My friend Deepa got married on the 12th of December and sadly I couldn’t be there for the event. I would very much have enjoyed witnessing an Indian wedding. Luckily, though, I was able to attend one of her pre-wedding events, known as the Haldi. (I had to miss the other pre-wedding event, the Mehendi, at which the bride’s henna is applied to her hands and feet). The Haldi was a women-only evening which took place in my friend’s home and revolved around the application of a sort of body scrub, believed to make the bride extra beautiful for her wedding. Amidst much singing, laughing, dancing, and ribald jokes, the women attending take turns smearing the bride-to-be in a thick, yellow paste made of turmeric powder, jasmine oil, and milk. It is gooey and smells a little funny and it literally goes all over her body. At least, as much as we could reach within the bounds of Indian propriety.
There is a protocol to this application, as well. First the family members went up and rubbed several handfuls on. Then the married women. Then the “spinsters” (anyone unmarried—I wasn’t quite sure what to make of being called a “spinster!”). And in return, Deepa would smear a stripe of the goop on our faces as well. A kindly Indian lady suggested to my friend and I (the only white faces present) that we might want to wipe it off quickly as it can stain the skin.
Coloration of the skin is exactly what they want to happen to the bride. The paste leaves a slightly yellowish tinge to the skin which, when covered by foundation makeup at the wedding, is supposed to make the bride’s skin glow. It is also thought to render her skin temporarily lighter which is considered a great sign of beauty. Fairness is highly prized in India.
When we had run out of paste, the young women spilled out into the yard which had been transformed for the reception. A huge tent had been erected and was lavishly decorated inside with tapestries and rugs and a bunch of chairs. We cranked up the Indian Bangra music and danced together. Or at least, the Indian women danced. I mainly stood there, awestruck by how good they were and horribly aware of how good I am NOT. Indian dancing, like Latin dancing, requires one to move one’s hips in ways that this white girl simply cannot comprehend. Eventually we got cold and slipped away, happy to have participated in the fun.