Part 1 of Anita Felicelli’s The Great Sari and Mango Novel introduced twin brothers Vivek and Anish during a trip they took in their twenties to Johannesberg to attend their cousin Amala’s wedding. Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, and rejoin Vivek in Part 5 below as disparate world views clash.
No surer way to kill love than to get married, Vivek reminded himself No surer way to kill love than to get married, Vivek reminded himself.as he watched the afternoon ceremony with ambivalence — a cookie cutter wedding involving violins playing Pachelbel, a minister mopping his brow, and a sea of guests seated in folding chairs on a stretch of dry lawn facing the grapevines, under parasols and wide-brimmed hats. Amala floated down the aisle towards David and the minister, a shimmering white and gold cloud.
Next to Vivek, Anish’s head fell forward. Wasted from five or six drinks, he had fallen sound asleep. He snored softly, his nostrils quivering. Some older white women in the seats in front of them turned around to stare and whisper. Vivek elbowed his brother. On the other side of Anish, Aimee giggled and pushed Anish’s head back, but this only made him snore louder. Vivek elbowed him again. Anish slurred, “Shuthef*ckup.”
Vivek shook him with one hand. After a minute of prodding, Anish woke with a shrug. “Awake! I’m awake,” he huffed. He stared glassy-eyed as the minister read from Corinthians. And again the necks in the row in front of them swiveled. Vivek wanted to punch Anish, but he could feel other cousins’ eyes burning into the back of his own neck from the row behind them.
When the ceremony was over, the guests gathered at a dinner reception where pink champagne flowed freely. Her brown skin looked ashy, making the red bindi on her forehead seem more brilliant.Vivek helped Anish walk to a leather couch just outside the hall to smoke, and then made his way inside the hall. All the round tables except one were full, and Vivek groused to himself when he realized he had to sit at an empty table across from the girl in the beige kurtha. He figured she was a teenager, but he couldn’t figure out which family or group she belonged to and she was simply sitting in front of her empty plate, watching him and other guests eat. Her brown skin looked ashy, making the red bindi on her forehead seem more brilliant. It was irregular — not a sticker like the rest of the women at the wedding, but an uneven fleck of paint.
Vivek picked at his chicken korma and drank an ice-cold glass of beer as his uncle started his toast. It was witty and warm, welcoming David to their family and claiming to be proud. Vivek had steeled himself for something more awkward, but this proved unnecessary. The families were fawning over each other, no sign of the quiet tension that, to his knowledge, had existed for the past few years.
After the puja, he had been expecting other Hindu elements. The only element he noticed His parents had taught him for years that Hindus absorbed elements of other religions because Hinduism was so tolerant.in the reception hall was a tray of offerings — overripe bananas, apples and oranges — wreathed in blossoms. When he considered it more carefully, he remembered that like their other cousins, Amala and Shivani attended a Catholic secondary school run by nuns in Chennai. And lots of his parents’ Hindu friends kept fake plastic trees in their closets, which they hauled out and decorated with tinsel and lights every year. His parents had taught him for years that Hindus absorbed elements of other religions because Hinduism was so tolerant. Perhaps it was this conception of Hinduism, fed to him through the entirety of his childhood and adolescence, that made his relatives’ initial disapproval of this marriage so horrifying to him.
Had he misjudged the racism? He knew Amala’s parents had forbidden the marriage at first and that another aunt and uncle that lived in India had decided not to attend because Amala was marrying a black man. When he first heard this, he and Anish had been angry, suddenly seeing all the aunts and uncles in a whole new light, as heartbreakingly ignorant.
He remembered keenly, after 9/11 and the World Trade Center, the pronounced cold shoulder of his white schoolmates, the suggestion a boy had made that he sympathized with the terrorists because he disagreed with the war in Iraq. In his mind, making all those wild jumps — assuming Hindus were equivalent to Muslims who were equivalent to terrorists — was a unique feature of white America. It was embarrassing to think his own family might do the same, but it was also his only entry point into how Amala would have felt about her family’s behavior.
Perhaps the worst was Anish’s condescension towards him when he compared the two situations. Anish had become something of a Twitter activist after the murder of Trayvon Martin and he seemed to think he possessed a special insight Vivek lacked (despite being five minutes younger). Anish told Vivek that anti-blackness was something unfathomably worse than the micro-aggressions they had encountered. “We’re all people of color,” Vivek said.
“Well, we’re still privileged, because we’re not black. And our parents have money,” Saying that there was no way to fathom was only to further dehumanize, to remove individual empathy from the equation.Anish said, typing tweets furiously on his smart phone. To Vivek, saying that there was no way to fathom was only to further dehumanize, to remove individual empathy from the equation. Still, Anish was the only person Vivek could actually talk to about the situation, and he had disappeared into a drunken fog, never returning to the dining hall after his cigarette break.
When it came time for dancing, Vivek asked Aimee. He had learned how to waltz, two-step and salsa at a ballroom class with the blonde media studies major and he whirled Aimee around the floor with more confidence than he had mustered for small talk.
In spite of the back-story, there was a sparkly magic hanging over the entire wedding. Had he misunderstood what was happening? His family was his family after all. Anish might feel no loyalty, but they were still the aunts and uncles he had known during yearly trips to India during childhood and later, on their trips to the United States. They had sent him cards and gifts and notes of congratulations when he graduated from college, when he got into grad school, on his birthday.
“You’re really good,” Aimee said as they whirled through the crowd. Sweat was beading on her forehead. “I thought we’d be doing, you know, the kind of dancing they do in Bollywood movies.”
Sure enough, after a few waltzes, there was the sound of a vinyl record being scratched before the deejay started playing bhangra. They danced with the cousins for a few minutes, before Aimee pulled him aside. “It’s getting late, I think I should get back to my hotel,” she said. She brushed his sleeve with pale pink fingernails. “You guys were serious about inviting me to Kruger?”
“Yes, of course,” Vivek said. Perhaps she did like him, or at least enjoyed his company well enough, which meant there might be a chance for him tomorrow. “We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. Do you want to give me your phone number and addy, and we’ll pick you up?”
“We can caravan. It’s only a few hours on the road and you wouldn’t like my music, I think.”
“Why, what do you like? Hair metal?”
“No, modern rock,” she said, adjusting the strap of her pink beaded purse.
“Like I’ll stop the world and melt with you? You would like that shit,” he said. This time he smiled to make it clear that this time he was joking. Aimee punched him in the arm. She typed her hotel’s address into the notes on his phone. To Vivek’s surprise, she kissed him exuberantly on the cheek, her lips surprisingly firm and her minty breath passing under his nose as she pulled away.
After she left, Vivek decided to check on Anish. He expected to find Anish Shivani was shaking him as if she were rattling a Christmas present.drinking and smoking on the lawn, but instead Anish was passed out, sprawled on the couch, his limp legs splayed and his large hands covering his stomach and crotch. Shivani was sitting on the edge of the couch next to him, with her hands on his shoulders, shaking him as if she were rattling a Christmas present.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “He’s not responding.”
Vivek was seized with fear. He grabbed both of Anish’s shoulders and pumped them hard. When he put his ear by his brother’s dry, parted lips to listen for breathing he could hear a faint scraping sound, like soapstone being slowly abraded under a sculptor’s rasp.
“Anish, get up. You have to get up. Get up. Get up,” Vivek said. He pulled Anish forward roughly, so that he was sitting upright. Anish flopped back, hitting his head on the armrest. Vivek blushed as Shivani stood up.
“I wanna rest,” Anish said loudly. “Racists! You’re all a bunch of racists.”
Vivek glanced at Shivani who was staring at Anish with a mixture of concern and fury. “What is he talking about?” she said, though she must have known.
“Nothing, nothing,” Vivek said. He told Anish to get up.
“Go way.” Anish flailed around, his eyes open but unseeing.
“You need to get up. You’re making a scene. It’s embarrassing.”
“Sellout,” Anish said. This time he looked into Vivek’s eyes.
“If you don’t get up, I’m leaving without you,” Vivek said.
Shivani backed away. Her mother, Subashini and several other cousins approached them through the corridor that led from the dining room to the couch. “Is everything okay?” their aunt asked. “Is Anish jet-lagged?”
“You phonies,” Anish muttered, gesturing wild-eyed at their aunt.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing,” Vivek said. He wedged his arm beneath Anish’s legs and threw him over his shoulder. “I’m gonna take him out to the car. Nice seeing everybody.”
“We’re having a breakfast here tomorrow morning for all the out-of-town family,” said Shivani. “If you want to come.” She was entirely unruffled again and she pinned her hair back with a sparkly clip.
Subashini hugged Vivek. “Will you Over her shoulder, he saw the girl in the kurtha standing silently in the background.guys pick me up tomorrow?” she asked and he nodded, though he was already regretting the invitation. Over her shoulder, he saw the girl in the kurtha standing silently in the background. Her old-fashioned red bindi was streaked a little bit, as if she had been sweating. Inexplicably, she looked sad.
“We’ll try,” said Vivek to his aunt. He staggered down the corridor in the direction of the parking lot. “Good seeing everyone.”
“Love you,” Shivani said.
In the parking lot, Vivek loaded Anish into the car. He could still hear the bhangra music, the warm throb of it. A woman’s voice singing a raga floated up in the middle of the beats. One of Amala’s friends walked by with her husband and waved. “Aren’t weddings beautiful?” she said.