It is still dark when I wake up in the guest room at my brother’s home. Trying not to wake up my teenage daughter, I adjust the pleats of the magenta silk sari and fasten the heavy fabric on my shoulder with a safety pin. Leaning towards the mirror to adjust my earrings, I smile at the sight of my hands painted with bridal henna, the same color that also covers the gray in my hair.
I have been a bride before. Half a lifetime ago.

My long black braid was covered in flowers then, the silk sari an unfamiliar weight on my bony shoulders. My parents had found me a groom through our network of relatives. Family environment, food choices and horoscopes had been meticulously matched. The religious wedding ceremony was blessed by astrologers, approved by relatives, and witnessed by friends. Soon after, we left for America, to make a home far away from interfering in-laws and inquisitive neighbors. The odds were in our favor. The odds hadn’t predicted the final outcome. There had been no early indicator to forecast whether our personal expectations would blend well or curdle into a messy muddle, as it had.

I wake up my daughter and help her with her outfit. Two taxis ferry the handful of people who have come to attend the simple Arya Samaj wedding ceremony on my behalf. This question probably lurked in the minds of the guests—why is she getting married again?

Having come from a cultural mindset that put marriage as the center-piece of a woman’s existence, I had taken a long time to get over the fact that mine had crumbled. After the formal divorce, I alternated between relief and grief, freedom and fear, exhilaration and exhaustion. There was anger, sadness, rage, self-pity and remorse. Instead of wallowing in depression, I focused on rebuilding: a safe home, a career that would support my single-mom lifestyle and a respectable reputation.

This is a wedding with no checklists, no curious onlookers, no astrological consultations. I have invited the few people with whom I have shared triumphs and shed tears. I want a ceremony where the marriage endures long after the flowers wither, the music stops and the guests leave.

After my mother’s death the same year as my divorce, my father had become my anchor. The vacuum created by his recent demise slowly filled me with the realization that I had a long solitary life ahead. Being busy was easy, being alone was not. On weekends when my daughter visited her dad, I binge-watched Friends, ate instant noodles and read Eat Pray Love. In the still hours of dusk, every tick of the clock was a portent of the years ahead. I couldn’t stop my child from growing up or going away. I could only create my own life, not stifle hers. Would I find someone willing to share my life? If divorce was unusual in India, remarriage was even more unlikely for a woman in her forties with custody of a teenage daughter.

I needed one good man.

My parents had arranged my first marriage. I had no dating experience. I was not on Facebook. Online matrimony sites and dating apps were not my thing.

Finding a suitable man seemed next to impossible.

One afternoon, over lunch with an old friend, I admitted that my life was good.

“I have my own home, work-life balance and most importantly, peace. But sometimes I wish I had someone to spend the rest of my life with…”

“I know just the person you should meet,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

The next week he introduced us via email. A year later, here I am, on my way to my second wedding.

I wonder if my parents would have supported my decision to jump into matrimony in midlife by marrying a widower with a daughter.

This is a wedding with no checklists, no curious onlookers, no astrological consultations. I have invited the few people with whom I have shared triumphs and shed tears. I want a ceremony where the marriage endures long after the flowers wither, the music stops and the guests leave.

A senior lady presides over the ceremony with a light hearted touch. She explains the significance of the rituals. Our girls sit on the stage, a few feet behind us. They are wearing the ghagras that we had selected on a joint shopping trip a few weeks earlier, when they had first met.

My older brother and sister-in-law take on the role of the elder family members on my side. As my sari pallu is tied to Arun’s outift, I feel a sense of relief, of belonging, of togetherness. We garland each other and walk around the fire. And finally we are married. There is laughter and blessings, photographs with family and friends.

I am once again on the threshold of a fresh beginning. My slate is cluttered with history. Major life experiences rest on my no-longer-bony shoulders. Each of us has survived shattered dreams and heartbreaks. We both grew up in stable families but have witnessed the collapse of this familiar structure in our generation. We have no role models for building a family with a second spouse and step-children. We will be moving to Singapore where Arun begins a new job. I will need to find one. Our girls will soon share a roof, if not a room. And try to find their way within and outside the home. Add to this teenage angst, midlife crises, personal challenges and we have a recipe for interesting times ahead.

I take a deep breath and surrender to the pure joy of anticipation, the promise of a second chance at marital happiness, with a spouse of my choosing.

Sometimes life offers you a another chance to make the fairy tale come true. I may have doubts but I also have the commitment of my spouse, not only to the institution of marriage, but to me. On this road less travelled, we are both clear about what we have chosen—a life with each other and our “plus ones.”

Ranjani Rao is currently writing a memoir Starting Over in Midlife—marriage, motherhood and other midlife adventures.

 

Share this: