Or, "The Other Side of the Great Indian Wedding."
It's December 7, 2006. Our anniversary will be the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which somehow seems quirky and fitting. We're certainly not an ordinary couple.
We arrive at the district commissioner's office a month after we've filed all our police reports, affidavits of support, and administrative detritus, to be sworn husband and wife and receive our official marriage certificate. Which sounds quite routine and simple, except with us, nothing ever goes as planned.
Our spirits are buoyed when the first bureaucratic lackey enters us into the day's register; our pictures are pasted next to a description of ourselves and our dwelling, and S strokes his moustache in anticipation. The man, whom you will recognize in this photo wearing a strikingly bad toupee, assures us that the magistrate, who will consecrate our unholy love, will be there in an hour, tops.
Two hours later, we're still waiting. Our witnesses, which include S's father, two of our former colleagues from the Delhi newspaper, and a woman who is nearly six months pregnant, are getting antsy; one is dispatched to buy Magic Masala Lay's and quaint little guava juice boxes, the kind you placate kindergarteners with. I need a nap and feel like crying, but the show must go on.
We order a round of chai from a small lean-to behind the office; its tin roof supports a raft of rhododendrons, a vibrant magenta cloud of flowers. S's father instructs the chaiwallah on the proper preparation of tea; the man gently minces a hunk of ginger with a fragment of brick, and we relax on a planter, hoping for some news. The Intrepid and Important Indian Photojournalists begin calling their contacts, haranguing them to discover the whereabouts of our magistrate.
The hours pass, and we attempt to amuse ourselves by taking pictures next to two abandoned, torched cars lingering in the commissioner's compound. An old couch, it's back separated from the seat, springs and a wooden frame exposed, languishes near a gate. The bridal party of another couple orders Domino's pizza; I fret and try to find a quiet place, a place apart from the hum and buzz of anticipation. Next to the marriage registration office is a newly opened disaster management cell. There are signs warning us about touts, explaining that marriage registration is a simple procedure. This is our fifth visit to the office, and the current ordeal has lasted four hours; no official is in sight. It's not as complicated as, say, brain surgery, but it's no walk in the park.
Finally, five hours after we were told he would reach the office, the Hateful Administrator shows his face. S and I are ushered into his office, but the man continues to ignore us, jabbering into his phone on what we are supposed to assume is official business.
After terminating the call and hastily ordering his peons around, the Hateful Administrator begins to examine our file. Papers are pushed in front of us, and five copies are duly signed. Amid our hubbub, the man pauses, clears his throat, and produces exhibit A: an undertaking stating our names, parentage, birthplaces, previous marital status, and religions. I've never been a believer, never had a religion, and yet I didn't want to call myself atheist or agnostic, so I just left that spot blank. The papers were signed off by the Hateful Administrator's underlings, despite this omission, so we assumed it was all smooth sailing.
Not so. The Hateful Administrator brandished the paper and began, "Religion is everywhere. What is this? How can one not have religion?"
I shrunk into my seat. My voice was very small. "I've just...I've never had a religion."
"Surely you were born Christian. We'll just write born Christian."
"But I wasn't born Christian; we've never been anything..."
"But a paper can't just have a blank space."
I'm panicking; our wedding party is glaring at the man; tension is rising. S plucks the paper from his hand and says, "Fine. Is it alright if I just pen in 'agnostic'?"
I'm not entirely happy with the solution, but it's better than being put through the wringer for another 20 minutes. The ceremony continues, and we read out our lines, perfect actors: yes, I take this man/woman to be my lawful husband/wife. My hand is on S's knee, I'm blushing, and we're both waiting for our Hateful friend to add his final stamp, read his final rites.
"What, no garlands? Not even exchanging rings? What kind of a wedding is this?"
Well, sir, we're not asking you to pass judgment on our decisions, we're just asking you to wed us. I shoot S a sideways glance, my eyes dancing between outrage and joy. A few more tense moments pass, and the man begins reading from our marriage certificate.
"I hereby pronounce you, SIS, son of JJ Singh, and TF, daughter of Mrs. Melinda...Daughter of Mrs.?"
The Hateful Administrator realizes he has taken his dickery a step too far; a law was recently (the last year or so) enacted which gave women the right to be listed on documents, but I suppose it's still not common for matriarchs to be cited in this fashion.
"I, uh, now pronounce you husband and wife."
He doesn't add, "Now get out of my sight." But we do anyway; we burst out into the sunny December afternoon all smiles. More goofy picture taking ensues, then we bump off to greener pastures for a late lunch; it's far from romantic, from a billowing white gown and hundreds of chic guests daintily tucking into crudites, but for our relationship, it's oddly fitting. Here's to a new era.