Aus-piss-ee-ous

From One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Mat­ter. Pub­lished by Dou­ble­day Canada in 2017. Scaachi Koul’s work has ap­peared on Buz­zfeed, in The New Yorker, the Globe and Mail, Ha­zlitt and many other pub­li­ca­tions.

Geist - - News - SCAACHI KOUL

I Never Talk About It Or­der­ing the Bus Whereas

There are two types of peo­ple who in­sist that In­dian wed­dings are fun. The first are white peo­ple, who are fre­quently well-mean­ing but stupid and en­joy things vaguely dif­fer­ent

from them­selves by ex­oti­ciz­ing them. Do not talk to me about how you love the “colours” of an In­dian wed­ding— the main colours come from blood and shit, not nec­es­sar­ily re­spec­tively.

The sec­ond type are any peo­ple who have never ac­tu­ally been to an In­dian wed­ding in In­dia with In­dian peo­ple. Or, at least, have never been to the en­tirety of an In­dian wed­ding, the full five to seven days, the mul­ti­ple out­fits, the fa­mil­ial re­quire­ments that for­feit your time and in­de­pen­dence. No, these peo­ple swoop in for the cer­e­mony and re­cep­tion, they eat some pako­ras and talk about how “cute” it is when lit­tle girls have uni­brows, maybe

they show up early for the henna cer­e­mony and ask for a lower-back tat, and then we never see them again. In­dian wed­dings are a lot of things, but “fun” has never been their pur­pose.

My fam­ily was in Jammu for my cousin Sweetu’s wed­ding. Thanks to an In­dian on­line dat­ing ser­vice— Shaadi.com, which means Wed­ding. com be­cause we as a race are hardly try­ing—sweetu’s par­ents were able to ar­range her mar­riage to a nice boy with well-man­i­cured stub­ble and a good job in Amer­ica. It’s the dream.

If In­dian wed­dings for In­dian peo­ple are the fur­thest from “fun,” trips to In­dia for In­dian peo­ple are the fur­thest from “va­ca­tion.” When I told my friends about the up­com­ing trip, ev­ery­one purred about what a great time I’d have, told me to take a lot of photos, told me to eat ev­ery­thing. But if you’re go­ing to In­dia to see your fam­ily, you’re not go­ing to re­lax, you’re not go­ing to have a nice time. No, you’re go­ing so you can touch the very last of your blood­line, to say hello to the new ones and good­bye to the older ones, since who knows when you’ll visit again. You are work­ing.

My par­ents were in Jammu to give bless­ings to Sweetu, to send her into her new life ac­cord­ingly. They ar­rived with crisp, bank-fresh ru­pees and red vel­vet pouches filled with thick gold ban­gles. My brother and his wife, Ann,

were there to show off Raisin, the lat­est ad­di­tion to our fam­ily, the first grand­child of my fa­ther, the el­dest son. As for me, a girl and there­fore my mother’s joy and my fa­ther’s re­spon­si­bil­ity, I was there to prove my par­ents are a suc­cess. I was among the first to be born out of In­dia within my ex­tended fam­ily, proof pos­i­tive that my par­ents moved to a far­away pros­per­ous land for good rea­son. Look at me, I will say merely by show­ing my be­atific face. I am fairskinned, of av­er­age weight and height, my hair is long and shiny, I am uni­ver­si­tye­d­u­cated and re­spect­ful of our cus­toms and tra­di­tions. I know I don’t speak the lan­guage, but you can see here on my nose the in­dent of what was once a nose ring, thus the mark of an au­then­tic but mod­ern Kash­mir girl. The Kouls are thriv­ing in the West. Feel free to sig­nal your ap­proval with a satchel or two of gold.

Af­ter we dropped off our bags at the ho­tel and af­ter I had a hearty twenty-minute ar­gu­ment with my par­ents, who ne­glected to book a sep­a­rate ho­tel room for me and were ex­pect­ing that I would, for fif­teen days, sleep sand­wiched be­tween my six­tysix-year-old fa­ther and sixty-year-old mother (I stopped short of scream­ing, “I REFUSE TO SLEEP ON THE SAME SUR­FACE AS YOUR

RE­SPEC­TIVE GEN­I­TALS” be­fore they made up a cot for me on the floor next to their bed), we headed over to the wed­ding venue, a fif­teen-minute auto-rick­shaw ride away.

There were al­ready more brown peo­ple in­side the venue than I had seen in the last five years com­bined. Nearly all my fa­ther’s fam­ily was there: his fa­ther’s last re­main­ing brother; his sis­ter who is ac­tu­ally his aunt (pos­si­bly not by blood) but she’s younger than him so he calls her his sis­ter; his mother’s brother; his ac­tual sis­ter; her son, Rohan, who got mar­ried in Delhi a few years ear­lier with a thou­sand guests at his re­cep­tion (I did not go); his daugh­ter, E, the same age as then-five-year-old Raisin; and my dad’s cousin, my Vee Masi, my mom’s friend who helped ar­range my par­ents’ mar­riage.

If this sounds con­fus­ing, that is be­cause it is. Brown peo­ple rarely ex­plain how any­one is re­lated to any­one. You re sim­ply told that these peo­ple are your fam­ily and to treat them as such. My par­ents do not dis­cuss the fact that one of my “aunts” is ac­tu­ally my dad’s aunt, or how my mom’s many “sis­ters” are not her sis­ters and are some­times merely child­hood friends. It’s rude to ask what would other­wise be a very rea­son­able ques­tion: “Hey,

Mom, why do you have forty sis­ters? Was your mother a sea tur­tle? Is that why she cried so much?” So the ques­tion of “how” is maybe less im­por­tant than the state­ment of “this”: This is your fam­ily. You will hear a plat­i­tude about how much you look like them even if this is not true. You will smile. You will feel warm. Be­have.

The venue was a three-floor home with a sprawl­ing lawn for the re­cep­tions, a pyre for the cer­e­mony it­self, an in­door hall, and mul­ti­ple rooms for out-of-town­ers to change and put their chil­dren down for naps. In one of the many bed­rooms was Sweetu, sit­ting on a bed with her hair in tiny braids as is cus­tom­ary be­fore a bride’s wed­ding week. (Did I men­tion In­dian wed­dings last seven days? There are prison sen­tences that run shorter than In­dian wed­dings.) Sweetu is my ac­tual cousin, her mother be­ing my fa­ther’s younger sis­ter. This I am pretty sure about, be­cause we look too sim­i­lar to not share blood. Her hair is long and thick like mine, we have the same nose, same fair and yel­low­ish skin. She’s sar­cas­tic and dis­mis­sive, some­what of a hot­head un­til she knows she has to pull it to­gether for the sake of her mother, whose body will lit­er­ally grow hot when she’s an­gry. Sweetu laughs when ev­ery­one gets up­set over aus­pi­cious­ness, a term used nearly con­stantly at In­dian wed­dings. The ac­cents here also pro­nounce the word as “aus-piss-ee-ous,” frag­mented and some­how even more dra­matic. The wed­ding date? Must be aus-piss-ee-ous. The pair­ing it­self? Must con­sult the stars and en­sure it is an aus-piss-ee-ous union. The place­ment of nap­kins, the volume of food cir­cu­lated, the dark­ness of the bride’s henna? Let us all be sure this is the most aus-pis­see-ous of aus-piss-ee-ous days. No one, English-speak­ing or not, knows what this fuck­ing word means, but it is im­por­tant that we ob­serve it.

Sto­ry­book West Side. From The Spe­cial by Kevin Lan­thier, a project that ad­dresses Van­cou­ver’s trans­for­ma­tion through dig­i­tally crafted, imag­i­nary streetscapes made from photos of real Van­cou­ver houses. The se­ries was shown at Ian Tan Gallery in Van­cou­ver in Au­gust 2017. Lan­thier lives in Van­cou­ver and at kevin­lan­thier.com.

East Van Relics. From The Spe­cial by Kevin Lan­thier.

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