That moment where butterflies come alive and flutter endlessly in my abdomen had arrived. Everyone gazed at me with intense affection. By this time the majority of guests had gone. The only people left were those who'd been there for the days of festivities before this final day. It was comforting to see those familiar faces around me, including friends, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, fathers and siblings. With time ticking and Hariom's guests on the verge of boarding the crammed coach back to Manchester after the long day in Leicester, with chants of "Chalo Chalo!", my tummy got heavier and colder. The soft background music made it heavier, as my family ushered themselves in an uneven zigzag line. I felt a thousand blunt pinpricks inside me. It was time. It was time for the goodbye.
Seeing my father, red eyed, trying his best not to shrivel the joyful spirit, my mind flashed back to the days where my hands were too small to hold his hands, so I would cling to his pinky finger instead. He would wash my hair twice a week and treat me to sesame bites and tell me they were chocolate. That little girl was now standing in front of him all grown up going to set up a home of her own. Was it for this moment my father raised me? To say goodbye? He would say "Once I get Zima married, that's me done". Not far off from what other Indian fathers would probably say. I'd always thought it was a backward way of thinking; as though he was dusting his hands off anything to do with me. But for a short moment that evening, there was a subtle and profound truth to this utterance I'd heard on so many other occasions. The truth that he'd indeed fulfilled an important responsibility.
I touched his feet - the Indian way of showing respect and saying thank you. "Thank you for the woman you've made me". Pearls of pride and sadness trickled down his face. His little girl was leaving him. Up until now, our day-to-day lives were intertwined under one roof from the moment the sun rose. Even at the age of 30, I'd put my head in his lap while he gently patted my hair, as if he was putting me to sleep. Those moments had now become a wishful dream. I struggled to look at my crying father. I just wanted to sit him down and cry with him. I just wanted to protect my father in the same way he protected me. I wanted to protect him from his own venerable, unconditional love. I put my arm around him, and we sobbed together in this bittersweet moment.
My mother was eagerly waiting for her turn. She knew I was daddy's girl just as my brother was mummy's boy. In the months running up to this day, I'd get a daily reminder "why do you have to go so far away. Why could you not have found someone closer to Leicester?" Physical distance was an issue for her. She was a friend. We'd shop, sip lattés, visit friends and run errands together. The fear of losing a close friend was akin to losing a limb, a sense that she'd experience less of the world without me. From her paradigm, there was truth in that. She would become a little more isolated from the joys of life. I could feel her strength when she held on to me, her lips close to my ear and through her crackly sobbing voice I could faintly hear her say "you're going so far away from me".
My brother Sundip, whom I grew up calling "Bhai" and his wife, Jemini were next. Hindu marriages have the beauty of involvement from the entire family with everyone with a role to play. Bhai and Jemini were at the heart of organising this day. I'd get away with just turning up assured they'd had it all under control. I'm sure they were glad that this was nearly over; their hard work, especially with a three-month old, did not go unnoticed. A teary exchange and gratitude for everything they could've possibly done for this little sister of theirs.
And so I meandered from person to person, extolling my goodbyes, taking their blessings, and briefly reminiscing about precious time spent together. It was a goodbye to the town and the community I was born in. I wasn't just moving away from my family. I was moving away from the world that had been my foundation stone for the last thirty years - Leicester.
I was walking away as a married woman, into a new family, new town new community with so many unknowns. I held my husband's hand with a firm clench as we drove away to what would become my new home. I felt the turning of a new chapter in my life's book.
In that single moment, I was not alone, but felt very much lonely.
Two years on, looking back at my Vidāi (farewell ceremony), the emotional heaviness was a necessity. Its was a threshold - something I had to cross with all the paradoxical joy and sadness of it. It was the intense culmination of childhood memories ready to take on a new chapter - like a relay-runner passing on the baton. That feeling has become a reminder of my roots.
In contrast to the modern, romance-filled utopia that is marketed ad-nauseam or implied through subtle cues, marriage or even the act of finding a life-long partner is profoundly different. Two years on, as a married women, I've begun to understand marriage as a partnership between, not only two individuals, but two families. It's a process and not a result. A process of helping one-another achieve life goals in a joyous manner. Hariom and I have different interests and we're comfortable with that. We don't class ourselves as the archetypal 'power couple' or flaunt with the idea of a perfect union.