This photograph was taken at our wedding, on 27th December 2009. Rithesh and I have been together for eight years now, so when we flew down to India for our wedding ceremony, we considered it a four daylong party with our dearest friends and family that had come down to celebrate the weekend with us.
Also, Rithesh and I had a little secret that only a handful of folks (none in our family) knew at that time. We had secretly eloped a year and a half earlier. We googled for someone that would administer our marriage and drove thirteen miles north of Philly (where we lived before moving to New York) to the home of a state-officiated officer. We were amused by our Catholic ceremony and giggled at the oaths our officer was making us repeat. He surprised that we'd shown up in jeans and without any friends. He wore a suit and asked us if we'd like to be married in his garden. We giggled some more.
The reason why we eloped isn't sexy. Our parents weren't against our love, but time was. Rithesh's visa was about to expire and he was going to be kicked out of the country if I didn't marry him. We were both a bit confused and unsure how to feel after signing the papers. It felt no different. We drove straight to a movie theater and watched a new Bollywood movie which turned out to be quite unmemorable.
A year and a half later, when our actual Hindu-ceremony date arrived closer, I assumed since I was already married, I wouldn't feel any different.
But something happened. We were sitting in the mandap (a Hindi word for sort of a gazebo or an alter where folks get married) surrounded by our closest friends and family. Our priest was helping us perform the rituals and ceremonies and because they were in Sanskrit, he explained them to us in plain language as he performed them. The air smelled thick of incense, perfume, marigold, sweat and love. As the rituals got more intense, our friends and family formed a circle around us, leaning in to watch us and to listen to the priest.
At one moment, I looked away from the priest and around me. At all the smiling faces. I remember feeling a rush of happiness so pure and divine that sometimes, if I close my eyes, I can still taste it. I felt everyone's blessings touch Rithesh and I and with every ritual we performed, I could feel something changing inside of me and our bond growing stronger. I tasted, saw and was touched by love that day. Like light, pouring for me and my husband from everyone in that room. I looked at my husband and it hit me. That we were no longer boyfriend and girlfriend, sneaking around, giggling and getting married in someone else's garden. We were, husband and wife. We were, us.
I understood then why people choose to get married in front of people they love and people they are loved by. It makes it real. It makes me want to work on it a hundred times harder. And when the clouds get dark, which they sometimes do, all the love that people gave me on the day of my wedding becomes the warm blanket that weathers me through the storm.