The Henna Wars(7)

We talked about this wedding for ages. The whole summer, really. It’s the first wedding we’ve attended where we actually play a role—but that wasn’t the part we were excited about. We were far more excited about what the cuisine at a Bengali wedding set in Ireland could be like.

“They won’t have the typical Bengali wedding dishes, right?” Priti had asked one summer day—a day where the sun had decided to grace us with its presence and we were both lounging in our backyard, me with a book in hand and Priti with one earbud in her ear and one dangling down her neck.

“What? You don’t like korma and polau?” I asked.

She frowned. “They’re just a bit boring, aren’t they?”

I rolled my eyes. Priti never complained about them being too boring when we were in the midst of wedding season in Bangladesh.

Still, one thing was clear from the get-go—for us, this wedding is all about the food.

I can barely contain my excitement when the waiter brings around the main course: Platters full of biryani that smell like heaven on a plate. Priti gives me a look that says don’t grab the biryani dish before the rest of the table have taken some, presumably because the Auntie opposite us is eyeing the biryani with even more fervor than me. I think this is a little unfair. The Auntie is an adult and can have as much biryani as she wants any old day. I can only have it when Ammu deems it enough of an occasion to cook us some.

Priti and I patiently wait, watching the waiter bring out more and more dishes—a bowl of steaming lamb curry, plates of naan, a small bowl of mung daal, and a plate of chicken tikka. While the Auntie spoons biryani onto her plate I grab the naan, tossing one to Priti and another onto my plate.

“Am I supposed to eat this with a fork and knife too?” I grumble under my breath, tearing at the bread with my fingers and following it with a forkful of lamb curry. It’s the most unsatisfactory way of eating I’ve ever been subjected to. It’s cruel, really, to have a Bengali wedding full of Bengalis but expect them to eat in a totally non-Bengali way. I’m almost missing the weddings in Bangladesh; at least there we were free to eat with our fingers, even if it was unbearably hot and the food was almost always korma and polau.

After our plates are hoisted away, all the guests begin to rise. The bride and groom have obviously finished their dinner and are sitting up on the stage at the front of the hall. They sit on a settee lined with gold and silver that looks more like a throne than commonplace furniture. Sunny Apu looks a little bit like a princess sitting on it in her red and gold dress, her urna draped over her head almost casually. I know from experience that it has probably been pinned into place by a stylist to maintain that casual look.

What really makes her look like a Rajkumari, though, is the jewelry she’s draped with. There are heavy gold bangles clinking on each of her hennaed wrists and a gold chain hanging from her neck, settled gently over her dress, but the bit I love most is the golden chain that clasps around her nose and stretches all the way to her ears. It seems heavy, but somehow it works on Sunny Apu. She pulls it off almost effortlessly.

I touch my own nose ring self-consciously as I look at hers. After putting on my salwar kameez earlier today I swapped out my usual stud for a golden hoop. I wonder if I can pull off a chain like Sunny Apu. I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance to. You only really wear them at your wedding, after all. And with the way things are going …

“Will you come with me to take a photo with them?” Priti asks, cutting off my train of thought. She’s already whipping her phone out of her beaded white clutch, so I know I don’t have much of a choice. But right now I’m so grateful that she’s here, that she’s my sister, that I don’t care.

“Sure.” I give the Auntie at our table a smile that I hope conveys apology, condescension, and mischief all in one, and the two of us slip away from the tables and into the throng of people waiting to take a photo with the bride and groom.

“She looks so happy now,” I say.

“Well, duh,” says Priti, even though it’s not very “duh” at all. She thrusts her phone out, nearly punching a guy in a khaki sherwani standing in front of her. He ducks out of her way, shooting us a glare while I try to give him an apologetic smile. Priti is too busy checking that she has nothing in her teeth to even notice.

“I gotta run to the bathroom to fix this.” She waves her hand over her face.

“It looks okay,” I say. I want to add “your face,” but that might be too complimentary. And “your makeup” might make her scoff, because she probably means something specific. So I settle for adding nothing.

“Thanks, now I feel confident. Do you want to come?”

“To the bathroom?”

“No, the moon. I hear there’s a really big mirror there—perfect for fixing up your makeup and taking selfies, didn’t you know?”

“Okay, there’s no need to get sarcastic.” I punch her on the shoulder.

“I’m going, I’ll be right back. Don’t go up on stage without me, okay?” She turns around and whips me in the face with her urna.

“Okay,” I mumble, but Priti has already disappeared into the crowd. I turn back to face the stage. The Irish girls from the back room are up there now, their faces arranged into wide grins as the professional photographer clicks away. One of them rushes off the stage, nearly tripping, and hands the photographer her iPhone, mumbling something. The photographer frowns but begins to click away with the iPhone. I wonder if photographers feel a little insulted when people ask them to do that.

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