I slept restlessly with a variety of stress dreams that jolted me awake shortly after 5 am. I tossed and turned for a bit but felt compelled to get up and work on my speech some more. My roommate - a more natural morning person, especially with the three hour time change - was also awake. Breakfast was at 730 and I needed to be ready by 8. I showered and got ready and tried to ignore the knots in my stomach. I sat on the bed and tried transposing my speech from my laptop screen to notecards. I edited as I went and started to feel better about the final product but taunted by the racing clock. Joo left for breakfast and I raced around collecting my things and tried not to panic about my speech being trapped in my laptop. I called the concierge who directed me to a complicated, time consuming sounding process that involved money and passwords and the "corporate center." I didn't have any kind of thumb drive or disc with me.
But I needed to print it so I hauled my laptop down to the front desk - decked out in my Punjabi suit and feeling very conspicuous - and a very nice woman directed me to a website where I could upload the document so she could print it for me. After a couple of initial failed attempts that put me closer to the edge (or perhaps a little over it), the printing was a success. Yet I was still distraught.
I returned to the room and rummaged around to make sure I had everything - including the long silken scarf I was clueless as to how it should be worn. My outfit was made in India and ordered by the bride's mother. It consisted of an elaborately beaded and gold threaded sheath dress worn over a pair of silken leggings that were worn like hammer pants. When I first received the outfit I could not cram my (I'll say muscular instead of fat) calves into them. Unlike the leggings worn (by others) in this part of the world that are stretchy, these babies were made for toothpick legs and had no give. I gave it another try and managed to relax my calf enough to pull the pants on but knew I could do nothing but stand in them or risk bursting all of the seams. This was less than two weeks before the wedding. So to the tailor I went - requesting more room in the calves, a closer fit in the dress and wider arm openings to avoid chafing my underarms. Despite my many fears, the tailoring came out very nicely but the pants were still weird and felt tight in some areas and unnecessarily large in others. But I no longer feared an embarrasing ripping noise during the ceremony resulting in my calves bursting free.
I think this speech would have been a challenge regardless but I underestimated how much more difficult it would be to prepare and deliver it in foreign clothing in an unknown and unimagined setting.
I pulled on the collection of Indian gold bangles onto my arm I bought for the occasion and made my way to the breakfast to receive support from my friends with my printed out speech and a stack of half-filled, half-blank notecards stuffed into my bursting gold clutch along with my camera, some lipstick and my phone.
I couldn't eat.
In fact, I couldn't even look at the pastries and fruit lined up on the buffet without my stomach crawling up inside of itself. I chatted nervously with friends until I realized I had no idea when I would manage to eat again and dryly choked down a raspberry pastry with some orange juice.
With a chorus of good lucks trailing behind me I made my way to the bride's suite to see how things were progessing. I walked into a swirl of chaotic - yet surprisingly calm - preparation. Ruby was already dressed in her stunning wedding lehnga and was getting the finishing touches of her makeup added. Her sisters and mother and various "aunties" were scurrying about trying to gather everything that was needed and the two bridesmaids had arrived and were finishing getting ready themselves. I offered a hand here and there as needed and then settled into a chair in the back room to finish writing out my now-printed speech. I was interrupted frequently and questioned myself constantly as to why I insisted on writing this thing out now that I had it on paper but ultimately I felt the re-writing of it calmed me with each completed notecard and forced me to think through each word a bit more carefully. Plus, I felt standing with a stack of small notecards would be better than a couple of sheets of paper.
I had not concept of the time but I knew we were running late. The ceremony was scheduled to start at 10 and the temple was an hour away but no one seemed particularly upset about this. Walking into the lobby accompanying Ruby in her absolutely stunning attire along with her sisters and mother and aunties and the bridesmaids who were also bedecked in silky, bright, festive colors, I felt like I was part of something important and my nerves shrank back a bit more. Of the two bridesmaids, one was Indian and one was a tall blue eyed-blonde. We met previously at the bachelorette party (that she co-sponsored) and the bridal shower (which I co-hosted) but we were immediately drawn to one another that day by our ignorance. We shared many laughs over our ill-fitting pants - which both of us ignorantly had hemmed so that they did not scrunch up at the ankles like all the other women's leggings (oops!) and looked to each other when everyone else seemed to know where to go and we . . . did not.
In the hotel lobby we were greeted by all the guests who had not yet boarded the shuttle buses waiting out front for the ceremony and the photographers we would see almost constantly for the next two days. The photographers set themselves up in front of a nice staircase and posed Ruby in the middle as friends and family members lined themselves up for a photograph with the bride. As we waited for the photo session, Ruby's mother rushed to my side to assist me with my scarf by pinning it to my shoulders with safety pins she pulled from nowhere. She kindly explained how now I wouldn't have to worry about it slipping this way and that and I was free to stop pulling at it and let the long ends wave behind me.
After an astonishing number of photos, I followed Ruby, her sisters and her bridesmaids into the limo. In many ways the limo ride was my favorite part of the day. We laughed and talked and Ruby reassured us over and over that she was not nervous. I guess I was nervous enough for both of us.
In between gulps of water and chatter, I continued writing my speech out on notecards. Ruby had entrusted me to tell a story that was close to her heart and now I had the benefit of having her right next to me to question on the details so I could get it just right.
Once I completed the re-write, I felt better. More prepared. Still nervous and worried that my words would fail me and prove inadequate in comparison with what was in my heart, but less nauseous.
We followed the two buses from the hotel under the gated entrance to the Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and proceeded to wait in the limo . . . for a long while. One thing I learned about Sikh weddings is there are a large number of ceremonies and rituals that must be performed, and very few people are concerned with the timetable in completing them. The groom arrived shortly after us and we thought we would have a great view of the Milni - or meeting of the two families - under cover of the blacked out limo windows. We wouldn't let Ruby see her groom (not just a western tradition) but for most of us in the car (minus the sisters), this was our first glimpse at Raj who was a striking figure in a complimentary outfit to Ruby's and coordinating turban with a scruff of a beard (grown for the ceremony).
Unfortunately, as the families and guests prepared for the ceremony, our view was blocked by a wall of women in colorful saris and Punjabi suits and men in suits with colored kerchiefs (forget the term) covering their heads - the color designating whether they are with the bride or groom.
After the Milni, the families and guests went into the temple for tea served with both savories and sweets. At some point while we waited - in between Ruby wanting to release some tension rocking out to Michael Jackson on the radio and everyone contradicting each other over how the scarves should be worn (shocking the number of ways, really) - Ruby's brother and male cousins thoughtfully came out to the car to offer us some of the food and some drinks. Ruby quickly shooed them away not wanting any food near all of our colorful attire. But as time kept slipping away, and one sister pressed her cause of feeling faint, Ruby relented and a phone call was placed and one of the brides maid's husband brought us a couple of plates to tide us over. It was delicious - some sort of spicy thing and a doughy sweet thing, washed down with cold beverages from the limo bar. Anticipation was building as we waited in the blessedly air conditioned car until I felt we all needed a bathroom break. And when I say "we all", I mean me. Except, I also figured others needed to go as well. We sent a loitering cousin in search of the restroom to see if we could make a discreet entrance and exit and upon confirmation had the limo driver back us up to the closest door. My first glimpse inside the temple was through the back door between the kitchen and the bathroom. Music was playing and the six of us slipped in and the sisters assisted Ruby with the loads of heavy fabric that had to be pulled away. I must say it was comedy to listen to in the next stall. Afterwards, we all felt a bit better and returned to the limo only to be summoned to the front - it was finally time.