Gods and Lovers

During their massive, five-day Indian wedding, a local couple was worshipped

"People will say, 'I remember seeing that' at so and so's wedding. But no one wants to do exactly the same thing," says Sarika. "The trend just becomes to do something bigger."

People tend to view the wedding as a chance to showcase their wealth and their children's professional accomplishments. After struggling as immigrants, they're finally settled and established, says Ayesha Hakki, publisher and editor of Bibi Magazine. "This is usually the biggest joyous celebration they've had. So, this is the first time they've let the community know: Look, we've arrived."

International relatives endure the arduous visa application process and long flights to come. In India, weddings are equally lavish, if not more unrestrained than ceremonies here. "Everyone that goes to India nowadays that goes to a wedding will be like, 'Oh my god, they had it at this huge farmhouse and they flew in chefs from all over the world,'" says Sarika. So, again, the families didn't want to disappoint.

This specially trained horse has probably attended more South Asian weddings than the guests.
Daniel Kramer
This specially trained horse has probably attended more South Asian weddings than the guests.
Rashmi welcomes Atul to the wedding under the traditional gate.
Daniel Kramer
Rashmi welcomes Atul to the wedding under the traditional gate.

Like college or purchasing a house, the wedding is something Sarika's parents, Rashmi and Sunil, saved for over the years. At roughly $85,000 to $100,000, the event did come with a hefty price tag, Rashmi admits. But all their friends do that. Having an intimate affair isn't an option.

Still, it seems appropriate to ask: Why not spend $50,000 and give $25,000 to the millions in poverty in India? Was that ever in the back of their minds?

"No -- I don't know -- maybe we should have thought that way," says Rashmi, but she and her husband do some charity "here and there," and she believes Sarika will be very generous once she has the resources.

"You do feel, 'Oh, it's really so much.' You do feel that way. But, yeah, in the back of our minds we (believed) that it would cost that much. But, she's our only daughter."

The morning of the wedding, Sarika applies her bridal bindis, her toe rings, her anklets and her makeup while she's still in her striped pajama bottoms. She's feeling remarkably calm.

"Did you take a sedative?" her cousin seriously asks at one point.

Right now, Sarika is sitting in Room 416 at the Marriott. Upstairs in 533, Atul and 20 to 30 of his family members are preparing for the baraat, the groom's family procession toward the bride's family. Around 10 a.m., the Maheshwari clan heads down to the lobby singing songs, and exits out to the Sugar Land Town Square, across the street. On the corner, a white mare with ornate red dressings for the groom is held by Paul Wahus, co-owner of Mission Bend Stables in Houston.

The horse must be trained to participate in a baraat, since there is a loud beat from the dhol drummer and people dance around, says Paul's wife, Sheila. Throughout the baraat, the groom sits atop the horse, which strolls forward and stops according to the group's movements.

Despite the perils of this procession, things go smoothly. "Most people have some sort of horror story like 'the horse ran away' or 'my uncle got kicked,'" Sheila says.

Around 11:15, the groom's party makes its way to the side entrance of the hotel. They walk toward a traditional gate, where Rashmi is waiting to greet them. Sarika will hear later that her father cried as Atul's family approached.

"He was in the corner bawling," she says. "A bunch of the uncles had to go up to him and be like, 'It's okay,' and then, typical of my dad, he started getting angry with them."

The wedding itself is long and boring -- which is normal. The family expects guests to chat quietly throughout the entire affair. Some people bring in trays of almond shakes. Groups of attendees stand along the periphery of chairs and wander in and out of the ballroom. The culmination of the ceremony seems to be the mangalphere, when the bride and groom walk around a small fire seven times.

At the reception, even some of Sarika's non-Indian friends are wearing bright saris. After some initial inflation, the guest list has shrunk back down to the original estimate: 600.

Once the doors open and everyone settles in the ballroom, Atul and Sarika's parents and siblings enter and promenade across the room. They come in smiling and waving, as if they're in a parade.

Sarika and Atul make their dramatic stroll through the ballroom doors. They're seated in front of the dance floor so they can see the performances. As a surprise for the guests, Sarika jumps up and joins her friends' routine. She had tried to get Atul to do a dance with her, but he declined, saying that he didn't want to deal with the stress.

In between the Bollywood-inspired dances and toasts, there are video clips of loved ones talking about Sarika and Atul's future. Who will wear the pants in the relationship? The respondents are pretty much split, though one says, "Atul will wear the pants, but Sarika will tell him which ones to wear." Advice for the newlyweds? "Do not spend too much money," Sarika's father says. What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of Atul? Funny, kind, goofy, genius and quirky. What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of Sarika? Sweet, compassionate, pretty, big heart, princess, awesome, beautiful inside and out.

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