was wearing or remove the gold and red sheathed sword from around his waist. Tradition – tradition! An exception came as night fell and he stripped to shorts before sitting on a stool. Two men then covered him from head to toe in red Tumeric paste while a group of women encircled him, singing and chanting until he looked like a New Guinea mud man and the men then washed off the paste. During that ritual, the street slowly filled as friends and neighbors arrived in droves. The canopy above the road in front of the house was an indication to all vehicles that the road was closed for the celebrations. By nine pm each night the party started in earnest. Drummers beat wild, ear-piercing rhythms as young and old danced up and down the street, all attempting to outdo each other. Neighbors carried chairs out from their homes and bodies filled every chair, step or gutter. Children joined the dancing or watched-on wide eyed. A handful of dogs wandered about looking confused- or maybe just deaf from the noise of the drums. The last stragglers left at dawn. What surprised me was that many of Ajay’s closest friends had taken a week off from work so as to enjoy the celebrations to the fullest. Until this visit, I had no concept of just how big a deal a wedding is in India.

 All the children wanted to dance with me. How could I say no? I loved them! And literally everyone wanted a ‘selfie’ with me. Indeed my cheeks were continually stiff from smiling at so many camera lenses. By the third night I was exhausted but, not wishing to look like a piker and let my country down, and despite advancing years, I pushed on – or should I say, danced on?


During all of this, there was no sign of the bride. Ajay had only met her previously on two occasions but he assured me she was lovely and he trusted his mother’s choice. On the fourth night I attended The Feast with about four hundred others. It was held in a massive marquee where everyone ate and made merry. This time trumpeters joined the drummers and my ear drums took another beating. I did not eat or drink. There was no time in between posing for a thousand ‘selfies’ and I don’t think that is much of an exaggeration.. I am no celebrity and too old to be beautiful so I guess they were curious about the only Caucasian guest.

The final night arrived. More rituals! Too many to even describe. The bride still had not made an appearance. Everyone was dressed as if invited to Buckingham Palace. Indeed, the women all looked magnificent and sparkled from head to toe. All except me! I don’t even own anything that could compare. And darn! Only at the last minute- when I was already there – was I told that I was the guest of honor.

The procession to the wedding hall began and I was ordered to climb up into the wedding carriage with the groom. By this time Ajay was dressed in embroidered cream and gold robes, topped by an elaborate headdress. He looked exactly like a young Maharaja; sitting grandly in a flower bedecked carriage which was pulled by an equally decorated pair of white horses. I climbed aboard, feeling like Cinderella before the transformation. Our carriage was at the rear of the procession. We proceeded slowly, grandly, with fireworks bursting high overhead the entire time. Leading the procession, a dozen or so drummers and trumpeters were beating holes in the drums and blowing their lungs out. They were dressed in magnificent uniforms of red and gold but such was their fervor that sweat streamed down their faces. Following them were many excited dancers and, most impressive of all…two elephants, in the spirit of the night, dressed to kill.

The night raved on. I could neither see nor hear – blinded from the flashlights of another thousand or two “ Selfie” poses and with my ear drums finally shattered from the constant roar of drums.

In words familiar to many, “Ah, what a night it was!”

The bride finally made her appearance at midnight. She and Ajay climbed onto a flower draped dais and I was invited to be the first one to join them. She too blessed my feet but when I tried to speak to her, Ajay whispered that she was not allowed to speak to anyone except him on her wedding night. Another tradition, I supposed, as I saved my comments for another day.

I stayed on in India a few more days. I did get to talk to the bride and she, Ajay and I spent a lovely couple of days together. I will never forget Ajay saying to me “I always dreamed of a wedding like this, Mama, and my dream has come true, all because of you.” But I am old and wise(?) enough to know that it wasn’t ALL just because of meImage


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sheila Luecht
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 22:29:51

    Excellent true story. You are a light in the world!


  2. Sue Morris
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 09:34:24

    Your story brought tears to my eyes as I was transported to India and all its sounds and smells with your words.


  3. June Collins
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 12:27:54

    Thank you Sheila – thank you Sue. It is always heartening to know that someone appreciates the stories I write.


  4. Helena
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 17:36:52

    The beauty of your soul outshines any number of ravishing clothing you could have packed for the trip.


  5. June Collins
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 20:45:16

    Thank you Helena. Your words humble me.


  6. Robert Marshall
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 21:45:41

    Very much enjoyed your absorbing account of Ajay’s wedding. A mixture of guilt and loss swirl around me when I remind myself I failed to attend!


  7. Susan Joyce
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 17:50:13

    Wonderful full-of life description of this beautiful wedding. Love the photo also. Blessings to all!


  8. Lee
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 22:08:18

    The kindness of others – and you’ve most certainly shown it and given it throughout the years, June. A wonderful story…a happy story. May karma come you way and treat you kindly. You deserve it, my dear. 🙂


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