Preparations are a big part of any wedding event; anywhere you go in the world. Generally when one hears the word “preparation” associated with a wedding they assume reference is being made to what the bride and groom have gone through to make ready for the big event. It is true that the bride and groom, more specifically the bride, take the trophy home for the one devoting the most energy to preparations for a wedding. However, guests also make wedding preparations.
There are even a few accounts in the Bible of guests making the appropriate preparations for a wedding. Matthew 22:1-14 speaks specifically of a man who had not come to a wedding properly dressed. As guests at weddings in our culture today we are not generally prescribed specific wedding attire, but we do tend to put on our “Sunday bests” and coif our hair in a proper manner as to look respectable. This Indian wedding was no exception for this American lady. The exception I place upon myself for this wedding was to self-prescribe specific wedding attire. The wedding was to be held in (or near) Kerala with some Malayali customs and as such, I chose to buy and wear a saree that is specific to that region. I don’t get the chance to wear a saree often and after seeing the beauty of a traditional Malayali saree, I knew that I wanted to use this wedding as an excuse to wear one.
Upon arriving in India, I told my friends that I needed to purchase a Kerala saree and, if possible, get a blouse stitched before the wedding. They would skeptical that I could get the blouse stitched in time, but were willing to help me try. After mad dashing about to purchase the saree, we were able to find a local tailor who promised to stitch the blouse in time. (Praise Him for the little things!)
The plan for the day-of wedding preparations was as follows: wake early and eat breakfast at Sunil’s house (the groom), go back to hotel and meet Ashwin, have her help me tie my saree, finish preparing for the wedding. [Side note: Ashwin is from the area we were visiting, so she stayed at her home which was 15-20 mins away from our hotel.] Easy enough. All I had to do was be clean and ready to be wrapped. At the end of breakfast (one of those times when I tuned out the unintelligible-to-me Tamil conversation as it probably didn’t pertain to me anyhow), I looked up and all three men were looking at me as Samson asked, “Do you have a plan if Ashwin can’t make it to the hotel this morning to tie your saree?” Apparently the conversation did pertain to me. I lied to them. I told them I had a plan and that it wouldn’t be a problem. As they reverted back to their conversation in Tamil, I began to frantically come up with a plan. Would I just wear the clothes I had brought for travel and tourism? They didn’t seem…. fancy enough. They certainly weren’t my ‘Sunday bests.’ And that saree!!! Oh, I had hoped so much to wear it. I would not likely wear it in the US. Not to mention all the hassle I went through to get that dang blouse stitched! No. I would wear that darn saree come hell or high water! Somehow… I could ask Samson to loan me some internet access and I could YouTube a tutorial… right? When in doubt, YouTube?
Back at the hotel I quickly rinsed off the morning humidity and touched up my makeup. I madly threw my hair into pin curls as I was told that when wearing a traditional Kerala saree, one must wear their hair “open” (or down). Ugh! I hated that thought. Anyone that knows me at all knows that I hate having my hair “open,” especially when it is hot and humid. However, if I was going to all this trouble I might as well try to do my hair properly as well.
With hair up in pins, I donned the saree petticoat. At least I could get that part right. I greatly dislike the saree blouse, so I had already determined that would be one of the last things I would put on. Plus it was hot and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with it and the skirt at the same time… not yet anyhow. I then began to methodically plot out my plan of attack. I would begin to wrap the skirt, only loosely tucking it in at first. I would then mark out approximately how much of the skirt I needed to pleat for the front. After marked, I would untuck the skirt and pleat it while it was laid out on the bed where I could presumably control the impossible material. I soon recognized that the ceiling fan that had been my sweet retreat from the heat was now my arch enemy as it blew the 8+ yards of material around the room. I began to become entangled in said material. As I went one way with it, it would go another. The endless yards of material seemed to take on an ill-behaved life of its own. I began to curse at it, hoping to subdue it with my menacing threats. “You don’t even KNOW how many pillow cases I could make out of you if you don’t behave!!! Oh just to get back here you scummy scoundrel, I WILL win this battle if it’s the last thing I do. You and I can be burry together for all I care, but I will get you put in your place!” I attempted multiple times to calm myself in an effort to stop my shaking hands and halt the deluge of sweat now pouring from my head; both of which were more hindrance than help.
At last I completed the pleating of the skirt piece. I then pinned it. Four times. Those pleats where going NO WHERE unless I said so. After pleats were pinned, I began to re-wrap the skirt, carefully tucking and smoothing as I went. After what seemed like an eternity, the skirt piece was on and pinned (again) in place. I held by breath as I carefully removed two of the pins in the pleats at the bottom to let them flow naturally. Success! It looked right. But wait… are the pleats supposed to fall to the right or left? I can’t get such a simple element of saree-wearing wrong. Not when I’m likely to be the only white girl at this wedding in a saree. I quickly contemplated looking through my recent photos to see if I could tell which way the pleats were supposed to fall; however, I felt confident that I had it right: they point (or open) to the left.
Now for the hard part: the pallu (part that falls over the shoulder). The only thing I really remember about this part was that it is incredibly difficult to do alone. And I had to do it wearing that darn blouse, which, by the way was extremely difficult to don when sweating so much! I had gotten this far, I wasn’t about to give up now. I hadn’t looked at the clock to see how much time was remaining because a.) I didn’t want to freak out any more than I already was, and 2.) my accompaniment had rarely been punctual with their departure times to date. Attempt #1 at pleating the pallu failed miserably. As did attempts #2-18. By attempt #19 I was getting close, which was a blessed thing because that is when the knock on my door came. Surly it hasn’t been an hour and a half already?!? It was Noble asking if I was ready. I told him I needed five more minutes. Another lie. I still had my hair in pin curls and a stubborn pallu half draped in submission over my left shoulder. I needed another hour and an Indian woman who knew how to tie a saree, not another five minutes!
After attempt #21, the pallu was in place. Or as “in place” as I was ever going to get it. I ripped the pins out of my hair and pulled half of it back (I compromised). I tossed the loaned-to-me bangles on my wrist and slid the also-loaned-to-me earrings on. (I was told that a saree cannot be worn without bangles and I really should be worn with “hanging” earrings. I was going all out for this one.)
With sweat trickling down my back and a very real fear that my saree would seek its last revenge by tripping me as I descended the stairs, I entered the lobby where my friends were waiting. No one laughed or snickered. I must have done “ok.” As my friends were doing some last minute route-planning to the wedding venue, I gained the attention of the women who clean the hotel; both of which were wearing sarees. With careful gestures (I didn’t want to move too much for fear the whole thing would fall right off…), I asked them to critique my work. The bolder of the two came to me and made a few last minute adjustments. They weren’t laughing either; both were smiling. I chose to believe they were sincere smiles rather than sneering smiles.
Despite all my fears that the whole thing would fall off me, or that someone would gasp in shock at the tragedy displayed as my saree-tying handiwork, I managed to make it through the wedding and reception with nothing but compliments. There was the occasional gasp of shock that I had managed to tie the saree myself. I’m not saying it was anywhere near perfect, but I would like to believe that I through it all, I managed to prepare myself for that Malayali wedding after all.
[Side note: If the wedding clothes mentioned in Matthew 22 were as difficult to don as a saree, I can kind of understand why he might have showed up in his street clothes.]