Something I did not expect while I was expecting.
I don’t suppose many women dream of having a chicken sacrificed at their wedding. Of seeing a live creature grabbed by the scruff of its neck, its head sliced clean off just meters away. To then be instructed to walk through the chicken’s blood, which had throbbed in rhythmic arcs across the threshold of the house. Of not being welcomed into the family home, and thus the family and the community, until stepping through the blood, and taking those same shoes to stamp the flames of the butter lamps that lined the path.
Then again, I don’t suppose many women where I come from dream of getting married in a dusty village in the steamy mid-hills of Nepal while five months pregnant.
“Why didn’t you tell me they were going to kill a chicken?!” I whispered to Ramesh from beneath my gold-sequinned, red-mesh veil, as we walked into his home together. The village brass band whooped and clashed triumphantly in the narrow passageways of the home, following us in.
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“I had no idea,” he replied with a shrug, looking a bit surprised himself.
To be fair, neither of us had had any input into the wedding preparations, so we didn’t get much say in what happened. I’d been keen for a low-key affair, perhaps just the paperwork in the Gorkha District Office. Or a small party with just his family and a couple of my friends from Kathmandu, where we lived. But no, Ramesh’s mother, Ama, wasn’t going to allow that.
He was the eldest son, and finally getting married at the advanced age of 26 (in Nepal, men, on average, get married at 21, women at 17). We were already breaking all kinds of other cultural norms, so a low-key wedding wasn’t going to fly. It was going to be a whole-village affair, because there was no way you could invite one neighbor without inviting the next, and then the next, and then the next.
About a month out, we chose the date, a Saturday in March. It would be steaming hot in his riverside, jungle-shrouded village half-way between Kathmandu and Pokhara, but we were pressed for time. I needed to get the marriage paperwork before my tourist visa expired, so I could get a marriage visa and stay in Nepal. That Saturday though, we learned from Ama, was no good. Whoever heard of getting married on a Saturday? Such bad luck (apparently). And during that month? Double bad luck.
I had to stick to my guns with this one, though. I wanted, no, needed, to have my two best friends from Kathmandu there, and they only had weekends off work. As we’d have to travel the six hours from the capital to Ramesh’s village the day before, and they’d have to do that same six-hour trip the day after, we had to get married on a Saturday, whatever kind of luck that would bring. Ramesh brushed off his mother’s concerns. “She’s a foreigner,” he retorted. “It doesn’t count.”
Whoever heard of getting married on a Saturday? Such bad luck (apparently). And during that month? Double bad luck.
If there were any further objections, I didn’t hear them, and if anyone disapproved of the fact that I was already pregnant (something I worried about) they didn’t let on. I did my best to play the role of a Nepali bride, if just for one evening. I was decked out in a lightweight, red silk sari with a simple gold border that I’d picked out in the wedding boutiques of Kupondole. My face was hidden behind a red mesh veil with gold embroidery, which I’d hurriedly purchased the day before after Ama had called to check that I had my ghumto ready.
“What’s a ghumto?” I’d asked him.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
He called her back and checked. A veil.
I hadn’t bought a veil because I didn’t want to wear one. Was it really necessary? I asked.
He called Ama, again, and confirmed that, yes, it was absolutely necessary.
I was actually quite glad of the privacy of the veil when the groom’s party came to pick me and my diminutive bridal party up. We processed through the village streets slowly, the brass band blaring Hindi and Nepali pop songs that the village aunties danced to. I was invited to join in but pointed to the folds of my sari hiding my five-month-pregnant belly as if that was a valid reason not to dance. My Dutch friend took my place, shimmying and twirling her hands with just the right amount of reserved sex appeal to satisfy the aunties.
I don’t suppose many women dream of having a chicken sacrificed at their wedding.
After we reached the house, and the abovementioned surprise chicken sacrifice had taken place, Ramesh and I were ushered onto the living room bed, which doubled as a couch. A ceiling fan whirred above us but did little to stir the thick, damp air. A little girl I’d never seen before, but who turned out to be his five-year-old niece, sat between us. She looked thoroughly bored as villager after villager took their turn shoving crumpled rupee notes into our hands, and pressed vermilion and rice tikka blessings onto our foreheads. Five-hundred rupee notes for Ramesh, one-hundred for me, and five for the little girl. I bowed my head with each offering, pressing my palms together in a namaste, and thanked each person for their gift.
At some point, the streams of people lining up to bless us and give us money thinned, and it was time for the rituals that would make us husband and wife, at least in the eyes of the gods, the spirits, and the ancestors. We were not married in the eyes of Nepali law though: getting the official papers would take another month, three bus trips to Gorkha town, hours of waiting around at the district office and police station and transcriptionist’s office, with swelling ankles telling me I shouldn’t be doing this at six months pregnant, and then a final trip to the immigration office in Kathmandu the day before my tourist visa expired.
Ama produced a pink bandana that clashed terribly with my red sari and held it above my head while Ramesh smeared yet another red tikka onto my head, this time in the parting of my hair. The cloth was quickly secured with bobby pins, and I was told firmly that under no circumstances should I remove the cloth until the next day. And when I did, I should do it in private, washing off the tikka while making sure nobody was watching.
“What happens if I take it off before that, or if somebody sees?” I asked Ramesh. Ama pulled a horrified face and shuddered. “Just don’t,” Ramesh replied. “Very bad luck.”
Despite all the warnings of the bad luck we were courting, the heavens didn’t open with pre-monsoon thunderstorms until the next day, and we made sober merriment for the rest of the evening; at least, I did. I don’t think many other people remained sober, with the amount of Gorkha beer and homemade raksi that were flowing.
After all the Hindu rituals were over, we went outside to the courtyard, where a marquee had been set up and the brass band had been replaced by a modern sound system playing very loud pop music (which it would continue to do all night, even after Ramesh and I had gone to bed, and well into the next morning). Everyone was feasting on dal bhat, naturally, Nepal’s de facto national dish of lentil curry and rice.
It was not just any old dal bhat though, it was special wedding dal bhat, with raisins, saffron rice, and freshly sacrificed chicken.