Scene from a Marriage

A taxi driver in Queens marries a stranger...

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Taxi driver Jaswant Singh arrived in a white stretch limo. Thick gold trim hung from his hot-pink turban, framing his face as he strolled into the Sikh temple in Richmond Hills, Queens. It was his wedding day, and because his match had been arranged, Singh, 20, was here to be married to a woman he’d never met.

Inside, Singh’s little cousins giggled in awe at the $20 and $100 bills pasted on his multi-strand pearl necklace. On the bride’s side of the prayer hall, wizened old men in white linen turbans, just arrived from India, joined hundreds of relatives and friends who were packed into the small space. They sat on the floor, waiting for the arrival of the bride, 18-year-old Jasbir Kaur.

“I can’t wait to see how beautiful she is,” said an 8-year-old girl as she proudly showed her henna-painted hands to a friend. “I wonder where she is,” she added.

Two hours late, Kaur finally arrived, shaking and sniffling. All eyes were fixed on her as she sat in the middle of a semicircle beside Singh. The two bowed, touched their foreheads to the ground, and agreed to live together for the rest of their lives.

“It’s normal that she cries,” laughed an elderly uncle. “She is leaving home and her parents for the first time. She is scared; it’s natural.”

“When we Sikhs marry someone we have barely met,” said an earnest newlywed, “we know that the person we are marrying has the same background and goals.” Love never lasts, she declared.

After Singh doffed his gold trim, he and Kaur circled the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, four times.

Later, in front of the temple, teenagers clad in Tommy Hilfiger shirts, gold earrings, and medallion necklaces talked about Sikh tradition and how the ancient marriage customs meld with their modern ideals.

“I will definitely marry who my parents wish,” exclaimed Dimpy, an 18-year-old who’s been in the United States for half his life. “They know me better than I know myself.”

Inesha, a 15-year-old American-born girl, goes to a Queens school with few other Sikhs. She hopes to fall in love and choose her own mate—one her parents would accept, like a highly educated Sikh from the Punjab region. But, she says, “If I can't find someone by the time I'm 22 or 23, I will go to my parents for help.”

From The Village Voice (Dec. 15, 1998). Subscriptions: $65/yr. (52 issues) from Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834.