So, we went to India. And when last we left our intrepid little band, we were preparing to board a train from Delhi to Kolkata. We took the Rajdhani Express, which takes at least 17 hours to reach Howrah from Delhi if it’s on time (Howrah is Kolkata’s “twin” city on the other side of the Ganges). That meant another new experience for the kids – a sleeper train! They all slept, nobody fell out of their bunks (not that I was worried about that), and we were only about an hour and a half late getting into Howrah, so we called that a huge success!
Robin’s Chotokaka (his dad’s youngest brother – Bengali family titles denote not just “uncle” or “aunt,” but whether they are mother’s side or father’s, and their place in the family birth order) and his cousin Shruti (the sister of the bride; they are the daughters of Robin’s Notunkaka) picked us up at the train station. Any worries I had about seeing them again after 12 years, or about the kids meeting them for the first time were erased immediately. We were with family.
Since we were there for a wedding, though, everyone was busy. That is my one regret about this trip. I wish we could have taken more time to spend with the family when they weren’t consumed with wedding duties. I don’t know how we could have made that happen without giving up any of our other amazing experiences, but I wish it could have been so.
I also wish I could explain to you the intricacies of all the different ceremonies for a wedding, but I only understood parts myself, so I will have to let Wikipedia do that. For me, the most meaningful ceremony on the wedding day was when my father-in-law, as the eldest male in the bride’s family, prayed for the bride’s ancestors and asked their blessings on the couple. All the children present were blessed alongside the bride, and it was beautiful and moving to watch.
To be fair, however, I missed large parts of the actual bride-and-groom-joined-together ceremony that evening because I was busy having my first and hopefully only panic attack. Three things trigger discomfort and fear for me more than anything else: not knowing what is expected of me, crowds, and not knowing where my kids are, and that day managed to hit all three.
There was confusion about where we were supposed to be and when, and then about what we were supposed to wear, and then when the kids ought to have been resting they were all wound up instead and could not be calmed down. (We never did really adjust to the typical Bengali schedule of an afternoon rest and a very late night, let alone the late-late nights that went with all the wedding activities.)
Then there was confusion about what I was supposed to do. See, Robin’s uncles’ kids are younger than Robin and me, and first cousins in India are considered cousin-brothers (or cousin-sisters). That makes Robin the oldest brother, and me the “Boudi,” or elder sister-in-law. And therefore it should have been my job to welcome the groom’s family to the wedding when they arrived, but I didn’t know that, so I wasn’t prepared. And then, when it was explained to me that I should give a flower to each arriving member of the groom’s family, I didn’t know who, exactly, was on the groom’s side and who on the bride’s, and basically I just had no idea what I was doing.
Now, I could’ve gotten over that, maybe, especially since everybody’s attention was focused on the bride and groom as they began the (somewhat tedious) process of signing all the paperwork the Indian/West Bengal government requires before a couple can legally be married. Riya, Karina, and I staked out a good place to sit so we could see the actual ceremony, which was due to start after the paperwork was finished. Which, of course, is exactly when both girls realized that they were too exhausted to possibly continue for another minute, and needed a place to rest RIGHT NOW.
Embarrassed and pretty tired myself, I was relieved when my father-in-law told us we could use a guest room in the wedding house to let the girls crash. He was even kind enough to offer to stay with them so that I could go enjoy the ceremony. So, again, I might have recovered, but for the final blow…
I walked out of the guest room, ran smack into one of the cousins who had been hanging out with Ben all evening, and he said, “Boudi, where is Ben?”* I glanced down the stairs into the sea of people gathering to watch the wedding, and I glanced up the stairs toward the sea of people being seated for the first wave of dinner service.
And I lost it. Completely, totally lost it.
For no reason, as it turns out, because Ben was right upstairs, looking for us so that he could get some dinner, but it was too late. Tears streaked down my cheeks, I couldn’t draw a full breath, and no matter how I tried I couldn’t control either.
I escaped back into the room where the girls were sleeping, sobbed out a couple incomprensible words to my father-in-law, and promptly sank my head between my knees. If you’ve never had the opportunity to try that trick for yourself, I am happy to report that it does work! Unfortunately, at some point you have to sit back up and face the fact that you have humiliated yourself in front of your husband’s entire family and then some.
Well, that is what I was afraid would happen. In actuality, Robin’s lovely father graciously told me not to feel embarrassed, that he knew a trip like this was a lot to take on. He said he was proud of both Robin and me for managing so well, especially with the kids being as young as they are. Then he helped us all get home, since it was pretty clear that Ben was also exhausted and I was in no shape to stay.
I have rarely been as grateful to another human being as I was to him that night. I am crying again as I write this; it meant so much to me.
I meant to continue this post through the next and final days of our trip, which were much more enjoyable, but it has taken me so long to write this, I guess that will have to be Part 4. (Look at me, I’m as long-winded as the Lethal Weapon series! I am also too old for this sh*t!) To make it up to you, and entice you back, I promise that post will include pictures.
*Fun fact: I stopped writing for a little bit and checked my phone for something, and my most recent text from Robin, from last night at church, says, “Found Ben!” We may have issues.
[Edited to add: absolutely, under no circumstances, no way, no how, do I blame Robin’s family for any of my breakdown. Everybody was kind and gracious through our whole trip. People ran to get us spoons because we weren’t good at eating with our fingers. People gave up their rooms for us. People arranged for aloo bhaja (fried potatoes) to come to our table first because they knew how much the kids liked them. I’d be a complete heel if I were anything but totally grateful. The Incident was just a perfect storm of my own Crazy.]