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October 26, 2007

I Married a Total Stranger

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The wedding was preceded by six days of partying, each one centering on a small religious ceremony, plus a social gathering featuring fireworks, feasting, music, and Bollywood-style dancing. Each day required a different outfit, jewelry, hairdo, and makeup. Rather than the bachelorette parties I'd later learn about in the States — where someone might end up with a "Chuck Forever" tattoo — at home in Mumbai, my girlfriends and I partook in a henna hand-painting ritual to beautify me for my future husband.

After the henna ceremony, two of my cousins took me aside and gave me the CliffsNotes on the birds and bees. Combine an Indian upbringing with a Catholic-school education, and my knowledge of sex was limited to "It is a sin." Despite blushing profusely and begging them to stop, I completed the crash course, and we all laughed.

On the wedding day, my groom, dressed in a brocade coat, arrived in a flower-decked Mercedes — a modern-day maharaja. Together, we circled the holy fire seven times (a tradition called Saat Pheras); then, under a canopy of frangipanis and orchids, we were wedded for seven lifetimes. The Pheras are the most important part of the wedding ceremony. In Hinduism, the fire is considered the sustainer of life, and it is only after the Saat Pheras are completed that a couple is declared man and wife. Each Phera is taken to invoke the blessings of specific gods and goddesses, who then grant the seven blessings: financial stability, health, faith, trust and love, progeny, togetherness, and loyalty and unity forever.

On my wedding night, a sense of calm finally washed over me, as I made my leap from bride to wife (armed with the Kama Sutra, which my cousins had downloaded onto my PDA as a gift).


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