Indian For A Day

In Portland, Rajeev said that if I wanted to look traditional I should wear a saree. Sure, I’m game. I’d need a tutorial, though. He said I’d need help and I’d also need lessons and practice walking. I’m still game. Anything to help me blend in a little better.

We arrived at the wedding site the morning of the ceremony. Traditional wedding events had already been taking place for several hours. Raj was sitting on the ground in a white, traditional robe and a turban, all trimmed with gold. He said, “Wow you look great,” to Greg’s traditional sky-blue, embroidered tunic and white pajamas. He said to me, “You look really great, too, and that’s good because you won’t be able to wear a saree. I made arrangements for the saree and the blouse, but I did not know there is a petticoat that goes under the saree.” I was a little disappointed since sarees are so beautiful, and I would have had half a chance of blending in a little, but that was fine. Things had been well underway, so getting right into the festivities would have been fine.

So helpful!Next thing I heard was, “Go with her.” A woman wearing a red saree and an older woman in a pink saree lead me into the wedding facility, through the seating area, and onto the stage to a door on the right wing. I was asked to sit and wait in an empty chair up against the wall next to two grandmothers. Neither spoke English, and eventually one just took my hand while I waited. The door opened and Rajeev’s brother emerged in a traditional, cream-colored wrap, shirt and scarf, all trimmed with gold.

I was escorted into the room and told to wait. Two other women were there, one dressing, and one sitting on the bed. More women came into the room, and the two women who escorted me away from the wedding festivities into the great hall began dressing me. There were a number of women in and out of the dressing room, and all seemed to be concerned with my modesty.

The women first helped me on with the purple blouse to match the saree, which hooked down the front. They tied on the petticoat in the front, making sure it was snug, but not too tight. And then came the time to wrap the beautiful purple saree trimmed with gold. Several women scurried for safety pins, while the older woman tied it to the front of the petticoat on one end, then wrapped it once around me and pinned the other end to drape over my shoulder, leaving a tremendous amount of fabric hanging loosely around me. She began folding the loose fabric into pleats until it was sufficiently gathered. She folded the top of the fabric to the appropriate length so that I would not trip over it walking, and tucked it into my front. A few more tucks and another pin and they were done. The women oohed and ahhed.

A woman came in to offer bangles for my wrists, but they were way too small. A woman in the room started to offer hers, but they were red to go with her burgundy saree and just would not do with the lavender purple I was wearing. Another woman came and took several off her own arm and offered them to me.

I was still not complete, even with properly adorned wrists. The women took out red makeup to create the bindi on my forehead. She tried to apply it without taking off my spectacles, and apparently it did not look quite right. She dabbed, wiped, dabbed again, and finally signaled I should remove my eye glasses. A little more dabbing and wiping and I was done. The women were so thrilled I was transformed into an Indian. They lead me to the mirror to see how beautiful they had made me. The saree was beautiful, but I looked so ghastly white! If a head scarf were also part of the tradition I might be less noticeable.

The older woman took my hand and lead me out of the dressing room to sit down for the wedding, which was already in progress. A few minutes later the woman was back and indicated I would need flowers for my hair. The jasmine flower is even more precious than the dot on my forehead. She took my hand and back we went to the dressing room. The women had me sit while they looked for hair pins to hold the flowers. My hair was just not thick enough on its own, so they found a rubber band and tied a small bit of hair back and affixed the flower garland. Now I was complete. I was truly transformed. They showed me in the mirror how Indian I looked now.

All wrapped upSitting back watching the festivities a tall woman leaned over and introduced herself, I thought as Rajeev’s sister. She said I was not properly wrapped. I was a little confused since I thought his sister had provided the saree and had been in the dressing room the first time for at least a few minutes. A friend of hers had seen that I was not properly dressed and called for a family member to collect me so she could re-wrap me properly. The two young women led me to a room upstairs where they unpinned and untucked the saree.

They re-fastened the saree to the petticoat, and made fresh pleats for the shoulder drape. They made new pleats in the front, and re-tucked and re-pinned. It felt pretty snug previously, but it really felt like it was not going anywhere the second time. Later, when I saw myself in the mirror I could see it looked much tidier.

As before, I was not done with merely a fresh wrapping. The women asked me to take off my spectacles so they could remove my third eye with a cloth and re-applied an adhesive dot. I jokingly said, “Now I had to paint on my eyebrows this morning, so be careful not to remove them.” They continued to work, and chatter. One dug through a bag and emerged with a tube of lipstick and a few other cosmetics. I could feel as she re-applied my eyebrows, darkened my eyelids, and applied a fresh coat of lip gloss. Then came the powder brush to dust and blend, and smoothly tint my whole face a bit. She looked at my hair and shook her head. Out came the flowers, and in with a comb on my baby fine, ultra-thin hair. I had used some product in that morning, to dry it a bit and keep it from getting flat and whispy during the day, so her comb tugged and pulled my tiny, thin blonde hairs as she tied it back into enough of a small braid to hold the jasmine flowers.

“Now you look proper.” They showed me a mirror. “I still look pretty white,” I said. Even with my new Indian eyebrows, the only way for me to truly blend in would have been under a burka. The women did do a truly remarkable job. Before heading back down to the wedding we posed for pictures with one another to show off their work. For the second time, I emerged into the wedding celebration as an Indian for the day.

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