The Hindu bride should wear red. The colour signifies fertility and prosperity. It is also a sign of the sacred fire (Agni). Traditionalists note that many modern brides are now opting for less than traditional bridal wear; earth tones, pinks, lavenders and blues are now chosen. White Saris are also increasing in popularity, possibly to emulate the customs of the west. White is the colour of mourning in India. The Hindu bride should still wear red.
(Advice from a Wedding Coordinator)
They didn’t even care. It was that which crushed me the most, to realize that for them I didn’t exist: our shared gender had no relevance. They judged me purely on appearance: eyes registered difference. Clothes – too vibrant, skin – too dark. Their language tore at me, plucked at my shell; incomplete sentences displayed dull minds encased in vicious shells. I was frightened by their smell, their personae; their total lack of humanity.
I tried to walk by; moving out of the way as they shrieked and jostled along the path, emitting raucous cries, designed to attract male attention. What beauty there should be in youth had passed them by – an arid childhood devoid of stimulation or decent nutrition echoed dully in skin prematurely aged; the colour of putty. I cursed myself for wearing this sari today, for my foolish vanity which had led me to this moment.
“She’s dead … she’s not moving.”
Shannon stood staring, not understanding; the limp bundle in her mother’s hands: a doll, a Baby Born doll? Why was her mum holding a doll?
“What you on about, Mum?”
“Kylie’s dead. She’s gone. Look, Shannon. Look.”
Shannon’s mum tried to pass the baby to her eldest daughter. Shannon backed away from her mother and the bundle she held in her hands. She fled from the room.
The gang had circled the young Indian girl, eyes taking in the clear caramel skin, the slender body, wrapped in gauzy fabric contrasting with the rotund bodies of her tormenters, flaccid layers of flesh hung like dirty sheets over thickened waistlines, like old women in India. Golden eyes, shaped like almonds, stared into the painted faces of her attackers, uniformly clad in stretched jersey and dull denim. The leader moved forward and plucked at the sari. The others followed, poking and pulling. The vibrant colours of red and gold stood out like a wound on the dirty London pavement.
The lotus flower is a divine symbol in India and a traditional symbol of purity. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise.
(Ancient Eastern Philosophy)
My baby sister’s dead. Me mum killed her. She didn’t look after her . I told her… leaving her when she cried… she was only little. I looked after Kylie, I did, when I got home from school, but I wasn’t there all day. I wish I had of been. I wouldn’t of let her die. The police have been up asking me Dad questions; they’ve taken my sister away. I miss Kylie.
The headmistress looked out over the sea of faces; sympathy did not sit well on her fleshy shoulders. Current political diktat requires teachers to fulfil the role of parents therefore, the theme of today’s assembly will be death. Infant death. The students nudged each other; their attention momentarily caught. The head was going to talk about Kylie. Everyone knew Shannon’s mother had killed the baby. She took too many pills and didn’t know what she was doing half the time. A prayer was said. A hymn was sung. Students were urged to talk about their feelings today – there would be an extended circle time to do so. It would take the place of Literacy.
“Look happy now, your father has made suitable match for you. Boy is from a good family – living in India. He will be coming to live here. He is accountant. You will be married on your 16th birthday, as soon as you finish school and get your GC’s exam certification. He has been told you are intelligent wife and will bear intelligent children. You are very fortunate.”
I am to be married. I have no choice. This is what my parents wish and this is what will happen. It felt like they were talking about someone else – an Indian girl – but not me.
The institution of marriage in India is considered a very important one. Arranged marriages are still common. In general, the parents feel that since they are older and wiser than their progeny, they would be better able to find a suitable match for their children and with more prudence. A marriage is not just for the couple; it is the bringing together of families to form a larger extended family.
(Arranged Marriages in India, 2012)
Flames above the fire. I take down and touch the beautiful fabric, silk against my cheek. I will be bound in this fabric and I will be given to a man I do not know. I will wear a golden choker and slave bracelets. I will be a Hindu princess for a day in this beautiful sari, my body displayed in acres of hand woven material, covered in gold threaded flowers, hidden behind sequins, beads and mirrors; red gauzy material trailing like smoke. I shall wear this sari.
Shannon walked out of the school gates and headed for the park. She noticed a crowd and moved towards them, drawn, a spoke to the hub. Her heart started to beat faster as she realised they were hitting a young Indian girl. Her sari hung in tatters around her; ripped apart. The girl tried to cover her immodesty and protect herself from the blows at the same time. Shannon noticed the girl said nothing, just kept her head lowered. The ringleader was slapping the girl and pushing her into some of the others. It was a grim December day; the maculate streets a fitting stage for mindless violence.
Some boys from the estate started to jeer and egg the leader on, “Go on Kels! Slap her, teach her to come round here.”
Spurred on by male attention, Kelsy pushed her again and the Indian girl fell to the floor, curling herself away from the kicks and blows aimed at her body.
Shannon yelled at her. “What’s she done then? What’s she done to you?”
“Fuck off, Shannon. She’s just a paki.” Kelsy sneered and looked to the gang for approval. Some of the girls rushed to defend their friend from criticism by another female.
“Yeah, she’s dressed in her nightie.”
“More like a pair of curtains.”
“Hey, don’t you know how to put clothes on or is that what you run round the jungle in?”
The girls were pleased with their wit. They had excelled themselves today with their cruelty: it was deeply satisfying to wound, and they would earn the approbation of their parents for sticking it to an outsider.
Shannon moved closer to the ringleader, locking eyes. “Leave her alone.”
Kelsey sneered as Shannon moved closer and stood in front of the Indian girl. Kelsey shifted her stance and looked around at the other girls for support. “Let’s go, something stinks around here.” She tossed her head and pushed past Shannon, giving the Indian girl a hard shove as she walked past her.
The herd twitched and undulated forward as the entertainment had drawn to a close; attention span drifting away.
Some of the wedding ceremony is held in Sanskrit the ancient Indo-Aryan language, the classical language of India and of Hinduism. At the wedding ceremony, Vedic mantras are recited by the priests – the groom will repeat them while the bride concurs. There are seven promises; to nourish each other; to grow together in strength; to preserve their wealth; to share joys and sorrows; to care for their children; to be together forever; to promise each other a lifelong friendship – to be two equal halves to form a whole.
(The Culture of Gujarat – The Vedic Wedding Ceremony)
“I think that’s disgusting – picking a husband for you – what if you don’t like him?”
“It is our way. We will grow to like each other.”
Shannon swung harder on the swing. “I wouldn’t let my Mum pick someone for me. She’s useless at picking men for herself. Me dad hits her all the time.”
Jasmine looked sideways at Shannon to see if sorrow was being expressed, but her new friend’s face was unchanged: the violence not a matter for concern.
“Do you have a boyfriend then?” Jasmine asked.
“Yeah, sort of, probably see him later down the park – when I go down with me mates. He doesn’t always talk to me though.”
Silence for a while. It was satisfying, swaying on the seat, backwards and forwards like a cradle, the air rushed by and snatched at curls of hair. The gaudy colours of the apparatus jarred with the grey concrete walls. There were no birds here – no birdsong – just the roar of a thousand vehicles tearing around the asphalt tracks. The air smelt grey and old.
“Will you go to University, when you finish all your exams?”
“I won’t be taking exams. I always get kicked out of the class for winding up the teacher. No, I’ll get a job. Poundstretcher are always looking for people, or the Chippie. What’s it like then – where you come from?”
Jasmine laughed softly, “Oh you know, summer storms and monkeys running around the temples; trees full of pink flowers. We bathe in the lakes, amidst the lotus flowers; we dry our clothes in the summer monsoons that roar across the Indian subcontinent; we worship the gods in the temples and pray that he will bring us a good husband when we grow to be women. Oh, and we eat mangoes and pomegranates for breakfast and lunch… or so I’m told. I was born here; this is the only place I know. My parents are from India.”
Rain began to fall softly, leaving the pavements speckled with dust. The girls walked out of the park and back to their lives.
In India, entire villages have been swept away during monsoon rains. Despite the potential for destruction, the summer monsoons are welcomed in India. Farmers depend on the rains to irrigate their land.
“You foolish, foolish girl. How could you walk around in that sari? What were you thinking? It is ruined! Look at all these rips and tears… there is no point in you crying. You have caused this. Do you not care that your father works so hard? Do you expect him to buy you another?… so close to the day? You are a disobedient daughter. You should be beaten for this. No man will want such a disobedient wife.”
We are going to bury Kylie in a pink coffin: I will put all of her favourite toys in it and her pink blanket. You can get coffins in all sorts of colours now. Me mum keeps crying; and me dad’s drinking a lot. More than he normally does. The police keep coming round: so do the social workers. They talk to me, but more to my little sister, Kelly-Ann. I don’t talk to them much or tell ’em anything. Kelly-Ann tells ’em plenty. It’s not true, what she says, but Kelly-Anne likes the attention. The more lies she tells them, the more they’ll listen to her. She’s the same at school, really naughty, so the teachers will look at her and talk to her. She likes the teachers because they don’t swear or shout. The funeral’s on Monday. We are going to bury Kylie next to my Nan. Me mum says we should all wear pink, because it was Kylie’s favourite colour.
I was rescued today by a girl with eyes the colour of the sky, a pale winter sky. Her hair is the colour of dried corn. She was kind to me. She helped me to cover myself with my ruined sari. She thought the colours were beautiful; the shimmering gold and the vibrant red. I shouldn’t have worn it; shouldn’t have put it on. It was very brave what she did. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t come along at that point. Those girls were like wolves circling me with sharp glittering eyes and words. They would have started to rip my skin: to see what colour I was underneath, slashed me to ribbons, like my sari.
My dress is ruined: it was to be for my wedding.
In India, marriage is thought to be for life and the divorce rate is extremely low, 1.1% compared with approximately 50% for the USA.
Jayne Geary asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work