15. One Last Song For Gary

Saturday evening had arrived and it was the 15th of May.  Noori has asked my brother if she could sing a song for me -well, presented as a song for all- before we leave the house and I enter my new life.

He said yes, seeing no problem with that.  Earlier Noori excused herself with my sister, she would not attend the wedding ceremony or celebrations.

Her passionate voice sang a song from an Indian movie made only the year before and it went something like this:  *Raja ki aayegi baaraat, rangili hogi raat, magan main nachoongi ho, magan main nachoongi…”

She sang it all the way through but by the middle of the song I have to tell you, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the house, especially mine… and Noori’s.  Only later did I find that my mother knew why.

It was like I was wearing lead shoes not to mention the heaviness of my heart but I also knew, the promised **baaraat had to leave my house now in all its pageantry and head directly to the bride-to-be’s house.

Goodnight dear, sweet Noori.

The marriage ceremony took place as planned.  It lasted about an hour and a half.  Yes it does and can even go up to 2 hours in some instances.  Another time perhaps.

At the end of the ceremony my bride was taken into her house and I did not see her again the rest of that night.  At this point of the evening, amidst the congratulations and what-have-you, the entire baaraat and all guests were fed a wonderful and fulfilling vegetarian dinner.

Arrangements have been made for myself and a few male members of the wedding party to slumber outdoors.  Of course for me and some others, we slept underneath protective mosquito nets.  Don’t worry, this is Fiji; it’s nice and warm!

The women from my side of the family have returned to my household for the night; there will be much to do when they awake!  Sunday morning arrived swiftly and ^kichari was the traditional meal which was served.

It was about brunch time now.  I have not yet seen Hemma since we were wed last night; we will not be sharing this meal together either.  Tradition.

Although the delicious food has been laid out on the table before me and my guests, no one eats.  I have to take the first mouthful.  But even I cannot start because I must wait.

You must be wondering, now what?  So I’ll tell you: in the tradition (at least it was practiced back then and before that even) the guests put money on the table in front of the groom, one at a time; a gift-giving game in good fun.

And from just beside me, I’m being pinched and coached:  Very much in the capacity of a best man, my adopted+ brother’s given duty was to take full & proper charge of all my needs.  This responsibility was met with great honor and dignity for him, as it was for me to receive it.

So he sits beside me to watch closely each denomination laid in my presence.  With each note I got a pinch from him to say, “That’s not enough!”

And so the cash keeps coming in until the note laid down is big enough to stop the nipping, thank goodness!  Finally my brother approves and says, “Now you can eat!”

Good thing too because by this time we were all very hungry and so I take the leading bite!

Not long afterwards my bride Hemma comes out of her house, escorted by the ladies.  It is time to wrap this part of the wedding up neatly and make the initial journey to my house; our home.  The goodbyes are said.

Whoever is still here from the baaraat goes with Hemma and myself to our house.  The first part of the journey was by car and then we walked the remainder of the way; it’s not as far as it sounds.

It wasn’t a bad walk for that path had been cleared out for the most part – it was now nothing like the school boy days when I had to ‘hike’ through there;  you remember that, right?!

That evening my wife sleeps in another room with the girls of my family; we are still not together.  The next morning her family comes to take her back to their house.  Yes you guessed it, tradition.

Before they can leave however the in-laws are invited in and served a variety of fresh & hot, delicious and hearty snacks with tea of course.  About an hour later, they have left with my new and still very young wife.

The remaining folk in my home now are those who live here, a few family members and some friends to hang around, help out and enjoy the petite celebrations and with more eating of course!  Now we can go back to our regular diet and have a drink= or two if we wanted.

It’s also time for me to wrap my head around thoughts of my new life.  Hemma is away for a full week.  Last of the ‘tradition’ call and …I am really married.

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*Raja ki aayegi baaraat (the king’s wedding procession will arrive), rangili hogi raat (the night will be colorful-festive), magan main nachoongi ho, magan main nachoongi (transfixed, I will dance),… and as song approaches its end,  the lady is singing that she’ll be dancing alone because of something like, a blow to the heart, rainfall (tears) in her eyes, the night will be dark and so she’ll dance alone.  Pretty darned sad if you ask me.

1953 Credit where it’s due:    LYRICS: Shailendra & Hasrat Jaipuri    MUSIC: Shankar Jaikishan                     ~  If possibly there’s an error with these credits, someone please let me know – thanks much!

**baaraat    Groom’s wedding party

+adopted brother    elder than my blood brother, he was the son of (one of) my father’s best friends.  My mother practically raised him.  This relation was born from a very strong bond forged on the ship which my father traveled from 🇮🇳 on;  you would’ve read about those relationships in the Pilot Episode (archives).

^kichari    traditional dish served day after the wedding.  It is rice and dal (spiced lentils) prepared  together; see?  A symbol of unity.

= a drink    as with the mandatory vegetarian meals, so too alcohol consumption is not allowed.

And there is more thing:     LBM never, ever liked for his food which was served hot, to become cold.  To this day he still very much does not like that, not one bit!  Just imagine him as a restaurant owner?  LOL – think you would be let back in as his guest if you did not dig-in immediately upon being served?

14. Could I Side-Step This Marriage?

So what to do?  Cold and hard to accept fact time; the marriage proposal was on the table and we had to talk about it now.  I pleaded with my brother that I didn’t want to get married yet, it was too soon.

‘I don’t know her well enough!’ was the best petition I could make and because a simple ‘I don’t want to!’  was not cutting it.

It’s not only respect for family doing what your elders deem is right for maintaining the family’s honor but “…it’s been this way for hundreds of years, what do you want to go and change things for now?”  Not forward thinking I felt; tradition takes precedence.

Somehow they just knew that when the SS Lakemba returned from Canada into Suva, I would certainly be on that ship, right off the island I’d go.  Hmm maybe my brother did peek into my bag at some point.

It appeared that all who had a say in this household wanted me to marry Hemma but what about me?  No, no, that didn’t matter, their minds were made up and that was that.  My brother being the head of the household since our father passed, announced to me, “You will marry Hemma and that’s final.”

I am certain the pressing uneasiness also was that my family would be the ones who failed to keep their promise, certainly not honorable, if I didn’t make good on their word of this marriage.  Personally I don’t think that promise should’ve been made in the first place!

Feeling that this pronouncement had to be accepted I just had to distract myself for the time being before entering into this marriage which had to be.  Staying around the house everyday this predicament surely would cause me to blow a circuit or two; I desired no participation in the details if I could help it.

Simply put, this is not how I thought my life should go.

Well, it was a new year and so it was also time to move forward I guess.  I went over to C & A Kalyan, Ladies Tailor shop hoping they’d take me in.  I was accepted and they made it known to me they were happy to have me back; well that was nice!

For those of you who have read post 6Tailoring My Way Off the Island, you’ll remember this is where I worked before heading out to sea.

I knew I’d enjoy what I was doing and it would keep me out of the center of things at home.  I was blessed to work at least 40 hours a week and half a day on Saturdays which was also payday so I definitely showed up!

Well, the month of May just had to come around didn’t it?  The preparations were being made at my house and believe me there’s beyond a lot to be done for these Hindu weddings.  There’s construction of the celebration accommodations such as tents for sitting and eating areas, etc., to spices and menus being prepared, clothing and jewelry bought and well you get the idea and everyone goes the way of the vegetarian for the preceding week.

The town electrician came to string up the lights and generally the neighbors all jumped in to help; it’s really a big to-do!  We also fed everyone, everyday!   And I’ve only told you about the goings-on at the groom’s household.

The festivities always begin a week ahead of the marriage day and can continue for up to a week afterwards.  It’s really quite a sight …and much work, but normally everything is good and everyone involved is very happy.

Noori had been in and out of my house all this time, helping everyone she possibly could with their work, also known as my wedding preparations.  We had a private moment when she told me that she would always be there for me.

Her heart was breaking yet in spite of that she told me she understood why I was going in this direction and even I should go forward with her blessing.  Noori said she thought me even more respectable that I was honoring my family’s wishes; that she declared was worth so much more in her eyes.

All over the place there’s lights galore, dancing, laughter, eating and singing everyday.  And talk about a rainbow of deep rich colours, colours everywhere!

Sooner or later I knew they’d catch me!  I was now off duty from work for a week or so and the preparations on me began.  All week long I wore only white clothing.

Every evening I sat outside on a chair in the place which was prepared for daily prayer.  Before every ceremonial duty to be performed which was wedding related, a prayer is conducted.  This is how we do it.  That’s why I sat there.

Anyhow focus.  All the females of the family and some female family friends would paste me up with Haldi.  So as the week progressed I became a golden child!

In our Indian tradition it is favorable to do this because, for the couple about to begin their new life together, it gives a spiritual cleansing as well as representation of prosperity.  And there’s another reason why Haldi is used in this instance and that is to rid the new couple of Buri Nazar.

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Haldi  made from golden turmeric, water, sometimes rose water and sandalwood powder & it looks like our Little Blue Masala has turned gold!

Buri Nazar  the Sanskrit term for evil eye.

13. Meet Gary

I am now about 3 weeks into my unexpected shore leave and doing my best to adjust.  It was the not knowing …isn’t that the way of things?  Has Sonia received my letter and did the guys find the time to return to the club; did they all meet up? did she ask about me?  what did they say to her and how did she react?  Oh it was all I could do to distract myself from these haunting thoughts.

One of my family member’s was having a birthday and there was to be a party in our home that evening.  It wasn’t uncommon for the rest of us to invite someone we wanted to share our celebrations with.  My little sister invited one of her favorite classmates over for the evening’s affair.  Her name was **Noori and at this time, she was seventeen.

Noori’s gift to give was a delightful Indian birthday song and wow, what music came out of her!  Without any instrumental accompaniment to her clear, beautiful voice, every word rang like crystal.  I felt as though a professional singer, an excellent one at that, had graced us and I could see that everyone else was as taken as I was.

Afterwards I complimented her as others did too of course, and I asked her where she learned to sing so wonderfully.  Noori laughed and answered, “I’m a bathroom singer.  And when it’s really cold, I just sing my heart out!”

‘You know I’m a pretty good singer too.’  I told her.  I explained briefly that I sang nearly every night to my family.  As I lay in bed after we all said good night, I began to sing with all my heart.  And with my softer songs, most of them would often fall asleep.

I loved to sing, I had a good voice and I knew all the latest songs.  In the morning I was always told how much they loved listening to me sing!  Quite often I was given their requests too.  I found singing to be a good release; oh it was all great fun!  I had come a long way from ‘baa baa white sheep, have you anything for me to eat?’

Anyhow that birthday evening was really a good time for all.  It was dark and late by the time the partying had come to a close and so my brother walked Noori home.  It didn’t take me long to realize how happy I was that she had come.

Well she must’ve really enjoyed herself as well for she was back at our house the next weekend.  Noori helped my sister-in-law prepare lunch for the family.  As I was going about whatever business I had around the house I took notice that she appeared to be looking out for me, perhaps taking note of what I was doing; curious I suppose.

You see I kept looking her way too all the while trying to do it inconspicuously if that was even possible in this not-so-very-big house.  Well this was kind of fun and as the days and weeks went by I sensed her fondness of the family as well as their growing tenderness towards her.  Okay.  I took pleasure in her presence too; what can I say?  She was a delight!

I guess the time had to come when one of her younger brothers would feel obliged to make his presence known.  And what better opportunity than that being every time I walked past their home -which actually was unavoidable when one has to get to town from my spot on the island- an invitation for aggressive behavior I suppose.

Their home was a big house up on the hill, perfect with large picture windows and so they could see all the comings and goings on the main road below.  This included me walking down the street minding my own business.

But I also came to discover that if Noori was at home and she figured it was about the time I might be present, she’d look out the window for me.  This had to be the fuel for his challenge: as I knew it, their family was strict Muslim and mine of course was Hindu.  A no-go and a reason for a hot-headed adolescent male to assert his brotherly duty.

He’d yell at me from his window up there, “Leave my sister alone or I’ll come down there and beat you up!”  One day I guess he had had enough of just hollering out the window so he hid behind a tree on the main road, waited for me and as I approached he jumped out in front of me.

We exchanged a few punches, almost comical.  Then one of the older brothers who must’ve passed by one of the big open windows of the house noticed the scrimmage below and yelled out to his brother to get back home immediately!  He ran off right away.

After that day our paths crossed a few more times again and of course he tried to intimidate me and I always told him the same thing; his sister comes to my home not to see me but because she is good friends with my little sister.

For whatever is written in the stars, Noori continued to frequent my house.  It was like a second home to her I think.  I say this due to her actions; she’d go around the house helping everyone in any way she could.  Naturally this bonded her with us – her constant presence and her conduct to be counted among her beautiful qualities.

A funny thing was that she began to call me Gary.  So I had to ask, ‘Why are you calling me Gary?’  She replied, “I like that name very much.”  Noori further explained that she had read a book and the character which left a favorable impression in her mind was named Gary and so she wanted to call me Gary.

She added, “A little secret between the two of us and no one will know I am referring to you!”  I think she likes me.

Time waits for no one and now it is 1954.  Remember Hemma?  Well her family is feeling the need of pressuring my family to commit me into marriage with their daughter; this based on a previous discussion that had already taken place while I was gallivanting around the Pacific Ocean.  And they even said they thought it should happen by May of that year.

How about that for life-altering measures?  Here I go again; I was just getting into a comfortable place with Noori, what an annoying problem!

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**Noori is of course a fictitious name once again, yet for a very real person in this account of the Little Blue Masala’s life.  I’ll insert here that all the names (save for Gary, that is accurate) are fictitious but all the characters themselves are true to life.