It’s in stark contrast to my brother’s album. He had a “proper” Indian wedding—it lasted three days, I saw cousins I hadn’t seen in 18 years; I still have all the outfits. Speeches were given, and we made sure to do it both American and Indian. It was tweeted and facebooked and placed under clear plastic, pinned and preserved to familial history. Much food and drink was eaten, and the occasion was celebrated lavishly, all relatives involved.
Our wedding album is four pictures. They go like this:
1. Clock on the dashboard of our car—it reads 2:13
2. Our ticket at City Hall- like the one you get waiting in line at the deli. We were number B-223.
3. A selfie of all of us on the steps of city hall—baby included—kinda smiling?
4. Clock on the dashboard on the way out: 2:52
I’m sure you have questions.
The first answer is that I met my wife at a California farm party—I was playing music there, winding out a semi-professional non-paying music career. She was taking a break from a “Lord, I need an MBA so I can quit low-paying jobs,” graduate program. She was being snarky to some clueless boy who didn’t know science, and I was a science teacher in my day job. I gravitated towards that brand of humor—playfully sarcastic, yet scientifically accurate—like a moth. We liked each other immediately, and we met up again after that. And after that.
The second answer is that we weren’t careful—it was supposed to be a medical impossibility for her to have children. Both her fallopian tubes were blocked, and she had an ectopic pregnancy in her early twenties which didn’t nearly kill her—she was actually pronounced dead in the emergency room for a few minutes. Obviously, it didn’t stick.
We didn’t intend to buck Indian tradition, we just had to. We were in a unique situation, and we made the best of it.
By our best guess, she was pregnant about a month in after we met. We had a baby daughter. I got laid off from my job four days after she was born, and my wife got laid off three months later. We were suddenly broke, on food stamps, unemployed, and—thanks to my wife’s savvy and previous life experience—on the generous health plan for broke parents who have an infant in San Francisco. We made do. Looked for jobs. She got one, and one morning, we realized we had some free time, or at least as much as one has with a baby. I still needed health insurance.
“Should we do it?” she asked.
The third answer is that she meant “get married.” We had time that day, and we really needed to have me on her health benefits—we were going back and forth about who had the job, who stayed with the baby, all that fun stuff, and this was an opportunity for some stability, which was clearly lacking in our lives at that point. And so we did. We packed the kid in the car, set off for City Hall, and were in and out in less than an hour. 2:13-2:52, as the evidence indicates.
Here’s the thing, though—we still had a wedding party about a month later.
We paid 30 bucks to rent a picnic table in the park. We told our friends and family to show up, and bring a potluck dish. Everyone did. People from all over the country came out on fairly short notice, and did it well—home-brewed kegs of beer were made, people painted frisbees to celebrate the occasion, and a friend of mine came out and displayed his juggling skills. My parents came a week early and dressed Lael up in proper “Indian Bride” attire, and they hung with their grandkid on a beautiful summer day. The cake—which cost 20 bucks—was awesome, and was inscribed with the Midwest affirmative “You Betcha!” which is how Lael responded to the “lawful wedded wife” question at the courthouse, playfully mocking the other cross-cultural marriage aspect, as she was Hippie West Coast, and I staunchly Pork-Packing Midwest.
I don’t know that I would suggest this approach to marriage—we didn’t intend to buck Indian tradition, or any marriage tradition really, we just had to. We were in a unique situation, and we made the best of it.
To be totally transparent—this is the wedding issue after all—I was asked to talk about the challenges of a multicultural marriage. I suppose we do have a few strange aspects, being a family of mixed heritage, but that’s how I grew up in the first place, my mom being English, and me being culturally “Michigander” more than anything else. On Lael’s end, she can’t really pin down her ethnic background for complicated reasons, although we suspect mostly German.
Frankly, the financial crisis that we endured—while barely knowing each other- was much more challenging than any sort of fussing about cultural differences. It certainly helped when we went back to normal employment, and—the best part—finances.
My wife is more Indian than me in many respects. You see, my dad felt compelled to spend as much on our wedding as he did my brother’s—so he wrote a check. She banked it, at a time where I was inclined to break out all available resources. Years later, we went ahead and made use of a down-payment assistance program for first time home buyers. Great program—and you would need the forethought to have at least a few percent of that down payment available, say maybe about the size of a bill on a typical Indian wedding?
We are far from rich. I work in education, and my wife works in the nonprofit sector. I’m certainly not the financially conservative, tech-savvy desi on an H2B visa, shoring up the servers at Google (not that that’s a bad thing). But we qualified, did the mounds of paperwork, got lucky, and now own a home in the most competitive real estate market in the country. We are doing OK—well, more than OK, really. Which I did not predict, given the circumstances in which we started. I’m not sure what the take-away here is, or even if there needs to be one. All I can say is that after the kid, after the ceremony—we still had no idea what marriage was all about.
You can’t tell what’s going to happen, whether you plan it or not. It has certainly been very tough at times—I think I can speak for all married couples on that point, now that we have some years in. Still, the wedding day is not a harbinger of the future, or some crazy predictive omen of things to come—it is, at the end of the (very tiring) day (or three), just another day.
If we are any indication, you can defy tradition if you need to, and things can still turn out OK, even if you were told not to expect that if you deviated from the script. There is only one way to write new scripts. And that only comes after the wedding!
Shumit DasGupta is a science education professional, sideline writer, husband and father. His work has appeared on KQED, bicycling magazines, and independent publishing festivals. He lives with his family in San Francisco.