My uncle Anna has lived through a thousand moons! To celebrate, Anna—literally big brother in Tamil—and his wife Manni will reenact their marriage from 1951. But today is not about him. Today is about the women. It is mangili pondu, the Brahmin ceremony to remember, honor and seek the blessings of the women who have come before, in anticipation of my aunt and uncle’s remarriage. Three of my father’s four sisters have gathered at their house, and all of his three brother’s wives. A couple cousins. A close friend. The few men in attendance sit outside, reading the newspaper and sipping coffee, ignored.
Inside, the sisters are swathed in nine-yard saris, gold and colored silk wrapped a dozen times around their bodies, which move more slowly than they used to. They set up an altar with two banana leaves, a mirror, fresh flowers and a gold necklace. An oil lamp burns in the corner. They draw designs in rice flour to mark place settings on the floor. They bend down and wipe turmeric paste on their feet as I watch, unsure of when I can participate and when I can’t. This motion is for the married; that one for the eldest; a hundred unspoken rules I don’t know. With each return to India, the years creeping up on me at the same relentless rate as it for my aging aunts, my ignorance of what to do during the Hindu ceremonies seems more glaring. I once could play at the Hindu rituals as a child, and even a young woman, in a way I never could at my friend’s Catholic churches, at their Jewish synagogues. In the temple, it all seemed exotic and removed. But now I am a grown woman and the same motions feel fraudulent in any culture, in all the religions I don’t believe in.
Read the rest at Killing the Buddha