Be careful what you wish for, it may not come true!

We left our last blog post with a storm warning, and a storm there was, literally!

The bangle debacle did eventually come to an end and I got to keep my forty red bangles on (not that I would have had it any other way!). If asked, the truth would be revealed and if not, then no unnecessary details would be divulged. Thus, we somehow reached a state of compromise that was to be maintained till the end of the perfunctory wedding rituals. This breakthrough moment of calm and composure, however, was immediately disrupted by waves of chiffon and georgette and velvet jewelry boxes heavy with gold. It was time!

Image of a Traditional Marwari Bride and Groom

I was dressed and made-up like an ‘Indian Wedding Barbie’ , whilst some of the younger women tried to teach me that a bride should always be bashful and gaze downwards, never directly at her grooms face. I wondered whether this particular convention was to ensure that in an arranged marriage situation, the bride didn’t head for the hills upon laying eyes on her husband-to-be for the first time. I was a fish out of water. A fish starring in a bad Bollywood movie, complete with song and dance at the Sangeet!

Traditional Rajasthani Dancers

At the wedding reception Anurag and I were made to stand on an elaborate stage like wax statues at Madame Tussauds, while groups of people arranged themselves around us for pictures. When it was finally time for the Pujari to perform the nuptial rights, we were interrupted by a massive sandstorm! Everyone ran for shelter, trying to protect their wedding finery which was now covered in dust. At last at 2 a.m. in the morning, the storm let up and Anurag and I were finally married, again!

I let out a big sigh of relief- I had it made it through in one piece. My celebration, however, was premature. My parents had to catch a flight immediately and I was unable to see them off as I still had some more bridal business to attend to (Read more about the many wedding rituals here).  After the Bidai ceremony we went back to the house where Anurag and I had to play a few husband-wife games, generally designed to make the new bride feel more at home. Although it may sound fun, at 6 a.m. in the morning there is no game that could be more pleasurable than sleep. We were finally left alone and it started to sink in. I was now a proper Marwari wife.

The Happy Couple

The fun didn’t stop there…after barely two hours of sleep I was awoken and made to play dress up again in order to formally present myself to Anurag’s family. The most daunting of all was greeting Anurag’s grandfather. The oldest member and head of the household, his room was surrounded by a somber air that instilled fear in the rest of the family who skirted back and forth across his door. I was the portrait of an obedient Marwari wife, head covered in a shawl, as I bowed in greeting to this intimidating figure. Once all acquaintances were made, we headed off on a hot, sweaty and cramped road trip to visit their native places.

Flying off into the Sunset

This roller-coaster ride soon came to an end and it was finally time for my husband and me to return home to Melbourne. In only a few short days I had experienced more culture than I could stand, met more people than I cared to know in a lifetime and gotten to know a whole new side to the man I married. I remember thinking, “I am never, ever going to live in India!”, but fate works in mysterious ways and the smallest decisions can put you on a path headed to where you’d least expect.

The real roller-coaster ride had only just begun.

Part 2: Jodhpur

Stepping off the plane into Jodhpur was like the landing of a spacecraft on alien soil. There was me, plus my entourage of family and friends, venturing forth into an unknown land, surrounded by alien beings; our feeble whispers of “We come in peace” being drowned out by excited shrieks, giggles, pointing and gesturing. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as exhilarating as inter-galactic travel but it was overwhelming to say the least. Nevertheless, I plastered a smile on my face and walked over to Anurag’s family and gave them the typical Aussie greeting of a hug and a kiss. Mistake number one. I was immediately informed that such physical contact was a highly inappropriate form of greeting and that I should stick to the more respectful and traditional bowed head, palms together ‘Namaste’. So transpired the first few moments of unceremoniously being reacquainted with India.

The Old City of Jodhpur
Jodhpur is often called the Blue City
Perspective

It had been decided that after our Melbourne wedding, we were to have a “proper” wedding in Anurag’s hometown of Jodhpur, where his entire extended family and associates of the family would be able to attend the historic wedding of the eldest son of the Saboo clan. I hadn’t been to India in ten years, the time before that being a backpacking trip with a girlfriend, yet I was eager to do whatever was required for Anurag and me to begin our peaceful, happily married life. I had heard much about Jodhpur, the “Sun City” of India (an apt name for a place where day temperatures average at 48ºC!) and its exceptional handicrafts, culture and history. But my experience was purely that of a reluctant bride being pushed into performing at the three ring circus that is the Marwari wedding.

Anu and Me (in character) in Jodhpur

To my great annoyance before the wedding, the bride and groom were not supposed to see each other, meaning that I had to stay in a hotel, away from my husband. I had given up trying to control anything about the situation and was just being taken through the motions by Anurag’s family. I had absolutely no idea what was required of me, how I needed to be dressed, what I was meant to say and do and for the first time I felt completely clueless. In my innocence I believed that I would be able to handle whatever came my way. It was only when we got to the hotel that my meek demeanor morphed into anger.

They sure do like their puppets!

Mistake number two. As a newly wed Punjabi bride, I had worn my forty red bangles on the way over form Delhi. These were placed on my wrists by a maternal uncle at the Melbourne wedding and I wore them with pride as a symbol of my marital status, very much like a wedding ring. Upon reaching the hotel, inquisitive relatives began questioning my in-laws as to the reason behind my wearing the bangles. They were silenced by replies such as “Oh, she doesn’t know any better”, “Just a fancy” and “She doesn’t know much about Indian customs”. It was only then that we realized that apart from Anurag’s immediate family, everyone was in the dark about us already being married. To the people in Jodhpur, Anurag had returned from Australia engaged and was to be married here. The bangles became a point of contention between our families. My in-laws felt that I should hide them and play the part that had been decided for me and my parents were adamant that the truth be told. Both sides had valid reasons for their stand on the matter. My in-laws did not want to disappoint their relatives and associates by informing them that we were already married, as the wedding of the eldest son in a household is a big deal. My parents, apart from wanting to be honest and prevent the perpetuation of such a fallacy, did not wish to behave as if the big Punjabi wedding they had hosted had never happened and were insulted at such a notion. I did not wish to hide the fact that we were already husband and wife and Anurag was hopelessly trapped between my wishes and those of his family.

The Forty Red Bangles that changed the course of my life

Thus, the forty red bangles came to be a turning point in my marriage and my life. They came to represent the contradictions of culture, the conventions of tradition and the passage to India. It was the moment that was to decide the future of my relationship and it was a moment that shaped things to come. Would I let myself be washed away by the tide of old fashioned customs or would I stand up for what I believed was right? Would I give in to unreasonable demands for the sake of love or would I stand by the principles my parents had raised me with? Would our relationship be able to survive this inconceivable pressure?

There was a storm a-brewing and who knew what the aftermath would be.

Of love and other choices

The ideal wife? I couldn't have been more different!

In Melbourne, as a student of Economics and Marketing & Tourism at Monash U, I had a successful and extremely satisfying career in community development (I won’t talk about it too much here but you can find out more by following this link ).  A few things I have taken immense pride in have been the setting up of a night market in a less-popular, but highly multicultural part of town and initiating the United Wood Cooperative for elderly men from Africa. Sustainability was key in everything that I aimed to achieve and it is still one of the main themes of Forty Red Bangles. Of course, such accomplishments would have made any parent proud, as mine were too-but not as much as they would have been had I been married! Ask any Indian and you will hear that the marital expiry date of an Indian woman in 25 at most, and after that she is to be taken off the shelf and chucked into the spinster pile. I was approaching my late twenties and my sister (ironically voted least likely to get married!) had settled down at the age of 21- leading everyone to believe that I was a hopeless cause.

Such family pressures were often discussed with friends down at the pub, which led me to become increasingly interested in discovering the eccentricities in the lives of first and second generation Indians in Australia. The seed of an idea was planted, and this grew into a project that took an exploratory look at 1st and 2nd generation Indians in Australia. Hearing about my sudden interest in this topic, a friend expressed the desire to introduce me to a man named Anurag, who they jokingly told me was a Prince from Rajasthan, India. Now, with first impressions it can go either way- you can be absolutely spellbound or completely unimpressed. When I finally met Anurag at a pub called the North Fitzroy Arms it was, unfortunately, the latter. An innocent and eager Indian boy was no match for this headstrong Aussie- or so I thought! Time passed, we kept meeting, bottles of wine were shared, stories were exchanged and somewhere along the way we fell in love.

The North Fitzroy Arms
Anurag and me- in skinnier times!

In July of 2004, we were engaged! Respective parents were informed and they were none too pleased. More than being of different castes, my parents were worried about me marrying into an extremely traditional Marwari family and his parents were skeptical of him marrying a woman not of their choosing and from an extremely untraditional Indo-Aussie family. This was all as full of masala as a typical Bollywood film, so with goading from a director friend, a documentary of Anurag’s and my story was to become the end result of the project I had embarked upon. We made the choice to be betrothed but a full-on Punjabi wedding in Melbourne cemented our union in front of our families and friends.

After the Punjabi Wedding
The Documentary- Wedding Saree Showdown: Coming Soon!

What seemed like a romantic notion at the time came with a tidal wave of repercussions that we could have scarcely anticipated. What happens next? Well you’ll just have to keep reading to find out!

Part 1: Melbourne

Way down south, at the southernmost tip of the land down under lays the unassuming city of Melbourne. Home to thousands and a veritable melting pot of cultures, Melbourne is a city like no other. Where else can you find tzatziki at a Mediterranean supermarket at 3 a.m. in the morning and happen upon beautiful antique furniture waiting on the curb for only you to discover it. A city with great coffee, and even better wine, flowing through its veins, a utopia of food to satisfy any palate and culture to feed any soul-that’s my Melbourne.

Melbourne! (with the Melbourne Cricket Ground in focus)

Born a second-generation Indian-Australian in a not-so-typical Indian family, I had a semi-traditional upbringing. There was the odd salwar-kameez society function or two but there were also moments of teenage rebellion – of moshing in the mud at a Guns N’ Roses concert! Part of me was so Aussie that I never gave it a second thought and part of me were so Indian that I never even realized it. A self-proclaimed cricket groupie, I attended as many matches as I could and unashamedly proclaimed my love for the select few cricketers we stalked in hotel lobbies. My memories are also sprinkled with balmy summer nights spent demolishing the juiciest mangoes and slurping greedily at homemade falooda. I enjoyed my childhood immensely, relishing the kind of freedom of choice that my parents had moved to Australia for.

Delicious Kulfi Falooda

Growing up, I am reluctant proud to admit that I was a Brunswick Street Hippie. It seems to me that a social consciousness is something that you have to be born with and cultivate throughout your life. Throughout my formative years (for the majority of which I was a hardcore vegetarian!) I was always attracted to the slightly alternative, the earthy and the ecologically conscious.

Brunswick Street

Days were spent at Atomica Caffe, debating worldly issues with friends over a cup of the perfect soy flat white; while nights were at the Vegie Bar where after tumbler upon tumbler of organic wine, we laughed about the Indian-ness of our parents’ and their stories of how they their scant possessions included a sole pair of shoes. Relationships were built over caffeine-fueled arguments and communal tables at Moroccan restaurants and that to me is the very essence of Melbourne.

Caffe Atomica
The perfect Soy Flat White
Vegie Bar

Melbourne has been an indomitable life coach and the city has left an indelible print on me and become the starting point for Forty Red Bangles. The touch of modernity rooted in tradition, the love for fine things, a quest for sustainability and a satirical sense of humor are things that have shaped the brand and everything that comes under it.

A Tale of Three Cities

As Shakespeare once said, “Journey’s end in lovers meeting”; but that’s actually where our journey begins. Our story is set across three cities: Melbourne, Jodhpur and Mumbai. Each of these cities has added a unique flavor to the formation of the Forty Red Bangles philosophy. In the weeks to come, we will discover these places and in doing that, also discover ourselves.

There are three parts to our story and we hope you will join us in this endeavor to strip away the external layers and find the hearts of these cities that have  played an important part in shaping the Forty Red Bangles.

A dash of culture, heaps of tradition and a sprinkle of modernity have resulted in a truly extraordinary concept that everyone can make their own.

Welcome to Forty Red Bangles!

Forty Red Bangles is a socially conscious company, moving towards creating a sustainable luxury line of clothing and fashion accessories.

The brand is a fusion of ethnicity and modernism, drawing upon the colour palette reminiscent of India’s art, street and spices; translating into an eclectic range. Each piece is handcrafted and personality-filled; targeted towards strong individuals, drawn to something different.  Each piece pays homage to the earth; incorporating ecological elements into its design and construction.

Over the next few weeks we will introduce you to the Forty Red Bangles lifestyle and share with you the story of how we came to be. Our blog will not only be about the FRB label, products and the organizations we support, but also the latest news from the world of eco-fashion and sustainable living. We hope to be a meeting place for like-minded individuals where we can ll share our stories and build new connections.

Go glamorously green with Forty Red Bangles!