I’ve been in Nepal for a week now, and just yesterday I attended a shotgun wedding in the middle of the night at Vindivasini Temple. The excitement started when I came home from the office and found Bhinaju with his knickers in a twist. He was trying frantically to charge his cell phone, and something about the connection wasn’t working right, and every two seconds the phone was ringing, but the battery was almost dead.
Bhinaju’s nephew Bishnu is scheduled to be married this month, as are many other betrothed, because according to an array of astrological indicators, this is an auspicious time of year for weddings. As per tradition, Bishnu’s marriage was recently arranged and the engagement confirmed by an exchange of tikka, the red dot you’ve seen Hindus wearing between their eyes. And once the tikka has been exchanged, there’s no going back. The deed must be done.
All this was already in the works when, yesterday afternoon, a pregnant relative of Bishnu’s went in to labor earlier than expected. Custom dictates that if the relative has the baby, the entire extended family is banned for eleven days from various ritual activities—including, inconveniently, weddings. And – stay with me here – eleven days from now, we will be past the astrologically auspicious marriage window, which won’t come around again for another year, which, since Bishnu and his bride have already exchanged tikka, would just be a violation of the entire system of everything.
And this now brings us to the heart of the matter, which is me holding Bhinaju’s phone charger in the socket to suck out all the electricity it can muster, and then all of us tripping on our shoes as we run out the door to hail a taxi at 9pm, buy some oranges and flowers, and rush to Vindivasini Temple for Bishnu’s wedding before some baby, somewhere, is born. It is now a matter of birth vs. marriage; we can’t take the risk of waiting till morning.
Vindivasini temple is usually crowded with people and priests and marriages and fruit, but at 9:30pm it is absolutely deserted, with nothing but two police officers and a cold breeze blowing over the laid stones. Aidan and Pascal think this is the perfect place for me to teach them some taekwondo, and we pass the time running in circles and doing flying side kicks in front of the frozen statues.
Just as we’re losing interest in this adventure, Bishnu, his bride, and an entourage of people in puffy coats show up with the priest. We all stand around shivering and trying to take iPhone pictures in the pitch dark (nobody had time to bring a real camera) as the priest rushes them through a series of rituals. I am struck as always by how abstract the bride and groom seem at these weddings, and this is even more apparent tonight: Bishnu and his bride are at the center of the marriage, but it is not about them at all.
Is it over? Is it over? Everyone is freezing. Bhinaju’s brother has a van. Everyone piles in to take the girl back to Bishnu’s house an hour away in Lumle, where the family will take turns “showing their faces” to the new wife. I almost never turn down a chance to be part of a face-showing ceremony in Nepal in the middle of the night, but this next phase is going to last till morning and I have nothing with me. I’m tired and I catch a ride back home.
. . .