Extract taken from the forthcoming book, Stories from my Father’s House
“Two minutes,” Mum said mopping her brow with her chuni. “Two minutes. Don’t say anything to me, just for two minutes. So many things to sort out, so many things, you don’t understand,” she told no one in particular as she riffled through the wardrobe for items she’d stowed away for the wedding.
The wardrobe was full of things in an array of shopping bags from different stores. It was a system she used to denote what was in what bag. But as time had lapsed she had forgotten her system and and ended up riffling through each bag until she ticked everything on her mental list. The remala she had sewn from material printed with the holy sign to cover the pulpit surrounding the holy book; the Guru Granth Sahib. A shirt for the groom. His ring. His mother’s ring. His father’s ring. A large bag of garlands for the temple. And the list went on and on and on until she was satisfied.
Earlier when everyone was still asleep, Mum had walked through the house carrying a small stainless steel tray with two sticks of rose masala incense burning, whispering a prayer as she went from room to room asking God to bless the house, the family and the forthcoming nuptial.
Downstairs the house was awake with visitors from London, Northampton and Leicester who had stayed after the Narnkishak, all preparing for the wedding. But there was to be no more washing or chopping of vegetables, no filling samosa or frying pakora. The samosa had been taken to the temple and one of the helpers would fry them and make hot sweet cinnamon and fennel tea. A chef had been hired to cook for the day. The menu for the reception had, after many deliberations, been decided by Dad. It was the late eighties the culinary trend was a tandoori chicken starter. The chicken had been left to marinade overnight in a tandoori paste of yoghurt and spices to be cooked fresh before the guests arrived at the reception.
Mum instructed Dad, “Put the Kumble in the boot of the car so we don’t forget.” And obediently Dad collected the beautifully printed faux fur blankets for the milini later, when the Buchola officially introduced him to the groom’s father and uncles. Before the wedding started, the men would welcome each other to their families by exchanging garlands, pound notes and Dad would give Amrik’s father the gift of a ring. The women’s milini would take place at the reception.
Mum locked the cupboard and took in the scene; the air was filled with excitement. Her daughters were sitting on the beds, all dressed in matching salwar kameez she had sewn, combing each other’s hair and chatting about the day ahead. Some Aunties had arrived early to do Penji’s hair, make-up, bindi’s and sari. Mum looked around the room; stacked in one corner was Penji’s trunk, three suitcases, a sewing machine, a television set, duvets with covers Mum had sewn and the things that could not fit into the trunk. Everything to start a new life as a wife and daughter-in-law all waiting to be collected after the wedding celebrations and taken on their journey to their new home when the dholi departed. In India, at a time before rickshaw’s, tampu’s and cars the bride was carried in a palanquin known as a dholi to her in-law’s village. Mum blinked away the threatening tears and tried not to think about her eldest daughter leaving the family home. The bittersweet moment when the dholi departed and the uncles gathered to congratulate Dad on marrying his daughter well as he too held back the tears.
The merry sounds of the Aunties chatting and laughing downstairs filtered up the stairs, and they broke into a song about an excited bride and the imminent arrival of the groom’s party; the Janerth.
“Coming, they’re coming – the Janerth. Call my father. Coming, they’re coming – the Janerth. They’re waiting in the front yard. Coming, they’re coming – the Janerth. Call my brothers. Coming, they’re coming – the Janerth. They’re waiting in the front yard…”
As cool March breeze drifted in through the open window one of the Aunties broke away from the wedding songs and started singing a popular tune.
“Bahaaron phool barsaao mera mehboob aaya hai, mera mehboob aaya hai,” she sang; seasons of spring shower with flowers my love has arrived, my love has arrived.
“Do you think Amrik will come on a horse?” my sister Nicky wondered aloud.
“Call him Parji,” said Mum, “He’s going to be your elder sister’s husband!”
Dad entered the room and everyone hushed. He looked at Penji and for a moment was silent. “The chef has come,” he announced and Mum rushed downstairs after him to give him his final instructions and make sure nothing was forgotten.
Amrik came in a gold and white rolls royce with silver ribbons. The Janerth arrived in two coaches. Part of the Janerth formed a procession down the street, led by a drummer playing the dhol. The ladies of the Janerth; Amrik’s mother, sisters, cousin-sisters and Aunties sang and clapped and danced as they drew closer to our house.
Inside the front door, our Aunties waited for them singing out to Amrik’s Aunties who sang back to our Aunties. Mum escorted Penji to the front door and the bride and groom exchanged wedding garlands as the Aunties sang. Amrik tied the gift of a necklace around Penji’s neck. And Mum officially welcomed the party into the house for some hot, sweet cinnamon and fennel tea and Indian sweets before going to the temple.
The scent of fried samosa and pakora drifted thought the lungar as the corn oil in the king-size wok cooled and the congregation feasted on the spicy Indian treats. As the wedding guests settled in the temple, the air was full of excitement blended with the perfume of jasmine and sandal from incense.
The wedding ceremony itself was short, but the Buchola had hired a group of temple singers to sing marriage songs. As Penji and Parji sat before the Guru Granth Sahib, and the congregation settled, the couple’s parents stood as a prayer was said for their children. And Dad, bending over the couple tied the end of Penji’s sari to Parji’s palla, the cloth draped over his shoulder, and placed the knot gently in Penji’s hand, embracing it for a few short moments. With this simple gesture, he gave away his eldest daughter. Dad wiped a tear from his eye and returned to sit beside Amrik’s father.
My sisters, brothers and cousins assembled around the pulpit on which the holy book rested and guided Penji as she walked around it four times and Amrik followed. Each of us escorted her in turn as she passed us, in our minds we said goodbye and wished her luck as she left her past life behind
and embarked on a new part of her journey. And they were married. The singers sang songs of joy and congratulations. Men patted my Dad’s back. My mother shed tears of happiness and sorrow.
At the end of the wedding ceremony the guests showered the couple with bright coloured garlands and pound notes. My sisters rushed off to hide the groom’s shoes, which they would only give back in return for a handsome sum. And it was off to the reception where the chef served hot tandoori chicken with salad and mint yoghurt.
Tandoori Chicken (Amarjit Nar © 2013)
Salt Tandoori powder 100g bag (please note tandoori powder contains chilli powder and it is advisable not to use any extra chillies if you prefer a milder taste) 1-2 fresh red chillies (optional) 12 chicken thighs and drumsticks (1.5kg) 200 g low-fat natural yoghurt 1 tablespoon garam masala ½ a bunch of fresh coriander
Preparing the chicken:
Wearing rubber gloves rub a little salt into each piece of chicken. Then rub in chillies (optional – you can add the chillies to the tandoori paste instead). Then rub in the tandoori paste (this will give you that bright red colouring).
Preparing the marinade:
Mix the rest of the tandoori powder and garam masala to the yoghurt and coat the chicken. For best results marinade overnight.
Cooking the chicken:
Heat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6. Place the chicken on a foil covered baking tray and cook for 30minutes. Check chicken is completely cooked. (To test push a knife into the chicken and if the fat drips out the chicken is cooked.)
Add freshly chopped coriander and serve.
Mix mint sauce and yoghurt, and add salt to taste, to make a simple dip for your tandoori chicken. And enjoy…