This month we celebrate the seventieth birthday of Indian Independence by saluting the flag of saffron, white and green. A generation who sacrificed their lives for freedom is no more. Newspaper articles and scratchy documentary reels remain. In these historical accounts, one story was missed; a story that always brought a tear to my eye and that was the story of Vellai Patti. My grandfather, a freedom fighter, was brought up in a village in Tamil Nadu by his parents and his aunt, a widow whom he called Vellai Patti, because she wore white. Childless and widowed at a young age she doted on her nephew, taking enormous pride in his achievements telling him often—“there is only one thing I need from you when you are older—to light my funeral pyre.” At eighteen, he quit college to join the freedom struggle. When she lay on her deathbed, he came on parole from jail. She recovered then and he left, never to see her alive again. When she finally died, he was refused parole. To him, it was a supreme personal sacrifice.
I speak of this story, not because it was remarkable but, because it was unremarkable. Across India, ordinary lives and families were changed forever in that fight—a nonviolent struggle that, to this day, remains a beacon to the world. As August rolls around, I wonder about all the unremarkable stories that will never make their way into history textbooks. Like that of my grandfather and Vellai Patti.
We walk the line of hyphenation between being Indian and American in our celebrations. Soon after Navarathri and Diwali, we make plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, splitting celebrations perfectly down the middle.
But if there is one kind of celebration where we let our Indian side take over, it’s in the way we conduct weddings. Indian hospitality or virundhombal in Tamizh is that social and cultural grace, the acquisition of which we pride ourselves in. Along with outsized Indian hospitality is a nostalgic remembrance of weddings we once attended. These sentiments mix together as Indian-Americans strive to offer guests the “best” wedding experience ever!
The guest list is long, the number of ceremonies cannot fit into one invite, and then there are the clothes and tasteful decorations! And let’s spare a thought to the bride and groom who are tying their destinies together amidst this ritzy glamor!
As one enters the wedding arena and takes in the mandap with priest in attendance, we quickly conclude that everything is perfect—as it was in India, we sigh in appreciation. If an anthropologist were in attendance however, he or she will be quick to point out that everything is definitely not “just as it was in India.” On display is an interesting amalgam of East and West. This month, we unveil our themed issue which boasts of many articles on the Big Fat Indian Wedding!
In our cover story, Maya Murthy profiles couples who share how they combined Indian and American wedding traditions into a seamless whole. Vijay Rajvaidya argues that Sanskrit chants need to be brought out of that “black box” of hazy understanding in which they reside. Shumit DasGupta is the proud owner of the 4-photo wedding album, and shares about how that came to be—a must-read! Need a song list for wedding festivities? Look no further than Priya Das’s music column. Geetika Pathania-Jain turns her gaze towards reel-llfe and real-life weddings while Jaya Padmanabhan looks to social science research to examine the advantages of getting hitched. The generational divide cracks wide open between immigrant parent and child when talk about marriage begins, says Kalpana Mohan. Saroja Viswanathan looks at how widows are treated during marriage rituals and Ranjani Rao reminiscences about her second marriage. A Top 10 list of shaadi movies is compiled by Aniruddh Chawda.
A myriad ways to celebrate weddings and to honor a milestone birthday!