Sasmita and I are traveling to Odisha, her birth state, in Eastern India, from late May to mid-June 2014.
The reason: to be married in a Catholic Mass about 30 minutes away from the village Alligonda where she grew up.
None of her family attended our August 2012 wedding in New Jersey. The plan has always been to return for an Indian village ceremony in the future and meet her family.
The future is this summer. My parents generously provided our airfare expenses and recently decided to join the momentous occasion, so we will be traveling in India together.
The four of us are excited beyond words.
For those that are unfamiliar with our story, Sasmita immigrated to the USA on a K-1 Fiancée Visa in July of 2012. Though we met when I was in India in 2011, while I was interning with a Delhi NGO, I never met her parents, Polina and Valentine. I asked her Dad’s permission to marry her via Skype.
I will be meeting my in-laws, her brother and sisters, their families, and extended family for the first time. I have a whole other family in India, and we are all essentially strangers, but I married their daughter.
The weather this time of year is not optimal for an Indian visit. In fact, it is just about the worst. India will be at the peak of summer, with temperatures hovering around 110 in the shade. Then, by early June, the monsoon rains will begin, bringing further logistics issues.
However, this is the only time that my parents and I can meet her entire family. During the cooler months, the young children of her sisters are in school and unable to travel to Odisha for a wedding.
Although her parents, select other family and of course, everyone in our U.S. lives knows we are married, the majority of her village and community in India does not. This is significant, because they never vetted me, nor gave me their permission to marry Sasmita.
Most marriages are arranged in her village. Though we have a ‘love’ marriage, a wedding is not solely a decision for two people in love, it is a community wide event requiring their consent. Being married without the entire village’s blessing is rare and those who do so face village ostracism.
Only after the wedding ceremony can we go to Alligonda together, as by then we’ll be ‘officially’ married by her village priest. Our second wedding will be June 4, in a remote Indian village, nearly three hours from the nearest airport. If we came to Alligonda together before our wedding, it would be scandalous.
We will be staying at the Nayak’s house, named ‘Nivas Chandrapali.’ Chandra is her grandmother’s name on her father’s side and pali, is her mother’s nickname given by her family.
According to tradition, as the groom I will purchase wedding outfits for all her immediate family, and her sister’s families along with assorted aunts and uncles.
To accomplish this, we are visiting Delhi for a week, connecting with friends, and shopping a lot. While there, we need to buy our own wedding outfits as well: the bridal saree for Sasmita and a sherwani for me.
In return for the clothes I purchase for her family, the Nayaks will gift me a suit (Western business style) and I will receive another wedding band when we marry.
Sasmita will receive gold jewelry her parents have been waiting to give her on her wedding day. The Nayaks anticipate this will be the last family wedding , so our marriage is very important.
It has been quite a crash-course in Indian wedding etiquette for me so far. For example, the bride and groom have hardly anything to do, but buy the gifts for the family and show up. We have not been, nor will we be actively involved in any of the planning.
Her brother in-laws and her father are taking care of all logistics.
Because the village never approved me to marry Sasmita, nor do they know we are already married, I penned a letter to her village priest saying that I was eligible to marry her and agreed to do so. My parents also wrote a letter to the priest saying they agreed to an inter-denominational marriage (she’s Catholic, I’m Protestant) and our pastor (Anglican) here in DC wrote a note giving his blessing for our marriage.
After the wedding, we will spend five or six days visiting her parents’ house. Day to-day village life will bring its own specific challenges. Because Alligonda is quite remote, electricity will be intermittent. This also means there will not be air conditioning. The house also lacks Western toilets and running water, along with many other luxuries familiar to me.
Alligonda village will be my first extended experience with Indian rural life. Our trip will allow me to glimpse Sasmita’s world before we met and seeing her roots and family together will be special.
Though excited for this journey, I am more than a little nervous to visit her family and village. Thankfully, my anxiety will be tempered by eating Odisha food..
Lastly, only Sasmita, her father and one sister speak English well enough to converse. I do not speak any Oriya. Therefore, I anticipate smiling and trying to communicate with my hands a lot.
Stay tuned to read more about our adventure of a lifetime, by following this blog. We’ll hopefully post pictures from India when we have reliable Web access as the trip unfolds.