Marrying a man and his culture

American Sara McDermott Jain traveled to India to marry Ajit Jain and celebrate the event with his extended family.
American Sara McDermott Jain traveled to India to marry Ajit Jain and celebrate the event with his extended family.
Posted: May 20, 2012

Born in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I would never have predicted that my future husband, Ajit, was in India. Yet, at the age of 29, I was sitting in an apartment in Ghaziabad, one mehndiartist on each arm, being decorated with henna tattoos for my Indian wedding.

Triangles, flowers, peacocks — even a king and queen. These were the main components of the designs crafted from my fingertips to my elbows, my toes to my knees. Determined to be authentic, I dutifully sat through the four hours required to finish the ornamentation.

Yet, while I could put together the right “look,” I was a white, American girl, clueless about what was going to happen on this wedding journey.

How could I possibly adapt to India? How could Indians adapt to me? Ajit and I discussed how our wedding would be small — maybe just 20 people — since friends and relatives might frown upon his marrying an American.

The morning of the wedding, I dressed in a red and gold lehenga before being draped in jewelry, including what can only be described as a Cleopatra-worthy breastplate of gems. My new cousins arrived to escort me to the hall where we would have our Jaimala ceremony, presenting each other with garlands of roses and gardenias.

Walking through the outside courtyard, I passed our mandap. This outdoor altar, dripping with flowers, was where Ajit and I would exchange our vows that afternoon. Despite the beauty, I wondered one last time if I would ever be truly embraced by my husband’s friends and relatives.

Then, as I entered the hall, 150 people burst into applause: Ajit’s relatives, who had traveled all night to be there, and all the neighbors from his parents’ compound, were cheering and supporting us. Instantly, my eyes filled with tears.

While Indian weddings may typically last a week, we condensed ours into 12 hours. Despite its being relatively short, I have so many dazzling memories: sitting outside under our mandap, strings of flowers dangling over our heads; Ajit and me combining rice onto a silver plate, to symbolize combining our lives; being showered with marigold petals; having our scarves tied together and making an uncoordinated walk around the sacred fire; and finally, returning to our room to find an intricate flower canopy over our bed.

The beauty of the Indian culture was everywhere: not just in material things like colorful clothes, but in spiritual rituals, generosity, and our vows. The ceremony felt extra personal to me, perhaps because I was not just marrying Ajit, but an entire country and its culture.

Newlyweds Ajit and Sara McDermott Jain are living in New York for a few months, and will be returning home to Wallingford after that.

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