It was time for our civil marriage ceremony…
The marriages in registry offices in England are elegant, romantic attended by close family and friends. The guests are sat eagerly waiting for the bride to appear, when she does she is wearing a flowing ivory gown and holding a bunch of her favourite flowers (I am thinking pale pink roses), some of the same flowers are delicately placed in lovely styled hair. She has been waiting her whole life for this moment, she clutches the arm of her father and takes a deep breath. As they walk down the aisle together she sees the man who will soon become her husband waiting for her. Her three year old niece is walking in front of her, scattering rose petal as she goes. The couple’s favourite song is being played by a harpist accompanied by their friend from university on the violin. The room is full of flowers, flowers she had chosen herself, she spent hours choosing the perfect combinations of pink and white. The guests turn in their seats as she glides down the aisle, they gaze at the bride in delight, all beaming broadly at her. ‘She looks like an angel, simply divine’, her aunt whispers to her uncle. She finally reaches her groom, he whispers ‘wow, you look beautiful’, she blushes and looks down at the floor. ‘Are we ready?’ the registrar asks softly. The couple look lovingly into each other’s eyes and squeeze each other’s hands.
Our civil marriage ceremony was absolutely nothing like that.
We returned to the overcrowded registry office, it was so much busier this time around. My husband pushed his way through the crowd to get to the registrar to find our notice so they could start preparing the paper work. We had a long wait and there were no seats, it was so overcrowded we had to stand outside. People were running in and out, shouting to each other and waving around photocopies of documents. There were also a lot of lawyers passing through, you could tell which ones were the lawyers because they wore blazers with a special white shirt with too long white pieces of fabric hanging down from the collar. Female lawyers wore this blazer and shirt over their traditional Indian dress, Indian lawyer chic.
As my husband battled the crowds to get everything prepared I continued to wait outside with my mother-in-law. A group of eight or nine middle aged men gathered, standing in a line, their vision fixed on me, leering. Feeling exposed and uncomfortable, I tried to hide behind my mother-in-law but she is much smaller than me so it didn’t really do much good. One of them had his hand on his crotch. I wanted to run away.
Just as I thought I might start to shout at these men, my husband appeared around the door frame, his hand outstretched, beckoning me to him. Finally I squeezed into the crowded room and stood as close to my husband as physically possible (not that there was much of a choice). I was about to sign the documents but the registrar stopped me. He spoke to my husband in Marathi and my husband turned around and looked at me. ‘He says we have to wipe your sindoor off’.
My eyes filled with tears, I looked at my husband and shook my head, ‘I cannot do that’. A woman’s sindoor is wiped off when she becomes a widow, my stomach was in knots at the thought of having to do this. Unfortunately, I had to do it because the person who was about to make our marriage legal said so. The registrar said something about having to be unmarried to become married. As my eyes filled with more tears my husband used my chunni (the long scarf worn over the shoulders) to remove the red powder he had placed in my hair line only a couple of hours before. I held back the tears as I signed the marriage certificate.
The registrar ripped off two pieces of paper from some scrap paper, he wrote down the marriage vows. ‘I, Lauren… take…. to be my lawful husband’, he wrote them out for each of us and directed us to the small court room attached. We had to say theses vows three times in front of the judge. We pushed our way through the people; the court room was just as packed. I think it would be classified as a health and safety hazard if that many people were crammed into that room in England. The judge was sat higher than everyone else, behind a high barrier. She was checking documents as people barked at her from below.
As we waited people were asking my husband where I was from and why we were there. Finally the registration of a car was complete and it was our time. We pushed our way to the barrier. I looked down at the scrap of paper and suddenly realised that I could not pronounce my husband’s middle name, I panicked once again and looked up at him. ‘I cannot pronounce this properly’. It was now our turn, pressed against people we said our vows which were then translated into Marathi. After saying them three times, the judge smiled and said ‘Congratulations!’.
This was not followed by ‘you may now kiss the bride’ as it would if we were in England. The people who we were pressed against were all smiling at us, saying ‘congratulations’ and shaking our hands. We struggled to get out of the crowded court room. We were nearly at the doorway when a lady squared up to my husband insisted we hand out sweets to celebrate the occasion.
We drove around for ages trying to find a sweet shop, when we finally found one we bought a kilogram of ladoos (a round Indian sweet) and returned to the registry office. By the time we had returned, the crowd was full of different faces. We handed out the sweets anyway and received more congratulations.
We were married… again! Phew, I am glad that is over.