One of the fondest memories of my childhood is listening to bedtime stories from my beloved Grandma in India. Folk tales, fairy tales, moral tales, tales of panchtantra, tales from the Ramayana; she had a rich collection. She was articulate and passionate and described each character, the surroundings and every detail as if she were living it. Recurring characters in her stories were an emerald and sapphire-eyed fairies, with the complexion of peaches, skin soft like butter, and hair made out of gold strings. Though fascinating it was hard for my tender mind to visualize such characters. I was convinced these fairies were a figment of Grandma's imagination.
Hair and eyes are always black. How can hair be made of gold string? When I didn't get satisfactory answers I asked her where I could find such fairies. How wealthy would they have to be? Could we meet them? She explained that to meet them, one would have to cross saat samander . It meant I'd never be able to meet them. But Grandma always said one day, when I was grown up, I would.
Enmeshed in these thoughts, many times I would be too distracted to follow the actual story. But at each request, Grandma would start the story again. Like me, she too loved being in our secluded world of fantasy with our imaginary fairies and their fairyland, which became part of those cozy winter nights. And with each telling, the grandeur of the fairyland grew in my mind: lush green lawns, vibrantly colored flowers blossoming, sweet water fountains, trees bowing down laden with juicy fruits and berries.
But even my wandering imagination and pressing curiosity couldn't keep me awake, and in my dreams I would dance and play in the fairyland with the beautiful fairies dressed in star-studded bright and sparkling saris, hair tied with fragrant flowers and shiny gold jewelry. With the golden rays of the morning sun, my fairyland would disappear but leave behind an excitement to hear the next story. The day would pass playing with my siblings and friends, but the evenings seemed so long.
I would wait impatiently for Grandma to say her evening prayers, eat her dinner, and then finish her regular chores, which felt as if they would never end. Finally, after a round of hookah, she would come to me to tell me her stories.
I don't remember how long this continued, but as time passed I grew out of my fairyland. Technological advances came fast. The radio was replaced with the television. I had permission to watch old classic movies. Those stories replaced the ones Grandma told me, and soothed my inquisitive mind. With Grandma's death, her stories too became distant memories, and became topics at occasional evening parties.
At every stage of my life I missed her and my love for her continued to grow even after she was gone. Her teachings of tolerance, patience, sharing, acceptance and love and care for others helped me at many junctures.
Time rolled by and I travelled across three continents for education and work. I finally settled down in the United States; far from my motherland. It was a tough move, but Grandma's teachings helped me through all the changes. Her lessons of acceptance and accommodation helped my family and me blend as sugar does in milk, making the drink sweeter and tastier. I built a beautiful future with the strong foundation of our glorious past and with sweet memories of our loved ones.
One relaxed evening, after work, as my husband I were talking about our children and their future, our darling daughter gave us a most pleasant surprise. She had found her prince charming. Like any parent, our joy knew no bounds. Ever since she was born, I had dreamed of her wedding, and truly felt making the event the most memorable one was a purpose of my life.
With myriad emotions we dove into the planning. As so much of our family was in India, we decided to have the wedding in New Delhi. So we got busy creating guest lists, focusing on the care and comfort of the guests, designing wedding invites, making travel arrangements, and shopping for the big event.
We found out that many of our friends from America could attend the wedding. This included my daughter's friends and colleagues as well. I was touched to see the excitement in them. After all, the bride's friends are such a special part of the wedding, particularly an Indian wedding that attending to their comforts became a major aspect of the planning.
Her friends immediately started preparing for the destination wedding. I was getting regular updates of their activities from shopping for saris and other Indian outfits, jewelry, shoes, and accessories to practicing dances for the sangeet. Most evenings for those few months, my daughter and her friends would discuss the variety, design and color selections of clothes for every event. Thanks to digital cameras, email and the Internet, I was able to participate in the selection.
Time was flying and I felt I couldn't do it all fast enough. There was no limit to my desires in making my daughter's wedding the most spectacular. I made several trips to India in the months before the wedding to meet with the caterers, decorators, planners, and take care of other arrangements. On one such visit, as we discussed decorations, with characteristic Indian exaggeration, the decorator exclaimed he could make the entire venue look like a "dreamland." That would be perfect.
As per our family traditions, we planned pre-wedding rituals, ceremonies, and cultural customs. The most important of these was the invoking of departed ancestors. Our family has followed this practice for generations to seek blessings before the beginning of any auspicious occasion. It is an intense ceremony with strict rules set by the priest and the family. Usually, this ceremony is performed first thing in the morning and involves setting up a holy fire at the mandap where the wedding will be held. Once all the family and friends are seated, the priest chants powerful mantras and the bride's parents pour ghee into the fire at the end of every verse. When it is believed that all the forefathers have assembled, we seek their blessings by offering sweets, flower petals, rice and panchamrit . After receiving their blessings, we bid farewell to the assembled ancestors, and thank them for gracing the occasion.
As the priest chanted, and with the aroma of burning sandalwood with ghee, the colors of turmeric, the feel of rice and bamboo, the atmosphere became very emotionally charged. I have seen this ceremony being performed many times, but never found it so penetrating. I found myself moved with the memories of those who had recently departed, and were fresh in my memory. But I also thought of my Grandma several times. I remembered her in a white silk sari, serene and affectionate with a heavenly smile. I missed her so much.
The evening of the wedding was full of excitement. It was a gathering where many of our relatives and friends were meeting with each other after several years. In the midst of the activities, even though I hadn't a minute to myself, I caught myself thinking of Grandma several times. I asked her jokingly why she hadn't left after the morning's invocation. She replied that she hadn't left because she wanted to share in my happiness. I felt her presence and many times thought she was trying to communicate something. I imagined her complaining that I didn't think about her this much even at my own wedding. I laughed at my silliness, and became busy with the last minute touches, and greeting the guests.
The venue was decorated with white twinkling lights, mountains of fresh flowers, and swaths of chiffon, all blending in with the sprawling lush lawn and the surrounding trees and bushes.
My daughter was being dressed by the make-up and clothes artists, and her friends. I caught a glimpse of her in the bridal suite but only very briefly. I finally saw her when she was walking down to the mandap surrounded by her friends. In her finery sparkling like a million stars, she looked magical. As she walked, the beauty of the entire venue was heightened, and suddenly looked in focus. The bride stood out like the moon among shining stars.
To me, it seemed that the goddess of beauty had arrived from heaven in the form of my daughter. Her smile -- happy, demure, and nervous in the same instance -- her expressive eyes, glowing face, a few curls covering part of her face were complementing each other. They were all designed to be one. It couldn't have been more perfect. All eyes were mesmerized, while photographers and videographers went wild. I couldn't believe my little princess had grown up to be this charismatic, magnetic young woman.
I was overwhelmed by both joy and nostalgia. I reached for a handkerchief to stop my rolling tears, but before I could do so, I felt the edge of a sari on my cheek. Grandma wiped my eyes, pressed my hand and whispered "take care of your princess." My eyes followed her as she drifted away and suddenly my whole body trembled, and my heart started pounding when I saw her in the midst of my daughter's friends dancing near the mandap to welcome the bride and groom.
Grandma's prophecy came true. I did cross the seven seas and there really are fairies.
Saat Samandar: seven seas; a Hindi expression for an immeasurable distance
Sangeet: pre-wedding evening of music
Ghee: clarified butter
Panchamrit: a sweet concoction of five ingredients - milk, honey, jaggery, ghee and fruits