Excerpt from the Introduction of Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America
On a fortuitously warm evening in September 2005 that overturned all my family’s and friends’ expectations that I would have a conventional Indian-Hindu wedding I married my husband in an outdoor civil ceremony at a country club in Long Island, New York. Marrying in an outdoor civil ceremony was not a decision that came easily to me. In fact the dissimilar cultural and religious backgrounds of my husband and me made it impossible for me to picture our wedding day for much of the time we were seriously dating.
Mansoor was born and raised in Trinidad where he grew up in a devoutly Muslim home; his grandmother taught him how to read the Quran in Arabic, and he ate only halal meat (meat prepared in a manner prescribed by Islamic law). Whereas I grew up dancing garba (a Gujarati group dance) at Indian wedding receptions (while my dad sipped Jack Daniels on the rocks with his friends), alcohol and dancing were absent from the weddings my husband attended. In Muslim weddings, the bride wears white, and guests are strictly segregated by gender. At Hindu weddings, the bride wears a bright red sari (traditional formal Indian attire for women) and family and friends of both genders mingle and chatter. How could I possibly plan a wedding that would satisfy the expectations of both sets of parents and their extended families, not to mention the desire of my husband and myself to express our feelings for each other on our wedding day?
To make a long story short, we had a Muslim wedding ceremony in which Mansoor’s uncle performed the role of the imam, followed by a halal, buffet Indian dinner. Mansoor wore a kufi skull cap, and I covered my hair with the dupatta (scarf) that accompanied the white lengha (fitted skirt and top Indian outfit) I wore. Nine months later, in a custom-made gown made of two golden saris (I designed it myself), my parents walked me down the aisle. We recited vows we wrote together and concluded the ceremony with a kiss. The reception was a sit-down dinner (Broiled Filet of Salmon with Dill Hollandaise Sauce, Roasted Free Range Chicken basted with Lemon and Rosemary, Chateaubriand with a Five Peppercorn Sauce and a Grilled Vegetable Tower were menu options) and the party favor was almond-flavored mithai (Indian sweets). The emcee sang Frank Sinatra classics, and the deejay closed the reception with “Mundian To Bach Ke” a Punjabi bhangra song mixed to the beat of the “Knight Rider” theme.
Mystified by the lack of adherence to traditional Hindu wedding custom, friends and family later interrogated me as to why I did not marry in a Hindu wedding ceremony. Up until that point I had always assumed that my peers, second-generation Indian-American Hindus, secretly wished for a wedding like mine: one where they could express both their American identity as well as their Indian background. However, through conversations with family and friends, I realized that my wish for a hybrid Indian-American wedding day was the anomaly. My peers almost exclusively desired a wedding that would adhere to age-old Hindu tradition followed by a western-style reception.
Thus began my quest for understanding why and how second-generation Indian-American Hindus living and working in arguably the most diverse and media-driven place in the United States, New York City, could possibly escape the seductive nature of mainstream American wedding culture, a tradition that emphasizes romantic love and the couple’s union over ancient customs which adhere to strict religious codes that felt so distant from the way my peers and I lead our lives.