You're Never Fully Dressed Without A-
Bart was culturally sensitive. He grew up in the Midwest with a father who traveled regularly for work and brought the family along often. His mother was from Madrid and took him and his sister to Spain annually to see dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and travel the continent as much as they could. He had cousins from Mexico, Ireland, and the deep South. He spoke fluent Spanish and attended more Bar Mitzvahs than most boys being raised in Minnesota. Enjoying different cultures was his forté. When Dhruv, a close college buddy invited him to an enormous Indian wedding, he immediately accepted.
Dhruv’s family wasn’t exactly legitimate royalty in India, but they weren’t exactly not, either. Dhruv had been the one to take down tables at nightclubs in college, sneaking the underage guys in through the back door where somehow this twenty-year-old ‘knew somebody.’ Some of Bart’s favorite memories were partying with Dhruv and he knew the wedding would be no exception. The invitation, printed on what seemed to be solid silver, announced itself as a three-day affair. Bart had just started at his first office job out of college and didn’t have the luxury of days off. He wouldn’t be able to make the kick-off party Friday night but would land in Santa Barbara just in time for the ceremony on Saturday. He couldn’t wait. Wanting to make sure he dressed appropriately, Bart called Ram, an Indian colleague, and asked for guidance. This was a mistake.
Like Bart, Ram worked at the company in an entry-level position and, unlike Bart, instead of blowing a small fortune on rent every month, he lived with his parents to save money to eventually invest in real estate. (This has worked out incredibly well for Ram. Smart kid.) So Bart went to Ram’s house to be dressed for the affair.
He showed up at the front door with the invitation in hand. Ram’s mother answered. Bart pressed his hands together in the prayer gesture and bent his head only to be tackled with a linebacker-esque hug from Ram’s mother. There were three aunties waiting behind her and Ram waving sheepishly from the living room. One of the aunties took the invitation from his hand and the next thing Bart knew, he was in the kitchen, down to his T-shirt and boxers as four middle-aged women fussed about, dressing him and gossiping in Hindi about the wedding. Ram sat at the kitchen counter, eating from a large plate that one of the women had somehow magically produced out of thin air.
“I feel like I’m imposing,” Bart offered. Ram made a face.
“Not at all, you’re making their day.”
Bart politely held back a grimace as someone stuck his calf with a pin.
“So, what are they saying?”
“Oh, one of the aunties knows a cousin of the bride’s family. Her parents are super wealthy. It’s gonna be an awesome party. Huge. Like, 500 people.”
Bart grinned, he was desperately looking forward to a break from the long days in the windowless office of the accounting firm.
“Is there anything, like, culturally specific that I should do?”
“Hmmm…” Ram chewed thoughtfully, “I think showing up dressed like this is the biggest part. And, when you’re introduced to your elders, it’s totally appropriate to bow a little. Like you did to my mom. Very good move."
"Ok.” Bart took the mental note.
“Yes!” Ram’s mother and aunties finally stepped back, admiring their fine work. Bart was immaculately dressed in a Nawabi, the traditional dress shirt - almost a jacket with buttons going diagonally across the front. This one was a beautiful silk, a deep plum color with gold trim, the bottoms a rich copper, called an Aligarhi pant. Bart wasn’t going to lie, he felt handsome, debonaire, really, and admired himself from every angle in Ram’s kitchen. The clothes were stunning, a little louder than Bart usually dressed but he figured with the prominence of the wedding families, he would easily blend in.
Bart tried to thank the women and leave but ended up staying for the entire afternoon and eating so much he knew he would not be able to button the pants that night at gunpoint.
The weeks until the wedding slogged on. Bart had thought a CPA job would set him on the right track for the finance career he was working hard to achieve, but, damn, it was really boring. He kept the silver invitation mounted to the velcro wall in his cubicle to keep him motivated, but it mostly served as a distraction and an impetus for daydreaming.
The wedding weekend finally arrived and Bart was so excited that he was actually nervous. He woke up before the sun that Saturday morning, getting to the airport earlier than most grandparents. His knee bounced up and down on his flight and he almost cried when the pilot announced that there was no gate available for their plane and they would have to wait on the runway for an undisclosed amount of time. He was sweaty, anxious, and furious at American Airlines for their inability to know when a scheduled flight was going to arrive.
He sprinted through the airport, his carry-on bouncing behind him. He jumped in his Uber, keeping his suitcase on the seat next to him.
“I’m really sorry,” he explained to his driver breathlessly, “but I have to change. Can you turn up the A/C?”
The driver obliged. Bart gingerly took the tissue-pressed ensemble out of his bag, shedding his jeans and sweaty T-shirt, trying his best to emulate the aunties but there were just so many buttons. These were clearly clothes meant to be put on while standing up but Bart just didn’t have that luxury.
He laid down across the bench seat, wriggling into the perfectly tailored Aligarhi, struggling to fasten them just like he had seen in Ram’s kitchen. It was like wrestling a seal in an oil spill but he managed to put himself together. The minutes on the car’s dash sped up way too fast.
These things never start on time, he told himself, or do they?
When the Uber finally pulled up to the Venue, it made Bart stop and gasp. He had never in his life seen an event like this. There were silver and gold arches made of some kind of iridescent flowers, a red velvet aisle that the wedding procession was already walking down, and he definitely saw a group of men with the bride holding back….an elephant. Bart tried to sneak in and find a chair with no one noticing. But that was impossible.
Because, in the sea of the 500 or so guests, Bart, the white guy, was the only person in traditional attire. He gazed out at the women in ballgowns and the men in Armani suits and tried very hard to disappear. A beautiful bell sounded and the audience clamored to their feet to watch the bride enter, on her elephant. This meant that all 500 wedding guests were now looking behind them, to the back of the venue, where Bart stood in his Nawabi with nowhere to hide.
And the bride, in her perfectly gorgeous lace and very Western dress, looked down at him, on the most solemn moment of her life, and busted out laughing. An older man in a perfectly tailored suit looked at Bart. And before he knew what he was doing, Bart bowed.