That morning was just like any other. She looked at her clock and chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully. Less than 10 minutes and she still had so much to do. This was supposed to be her big day. The day she’d been dreaming about since she was a little girl in pigtails and flouncy skirts. Joy and fear both battled for her attention.
Ok. Stop. Breathe. Breeeaaathe…. In and out. In and out.
Feeling a tad better, she proceeded to adjust her jewelry. The beautiful diamond encrusted piece glittered on her forehead. Gold bangles adorned her hands, from mid-forearm to wrist. Her wedding saree was this stunning explosion of fuchsia and purple intertwined with delicate golden tendrils of silk. Dev had picked it out for her. Her darling Dev. Handsome and tall, his dark eyes flashing with barely restrained passion. She was still amazed that he’d asked her to marry him. She’d wept and answered Yes! Yes of course!
Her eyes teared up at the memory and for a split second, she teetered between the past and her vision of what lay ahead of her. Soon she would be married to him, blissfully united for eternity.
Deftly applying kohl to her still-wet eyelids, she leaned back and looked into the mirror. Yes. She looked perfect with her sun-kissed skin and lips splashed with a shimmering red color. Squinting, she placed the large bindi between her delicately arched eyebrows. In the distance, she could hear the loud clanging of the bells and voices shouting, laden with emotion. Perfect timing. She was ready.
She climbed down the steps of her bungalow. The house they would both come back to after marriage. Their families would eventually hold a dinner in their honor, but only after a million anecdotes had been shared and enough tears had been shed about how young and lovely they were together. She wasn’t planning on staying for the post-wedding ceremonies — she was too impatient to leave and start her journey with Dev.
The large field was decorated with flowers and the smell of spicy smoke. She could see the red, dancing flames and the priest reading off a little prayer book. She considered herself progressive and liberal, but when it came to an important day like today, she wanted to stick to ancient and timeworn traditions. Her parents and the wedding guests stood all around the Holy fire, shielding their wet eyes from the flying embers. She blinked and saw the distant silhouette of her Dev. It looked like he was smiling, but it was hard to tell amidst the tongues of fire.
She heard her mom call out to her, and her dad yell something. But she couldn’t focus, not while Dev waited there for her — his arms trembling and his body quivering. She ran forward to him and almost tripped on a flyaway branch. Unaware that she was sobbing, she reached Dev and smiled at his glorious face. Now she would be forever his.
She turned back to look one last time at the priest and her wedding party. Their voices rose in a resounding uproar. She smiled and took a breath.
And as a million eyes bored into the back of her skull, she hoisted her wedding saree and jumped into Dev’s funeral pyre.
Author’s note: Sati or suttee is a completely obsolete funeral custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre or takes her own life in another fashion shortly after her husband’s death. This custom hasn’t been legal or even practiced in India since the early 1800s when it was outlawed, thanks to the heroic efforts of progressive Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The author does not endorse or agree with this horrific practice.