Here Comes the Bride… Again: The Politics of a Second Wedding

Special-Indian-Wedding-TraditionsThere’s enough material out there, my own magazine included, offering substantial advice to young brides on what to wear for their wedding – the clothes, the jewellery, the makeup – and how to go about planning the wedding, the invite, the décor, the works.

The assumption that all these magazines and websites make is that the reader has never been married before, will never marry again, and that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But as we all know, there’s a tiny percentage of marriages that don’t last forever, and there’s a handful of people who do have a second marriage, after either the death of a spouse or divorce. And the needs of these people are very different from those of first-time couples.

For one, there’s an element of both joy and wistfulness about the whole affair. You’re happy, of course, but there are complicated emotions involved – memories, both painful and sweet, play on loop as flashbacks from your first wedding, scenes from your former marriage show up uninvited on the projector screen of your mind, conversations with your ex-spouse lie invisibly between the lines of even the most earnest endearments to your new one. In India, the saat phere taken around the holy fire symbolise seven lifetimes together, beliefs that are indelibly written on the subconscious, whether or not you like them. So, for some second-timers, there are also questions of religion and personal confusion.

Then come the kids. If either of the soon-to-be newlyweds have children from their earlier marriages, the complications increase and intensify. Unlike the rosy Tanishq ad, where the child seems to look forward to calling her step-father ‘papa’, in real life, there may be resentment or insecurity in the child’s mind – something a parent cannot avoid acknowledging. These adopted secondary emotions cloud even the sunniest of celebrations – how can you be completely happy for yourself when you know your child has mixed feelings at best or is in pure agony at worst?

And then there’s the element of social embarrassment, especially for those from conservative Indian families. You’re likely to be older than most first-time brides and grooms – you’ve been there, done all that. It’s like being the lone 40-year-old in a class of 18-year-old college freshmen. So it isn’t surprising, then, that many opt for court weddings, away from the gossipy whispers and judging eyes of relatives. For the few who dare to have a regular wedding party or reception, there are questions galore they must face when it comes to planning the whole affair.

Most importantly, what does one wear? It’s not your first wedding, and you’re hardly a virgin, so the usual symbols of matrimony seem redundant – the attention-grabbing chooda, the opulent reds and fuchsias, the mehendi done up the arms and feet. Most people I know dress up in variations of the usual colours – maroon instead of red, purple or pink instead of fuchsia, beige or pastels instead of all-gold – and subtle embroideries and textures in place of blingy embellishments. Footwear is far more comfortable and practical this time around – block heels, kitten heels or platforms instead of stilettos (experience is an infallible teacher). The idea is to look ‘dressed up’ without looking ‘garish’, to be elegant and understated while still holding court as belle du jour.

Then comes the jewellery – large, dowry-sized gold necklaces and bangles are a definite ‘no’. Second- and third-timers prefer the quiet luxury of diamonds and precious gems – the solitaire in the ears and fingers, the simple (but super-expensive) string at the neck, the stylish bracelet or designer watch at the wrist – and they can probably afford it too if they’ve been busy working professionals all these years.

Makeup is usually far more subdued than the first-timer’s – wine, chocolate or soft pink instead of scarlet lipstick, earthy bronze instead of coloured eyeshadow, cocoa blush instead of sparkly peach. You have to look your age, after all, and leave the neon brights and glitter eyeliner to your teenage daughter (if any). Hair is left open in soft waves, or partly tied up in a look more appropriate for the sister of the bride rather than the haughty, bejewelled up-do of the first-time bride herself.

And no matter how many times you get married, there’ll always be those essential elements of any wedding thrown in each time – last-minute changes, missing items, general chaos, knowing smiles and unwitting tears.

And then the day is past, all go back to their routines, the kids to school, the couple to work, perhaps a little honeymoon thrown in if you’re lucky. You begin to realise how some things change and how others stay the same, how momentous the occasion was, how little the clothes mattered, and how much you wish you’d paid more attention to the really important details: not the gold weight of the mangalsutra but the eye contact with your new husband as he tied it around your neck. Not the sparkle of the fireworks but the flicker of the holy flame as you added the ritual ghee to it. Not the flower petals thrown on you by a cheering family but the small, quiet, uncertain smile of your child as he or she looked on. Not the boxes of gifts and sweets being handed about but your mother’s voice urging you to dance with your beloved to that romantic old song suddenly playing… Bahaaron phool barsao, mera mehboob aya hai, mera mehboob aya hai.

It will become your song. And with all its heartrending poignancy and sweet sentimentality, it will become a symbol of your second wedding. Something old, something new. Something sorrowful, something true.

First published on India Today Blogs

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