Seated on the back of my friend, Dinesh’s motorcycle in Rajasthan, India, we pass at least fifty Langur monkeys lined up, one after the other, on the side of the road. Dinesh has never seen me so sad. To help take my mind off my troubles and my imminent return to New York City, he’s invited me to join him on a ride down the mountain to the next town, about twelve kilometers away.
Hindus in India consider the Langur monkeys sacred but with their bearded chin tufts and bushy eyebrows, they remind me of Islamic scholars. With all my many years of travel in India, these dark faced, long-tailed creatures still fascinate me. In my sad state, my mind dredges up the fact that there is usually one dominant male who sires all the offspring. When a new male seizes power, he kills all the babies that the former male sired. I wonder if modern man weren’t subjected to the forces of law and order, would he behave much differently than these monkeys. I continue to watch them: mothers with babies attached to their fronts like newly sprung limbs and mischievous boys scampering about, angering the men. I think they are taking a respite from their constant foraging, seated on the side of the road, hoping for a passing bus or car to toss them an offering.
We drive on down the mountain toward the city. The dry, desert scrub fills in with scattered buildings until the view becomes a solid wall of recently erected structures of concrete, freshly white washed yet already cracked, like make-up applied to a blemished face.
Dinesh has reluctantly been recruited to help a bridegroom, whom he doesn’t know, buy a washing machine and to take him to a shop that specializes in formal wear for bridegrooms. The bridegroom is marrying into the family of an old school friend, Raj. Over the years, Raj has repeatedly let Dinesh down and continues to take advantage of their old friendship, Dinesh’s loyalty, good nature, success, contacts and lawyer’s skill for negotiation. Dinesh feels that he cannot refuse his old friend. Partly to cheer me up and partly to diffuse the situation, Dinesh invites me along.
Raj’s face shows his annoyance when he spots me. He wants the bridegroom to ride with Dinesh and my presence thwarts his plan.
At the appliance store, Dinesh works out the price and terms of the purchase quickly and the men load it inside the family’s SUV.
Back on the bike, I zip my thick sweater right up to my chin and watch with interest behind Dinesh, as we enter the marriage bazaar. The streets are lively and bustling and the mood is exuberant as clusters of shoppers contemplate the showy displays. Glitzy red and gold sarees hang outside of shops beckoning brides inside, beside finely embroidered circular lenga skirts and matching choli blouses. Shops specializing in 22 carat gold dowry jewelry tempt and taunt shoppers with their dazzling windows. Shops specializing in wedding invitations display announcements in parchment and flocked velvet that are so elaborate that they remind me of fifteenth century illuminations. All things related to marriage is available here, in all its varieties. Business is brisk and marriage is clearly a huge industry in India.
We remove our shoes and follow a clerk into the small, back room of a shop that specializes exclusively in bridegroom’s wear, much like a tuxedo boutique in the West. A soft faced salesman greets Dinesh with the just the right amount of familiarity and respect. Dinesh has just been there, outfitting his brother-in-law a few weeks before.
Everywhere gorgeous tapestry like fabrics sparkle and dazzle the eye in shades of red, orange and maroon. Wherever your eye lands, something twinkles back at you. This exotic men’s world is unlike any I have entered before. For this once in a life time occasion, it is customary for a man to don a richly woven brocade coat called a sherwani. It is usually embroidered in gold and beaded with hundreds of tiny seed pearls. The groom also sports a jewel encrusted turban and will be draped in strands of pearls.
The groom- to-be removes his jacket and the salesman takes his measurements. Dinesh explains to me that the sherwani, trousers and turban are on a rental basis and the accessories are for sale. The salesman shows the groom a few coats and he slips one on for size and fit. This one is maroon. There is an additional charge if the coat has embroidery on the front and back. The sleeves are too short, the chest is too tight and the back sticks out. The salesman explains that for almost twice the price, they can custom cut and stitch a coat to measure. They agree on this option. Unstitched coat material that is fully embroidered with seed pearls beaded in beautiful arabesque patterns around the neckline and up the front and along the edge of the sleeves is neatly placed on the floor and studied.
The groom selects an elegant design in a burnt orange hue. Next come the accessories.
The soft faced salesman lines up matching, ready-made turbans before us after he measures the groom’s head. The salesman points out one turban that is in the same brocade as the sherwani and repeats the same seed pearl motif. The groom allows the salesman to place it on his head and he is instantly transformed into a Maharaja. The salesman adds a jewel and a feather at an additional cost, of course.
The future groom admires his reflection. The salesman assesses the effect and chooses another jewel and feather before he show us tikkas. Dinesh admires a black and rhinestone stick-on forehead jewel and the groom goes along with his choice.
The salesman shows us cummerbunds next. I’m listening to most of this conversation in Hindi. My ears pick up when I hear the word cummerbund. I tell Dinesh that cummerbund is also an English word. He says that it means tight belt in Hindi. A few more accessories complete the outfit.
I have managed to forget my troubles and enter a world of fabulous fantasy, even if only temporarily. On our way out, I notice that next door, seated on a white sheet are workers beading and embroidering turban jewels. I watch in fascination. Dinesh nudges me, “Hungry? Do you like kachoris? There’s a really famous place near here. Come on, let’s go.”
Back on the bike, leaving the marriage bazaar I take a last look. Indian wedding fever has somehow seeped into me. I close my eyes for a second and imagine myself having an Indian wedding. I think of the saying that one hears all over India, “Everything possible in India.”