It is not often that one is faced with the possibility of uncertain death or isolation. Such is what happened when I went for a wedding, which turned out to be not “the monsoon wedding” but the “hurricane wedding”.
I arrive on a clear sunlit day with the crisp sparkling sunshine that you only see and feel in New England. The trees are adorned in their last hurrah for this year, the colors are stunning, every leaf in its swan song is more beautiful than its neighbor, and yet they make a symphony instead of a competition with each other. Diversity lives in the trees of New England as it does in its streets where no two leaves and no two persons are the same color.
Pakistani weddings are unique in that they involve a two-step wedding and in the US because of the added formality of the local law it becomes a three-step wedding.
First the couple goes to the Justice of the peace, usually with a couple of witnesses or even just by themselves, then they have their Islamic wedding (nikah) done privately with family and then finally the Rukhsati or the giving away of the bride is done in grand style.
I have arrived in time for the nikah. In going through the ramifications of the nikah I realize how much goes on behind closed doors, the negotiations are back and forth and all of them boil down to the scrambling for money and power in a guise of politeness and festivity. The beads of tension shine on either side alternately as the demands of the two are brought to the table; it is a dance but an ugly dance and the veil of the educated class of Pakistan lifts to show how Deen is used by some of them without the fear of God.
The tent is decorated with tables and orchids and the aroma of delicious Pakistani food fills the air. The battle begins between the delicacy of the fragrance of the orchids and the strong spices of the subcontinent. Though the delicate fragrance of the orchids is no match for the heavy aromas of eastern food, they stand tall blooming in elegance beckoning the discerning individual to approach them and take a whiff up close.
The orchids remind me of the Muslim girls in the US, they are delicately beautiful but their fragrance is lost in the crass society of females with no mystery and no elegance and who expose everything in its base reality. They resemble the spicy aroma of the food from the subcontinent that overwhelms the senses.
As the negotiations proceed, brunch turns into lunch with a definite possibility of it turning into dinner………
In the drama of life unfolding for two young people whose elders cannot easily meet in the middle ………the weather, the news of a giant hurricane hurtling towards them holds no meaning as they feel they are in the eye of the storm of human relations.
Meanwhile I feel a little chilly and decide to go back to the hotel with a group of wedding guests who are also leaving. We step out and the light coat I had picked up at the last moment is a welcome envelope. The air is still with expectation and the sky has become hazy and the sunshine has disappeared ………
The first inkling that I have of the storm brewing off the coast is that I see a message from the airline on my phone………….my flight has been cancelled, no explanations.
I enter my room, having left home at 4 am, I pray and fall into a dreamless sleep till the phone rings: Do I want to go to the wedding house for mehndi celebrations?
I am back at the wedding house, there are even more guests. I have not checked my flights yet. There is no talk of the hurricane moving towards us slowly and steadily and the Mehndi celebrations begin with an informality and relaxation that makes me certain that no one else’s flight has been cancelled and the thought leaves my head as I look forward to seeing the grown children of my friends sing and talk with the ease of old friends………..the men take the stage, they play instruments, sing wedding songs but here and there they sing a devotional……….suddenly there is commotion at the door…..
Two NY policemen are at the door are apologizing, for being there. Some old fuddy duddy cannot sleep and has reported “noise”. I hate it when people call live classical music from the bongo drums and a south American guitar “noise”.
I invite them for some wedding food, they behave like good Muslim men and do not make eye contact and say this is just their duty and to go on with what we are doing and wish the newly weds the best and leave.
Meanwhile in the human drama unfolding in the wedding house there is no place or mention of the giant swirling hurricane now endowed with the name of “Sandy”. Even I with my “voicemail” of a cancelled flight have not made the connection.
Suddenly all the exhaustion of the previous week hits me like a ton of bricks and I ask the young man of the house if he would be kind enough to drop me off at the hotel, and he chivalrously agrees.
I enter the hotel foyer and decide to listen to the complete voicemail and suddenly the whole picture falls in place: There is a serious hurricane brewing, it is going to affect all the the places I have to travel through to get home. Shireen and her family are traveling through parts of that path.
For a fleeting moment I think of Tariq’s car on the highway starting from home in bright sunshine and meeting the showers and winds of Hurricane Dennis enroute and …………….I stop myself, and take the elevator to my room.