Tag Archives: Indian culture

Milan (A Wedding Story) Chap 10: Closer

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Mili was uptight. In fact, that had become quite the usual for her nowadays. Anxiety, confusion, sheer nervousness when she was in Ahaan’s company; agitation, restlessness, a maddening confusion when she was not—for sure she was becoming irreversibly unhinged, she had no doubt about it.

She contemplated herself in the mirror; having lost count on how many times she had changed her outfit tonight. Nothing seemed to fit the bill. It was going to be the first time they would be seen socially together and she didn’t want to let him down, rather she wanted to impress him, make him puff up with pride. But how—she worried as her eyes ran critically over her shapely frame enhanced to perfection by the charcoal dress with a silvery sheen that shimmered each time she moved. Was it too revealing? No, she didn’t think so; it did cling but not too blatantly, with the scoop neck revealing just the right amount of silky skin. But would he think so too?

Oh Ahaan! How much do I not know about you!

“But I don’t care! Let him think what he wants to! After all, it was his decision to marry me, not mine!” She defiantly addressed her reflection.

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Milan (A Wedding Story) 3A: Indecision

Chapter 2

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Continuing from where I left off 🙂

“Mili?…” Jai ventured at the dinner table, not having had the opportunity to converse with his daughter all day. For after the guests had left, she had locked herself up in her room until  her mother had finally coaxed her out for a bite. But she hadn’t tasted her meal…, just pushed the food around her plate for the past half hour.

She stood up, “I think I’ll turn in. It’s been a long day. Good night.”

“But beta (child) we have to talk…” Jai’s voice trailed off when he saw Mili disappear down the corridor without even a glance back. He looked askance at his wife, who was watching the proceedings with a discerning smile on her face.

“Kiran…we really do need to talk to her…”

“Our daughter is confused. Consider it a good sign.” She said, placing a reassuring hand on her husband’s.

`

Mili turned the TV off and tossed the remote away frustrated. Watching documentaries usually helped her fall asleep but not tonight. Her mind refused to distract itself from the topic of Ahaan. He had made it all so difficult.

She was indeed quite confused.  It was not black and white anymore. She couldn’t just pick up the phone and say no to him.

Why? Because she didn’t want to hurt him? Because she cared about how he felt? Did it mean that her feelings for him had undergone a drastic change or was it because they had been silly and unrealistic to begin with… A product of an immature adolescent mind. He had never really done anything to incur such animosity from her. His behavior had always been exemplary.

Perhaps mother is right. I victimized him because he was different and his silence made him easy prey. I acted like a cruel child, and he took it all quietly. Even now he bears no malice towards me whatsoever.

Mili was overtaken by tremendous guilt. I should apologize and tell Ahaan that I am not worthy of him.

Swinging her legs off the bed, she walked up to where her sitar rested. She picked it up and began playing absently. Her fingers flew up and down the instrument effortlessly, playing a favorite tune of their own accord.

‘I dabble in a little guitar myself…’

Mili smiled… ‘Dabble’ in Mr TOI’s vocabulary would equal a significant degree of proficiency. She could picture Ahaan strumming expertly on his guitar. Perhaps we could even do a Jugalbandi together, a musical east-west fusion.

No! What am I thinking? That could never be… A frown of distress marred her clear brow.

Placing her beloved instrument aside, she picked up the phone and dialed her elder sister’s number, but then changed her mind immediately.

No.. Sheela di (elder sister) will tell me to be obedient and submit to whatever mama and papaji decide because they know best,  Mili mused, recalling the events of four years ago when her sister had complied with Grandpa’s wishes and wedded his best friend’s young nephew, just because he had given him his word. She had quit her studies and had not uttered even a single word of complaint just because the family honor was at stake. It was a different matter altogether that Rohan Jiju (brother in law) had turned out to be the perfect match for her.

She opted to call her best friend Annie instead.

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The Beautiful Art of Kolam

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Kolam is an age old tradition in Southern India. These are temporary geometric designs consisting of curved loops drawn around a grid of dots employing rice flour/chalk/chalk flour or oher types of white or colored powders. Female members of Hindu families draw Kolams in the front of their houses. These are also known as Rangolee in Maharastra, Hase in Karnataka, Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh and Golam in Kerala.

While living in Chennai, I have watched with fascination my mother along with several other women on our street, drawing a fresh new Kolam every morning. This would be done after cleaning the floor with a broom and then with water. They would draw what appeared to be very complex designs in a jiffy, sometimes without lifting their hands off the floor. During the day the Kolams would get eroded by people’s feet, and the wind. But not to worry. A new one replaced it the following morning.

As always these Kolums are not just decorative. They have a cultural sginificance. They are meant to bring prosperity to the house and are symbols of welcome as well. There are many other purposes, but the following is what I found particularly endearing and is probably also true. In days of yore rice flour Kolams were drawn so the ants did not have to travel too far for food. They also attracted small birds and likewise other small creatures, hence welcoming other forms of life into the home and everyday life symbolizing harmony and peaceful coexistance with nature.

Below are a few Kolam designs drawn by my cousin and her friends 🙂

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Another Great Review on ‘Milan’

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“Ms. Simi K. Rao does a tremendous job of weaving the customs and traditions of a prearranged Indian wedding. I was pulled into this vast country and treated like royalty as I read and savored the many traditions foreign to western culture. I was amused and bemused with this enchanting, culture-filled coming of age story about the jitters and joy of preparing for a woman’s big day.” ~~Chiara Talluto, Author of Love’s Perfect Surrender.

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Some Awesome Reviews on ‘Milan- A Wedding Story’

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Here are some recent reviews on my new book MILAN

“A captivating look into the developing relationship of a young couple falling in love for the first time while honoring family traditions. Throughout the wedding planning, the bride-to-be is in a constant state of nervous excitement and total confusion that will keep you guessing until the very end. An absolute joy to read.”
—Yvette Klobuchar, bridal dress designer and author of Brides Unveiled

MILAN is an interesting combination of today and yesterday in India, ultimately bringing Mili, twenty-four but innocent and immature for her age, together with Ahaan, a bit older but more in tune with the customs of their country. This story of their arranged marriage, (still practiced in their country), goes through the accepted steps of bringing their union to fruition. The story follows through the Roka (unofficial engagement), the Sagai (formal engagement ceremony) and other preparations for the magnificent wedding which her father insists on, taking the reader along for all the rituals and experiencing all Mili’s continuing uncertainties as she leaves her childhood home to make her new life with her husband’s family.”
—Nancy Sweetland, author of The House On the Dunes

“In Milan, Simi K. Rao has created a delightful story and a glimpse into of an enduring part of Indian culture. Mili’s family wants her to marry Ahaan, an old acquaintance, but as a modern young woman, Mili is reluctant, fearing that she’ll be forced to abandon her career in music. But fortunately, Mili isn’t the only modern person in the pair, and the two embark on a journey that includes old traditions and a promise from the groom that guarantees Mili her own passions in life. But the best part of the story is the realization for Mili that Ahaan appears to be much more than a husband chosen for her. Despite her initial resistance, she might fall in love. Rao writes with flair and includes the colors and scents and sounds that many of us associate with modern India. Without being the slightest bit didactic, Rao educates us, too, about Hindu traditions and the beauty of language describing the bonds and promises of love and marriage.”

—Virginia McCullough, author of The Jacks of Her Heart

‘Homesick’ Excerpt from ‘Inconvenient Relations’

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Excerpt

Standing in front of the large bathroom mirror, Ruhi combed her long thick hair. Should I leave it loose or braid it? Should I put on makeup or go bare? Should I wear all my bangles or just a couple of them? So many questions! Why don’t all men come with a user guide.

She braided her hair, glossed her lips, chose a pair of gold bangles for each side, and figured she was done. Then she offered a silent prayer, thanking God for the absence of her mother-in-law.

Tea and breakfast.

What? Herbal raspberry tea bags and Cheerios! And this man expects me to eat? Her spirits taking a dive, she put her head down on the table and mournfully longed for a piping hot refreshing cup of masala chai with cauliflower stuffed paratha on the side…Mama!

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“Still off in neverland?”

She sat up, startled, to gaze dolefully at him while he smiled cheerfully at her, looking handsome and crisp in casual white shirt and jeans. Why was she always at a disadvantage?

“Care for some hot pizza?” He swept a large colorful cardboard box in front of her nose. “Authentic Neapolitan from our very own Tony’s. My favorite!”

She didn’t care for it, too cheesy.

He frowned at her while she pursed her lips together feeling helpless.

“This is crazy! If you don’t eat, you will disappear in no time. Then there wouldn’t be anything left to send back home!”

She glared at him acutely hurt. They had just reached here, and he was already thinking of sending her back home? What did he take her for?

“I guess I’m homesick.”

“Ah! I see. How stupid of me! Your parents must be terribly worried!”

Getting up immediately, he dialed her home; and yes, they were in a state of panic.Hearing their voices, she nearly broke down…wanting to reach out and touch the loose end of her mother’s sari.

Accha. All right, I shall hang up now,” she said and handed him the phone, just as a tear threatened to roll down her cheek. She rushed to the window—the purple flowers had taken on a silver hue.

***

Imagine how much a new Indian bride has to deal with—

A husband who is practically a stranger, in-laws—and if she is accompanying him to a foreign land; new living conditions, new culture, and a new way of life.

As someone who has been through a similar experience I can tell you the task is not easy. These are the times when memories of home hurt the most.

In my book ‘Inconvenient Relations’ I have through my protagonist Ruhi tried to elaborate on what it is like to be a new bride in a foreign land.

You can find out more about my books here. 

Glossary

Masala Chai: Spiced Indian tea. The spice usually consists of cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, black pepper, star anise and cloves.

Paratha: popular Indian flatbread prepared fresh from whole wheat dough, and served either plain or stuffed with a variety of vegetables like radish, cauliflower, potato, methi (fenugreek leaves) or paneer (fresh Indian cheese.)

The Allure of the Sari and an excerpt from ‘The Accidental Wife’

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A sampling from my mother’s closet

The image of a woman wearing a sari conjures up both the remarkable beauty of women and the exquisite artistry of textile and embroidery. The sari is a garment created from a single piece of fabric five to nine yards long. Its ingenious design allows for wrapping around a woman’s body in different ways. This allows for a variety of effects: stunning traditional gown, alluring evening wear, or simple utilitarian work attire.

The thought of wearing a loosely draped strip of fabric might seem somewhat awkward to westerners. But consider the heat of a tropical climate and one realizes that this airy soft garment is a brilliant idea. No wonder 75% of women in India still wear the sari as a key element of their wardrobe.

The beauty of a woman in an Indian sari is breathtaking. How luscious life could be with a wardrobe filled with saris of vibrant colors and various fabrics adorned with embroidery. If you do a quick search on the internet of “sari images” you’ll see for yourself. One for example features fabrics of the richest jewel tone colors—turquoise blue set against fuchsia, green, royal blue—and embellished with flowers of gold.

While sometimes thought of as traditional attire, the sari has the power to transform a woman into a beguiling apsara (celestial nymph). Rihaan (our hero), in The Accidental Wife, has the opportunity to discover this for himself.

 Accidental Wife Book Cover

 Excerpt from The Accidental Wife 

But what Rihaan saw there brought an immediate diversion to his purpose—the image of his beautiful wife wrapped in a traditional sari. It was a simple yet clever garment worn with a dual purpose in mind—to please her in-laws by presenting them a vision of ideal domestic harmony, while simultaneously promising her husband never-ending conjugal bliss. The lure of the unstitched garment was such that it transformed his already beautiful wife into a beguiling apsara causing his nerve endings to release some kind of erotic pleasure juice thus making him slowly yet inexorably lose control over all his senses.

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Stop! Take your Shoes Off!

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Photo courtesy- franandwally.blogspot.com

The above scene isn’t uncommon in India or for that matter elsewhere in the world especially if you happen to drop by an Indian home. Why, you may ask do I have to remove my footwear before I enter your house?

Well, the explanation is simple. For us Indians, our house or home is a sacred place and to contaminate it by bringing dirt from outside is not just disrespectful, it is almost akin to sacrilege. And, if you happen to visit a temple you will be often expected to not just remove your footwear but also wash your feet before entering.

This is not necessarily a religious tradition. It is practiced across most communities in India and  as I discovered,  in many other countries of the world, including Asia, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, as well as some corners of Europe.

So the next time you happen to spy footwear outside a residence, you may want to remove yours too 🙂

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This tradition is mentioned in the PROLOGUE my book ‘INCONVENIENT RELATIONS‘ 

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