Monsoon Wedding Anniversary (Norman Costa)
Last Saturday, I attended the first wedding anniversary of a former student of mine, Parvati, and her husband, Bahadur. Circumstances, a year ago, did not allow for a proper wedding party, so throwing a party on their first wedding anniversary seemed a very good idea. It was.
I responded, immediately, to my invitation. Parvati and I stayed in touch by email since she finished her graduate program. I had not met Bahadur, but her Facebook photos beamed the with indisputable facts that he was a handsome young man, and that they were very much in love.
I drove from Poughkeepsie, NY to Edison, NJ to Akbar Restaurant. Their advertisement has the phrase “Where Moguls dine.” This is a reference to Akbar the Great, the first of the Mogul emperors from the 16th century CE. It rained on my drive to Akbar, a suitable blessing for a wedding anniversary, I thought, just as for a 'Monsoon Wedding.'
Akbar restaurant can be seen from I-287, an impressively large pink (closer to mauve, really) structure with an architectural exterior of Islamic design. The facade was an ornate screening of geometric, floral, and arboreal patterns. It brought to mind the Italian banquet restaurants of my youth - ornate baroque, rococo structures in white, gold, and blue.
As I walked through the entrance foyer of Akbar, on the way to the wedding anniversary party, I passed two very large banquet halls. Each was filled with a very large crowd, at a very large wedding celebration, and having a very large good time. A friend of mine, a Polish kid from New Jersey whose wife is from Bengal, told me about the tradition of very large Indian wedding banquets. In order to accommodate 800 guests, they had to have two receptions for 400 each. I tried to imagine a mother-in-law working out the seating arrangements – OY!
On campus Parvati dressed like any other graduate student in jeans, sweatshirt, sneakers, and a baseball cap. Makeup and hair were determined by practicality. I had not seen her for a couple of years, so I was not sure when I first saw her until she smiled and came over to greet me. The former graduate student was now an elegant, young Indian woman in a traditional dress, beautiful jewelry (I do not think I ever saw her with any jewelry,) and hair and makeup beautifully done. A shawl/scarf was kept under control by being draped over each arm, and coming around the back without covering the shoulders.
Bahadur wore a knee length tunic, also traditional. It was off-white with eye catching embroidery on the upper arms, cuff, collar, the upper torso and down the front. A decorative scarf went around his neck and hung down in front. Elegant, handsome, and very proud. Together they were a great looking couple – and very, very happy.
It was wonderful seeing Parvati, again. Most of my students were women. This is not unusual in the field of psychology. Seeing them in class and on campus was like having my own daughters (now with careers and families of their own) back home with me. As my students graduated college, went to graduate schools, began their professional lives, and some marrying, it was like watching my own daughters start their own lives. And I feel proud all over again.
I caught up a bit with Parvati, and had a little bit of time to chat with Bahadur and ask him a little bit about his background. Bahadur came from Bengal (East India) and Parvati came from the Punjab (Northwest India) on the border with Pakistan. They both work in the world of investment, banking, and finance, though Parvati's background was in the social sciences and Bahadur's in engineering.
I ate and chatted with their friends and coworkers. I was assured by the Indians that the food at Akbar was authentic. It was not necessary to convince me. There is one standard that I use. If the nan is good, everything else will follow. The nan was very good. Long ago I gave up on naming and identifying Indian food. It gets put on my plate, sauces added, and I enjoy. My approach is simple, efficient, and the food is always delicious.
On the drive home I was thinking about the national and ethnic heritages of my parents. My father's family came from Sicily, in the area around Monreal, near Palermo. My mother's parents were farmers who came from the Ukraine. The mother of my children came from an Irish family. For almost all of us, our forebears came from other countries. Some were brought to this country against their will as slaves for trading.
We are still an immigrant nation. Over the next few generations our immigrants will be yellow, brown, and black. They will do what every immigrant and slave generation has done for this country. They will contribute to its growth, its wealth, its culture, and its democracy. As a nation we are both a melting pot, and a mosaic.
I have two things to say to the next generation of immigrants: 1. Many people, before you, arrived by boat in New York Harbor. Everyone came out on deck to be greeted by The Statue of Liberty. It was an emotional event that none forgot, but that few people today experience. Today you can arrive by plane in almost any large city and never see the Great Lady. Make sure you go to the Statue of Liberty and read the inscription on the base. Then come back again and bring your children and grandchildren. Tell them what it means, and what it meant to you.
2. When you come to this country, do not make the mistake of closing the door behind you. Leave it open for those who wish to follow.