20. Aftermath of a Life Unrealised

Silently returning from the cemetery and in the ways of our tradition, I stopped at the front of our home to *cleanse.  Then I went indoors and I bathed before I could settle myself to rest.  My mother, my wife, my sisters and the other family women were already in the house preparing for our evening.

We are sitting in the living room – just looking at one another or blankly into some space on the wall or the floor, it didn’t matter.  And the tea that was served didn’t taste the same.  There was nothing much to say and I for one couldn’t.

In the early evening the pundit came to perform the puja.  We all prayed together for our baby, our son, my angel, asking God to keep him safe and close to Him.

The next day Hemma’s father came to my house and declared he had come to take his daughter home with him; that they would take care of her there.  I asked my wife if this is what she wanted and she said, “Yes.”

She then asked me to go with her.  I couldn’t, I could not even imagine going over there with them.  I did want my wife, I needed her to stay here with me.  This was our home.  She left that same day.  

I was sure we needed each other to try and bring a sense of comfort in this shared broken-hearted pain, to mourn together but no, it seemed she needed to go back to her father and mother, to their home.  I didn’t know if there was a right or wrong in this event; I tried to understand but it was really all too much.

Weeks passed, I was feeling heavy-hearted and I thought many times how my wife must be getting on.  Although I had all the blessed love and support of my dear family, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being all alone.  I couldn’t bring myself to go anywhere, much less out of my room, not even to work.  

One weekend it happened that Noori came down to the house to see how the family was getting on.  I know she had clues from her best friend, my little sister.  I suppose Noori thought she ought to wait a while before coming over.  I know she wanted to see for herself how Gary was doing.  Perhaps she also thought Hemma may return …

She went straight into the kitchen and prepared tea for the family.  Then she brought a cup into my room for me.  No one seemed to mind that we stayed in the room for long hours, just talking.  My mother knew this was more helpful at this point than anything else.  

Noori reminded me of her promise; that she’d be around for me in case of emergency, and if ever I needed a different ear that would listen.  She said, “I am here to share your grief, your pain and I’ll come as often as I can so you can always use my shoulder to cry on.”

This girl helped me so much just by being there for me.  I was able to breathe again as I had someone to talk with, like a best friend who provided for me a way to express my feelings without reserve, about my child and how I was feeling with regard to the rest of my world.

We were getting closer and I was comfortable now with my support network.  Everything happened so fast!

One day Hemma sent her two courier pigeons my way with a note.  The message basically was an ultimatum which stated that if I wanted her back in my life, I would have to move into her family’s house.  

Otherwise she’d never come back to me.  Why oh why did I have a feeling this wasn’t my wife’s voice in these words?  What a sticky situation and what a demand!

Unimaginable!  No, no and still, no!

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*cleanse    – it is in our tradition when immediate family and the close relatives return from a funeral to the home we must first approach the basin of water which has been set-up next to a smoldering fire outside the house.  A mango leaf is in it.  

We take the leaf, dipping into the blessed water, sprinkling it upon ourselves 3 times and then turn to the smoke of the fire, bringing the smoke towards ourselves in a blessing sort of way; like it’s preventing any unwelcome whatever from the funeral location.  Then bathing and fresh clothes follow.

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?