Photo: Sachin Aubeeluck/Time Capture Photography
It was love at first sight, for both of us. The first thing that hit me was the piercing blue of the Indian Ocean as my flight descended and the island came into view. The first thing that hit my best friend was the whisky her future husband poured her on their first date.
A lucky swipe on a dating app brought my college bestie and Dubai girl, Vimla Nadkarni, together with Didier Houbert, island boy from Mauritius. Two years in, they were sending out invitations to their wedding on the island nation.
As an overly enthusiastic maid of honour, I arrived early in Mauritius to get the lay of the land. Fields of sugarcane lined wide roads—I made a mental note to stock up on the rum.
At some point after I crossed 25, my relatives and even the most distant family friends began to unsubtly comment on my relationship status. At a wedding, my mother’s friend insisted it was time to find someone to take care of me. On my 28th birthday, an aunt I rarely hear from rang up to ask if she should find me a “nice Goan boy”.
So when Vimla sent a slightly unintelligible voice note saying she was engaged, it got me thinking. Was there something wrong with me? Why wasn’t I dreaming of marriage and babies and galloping off into the sunset? (Though I wouldn’t mind that last bit.) I was approaching the bitter end of a rather painful relationship and felt a bit jaded about the thought of everlasting love.
The few days I spent on my own before the wedding were like the calm before the storm. I went diving off the coast off Trou aux Biches and marvelled at the dolphins racing by. I took a very expensive taxi-ride across the island to hike to the top of Le Morne Brabant, Mauritius’ most popular peak and muse for almost every postcard and T-shirt at souvenir shops. Legend has it that during British rule, the mountain was a refuge for runaway slaves. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom. The climb was not easy but the view was definitely rewarding. At the summit, my guide recited a quote by Mark Twain for the umpteenth time: “Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius.” Standing about 1,800 feet above sea level, with the wind in my hair and an intoxicating view of Le Morne peninsula and the brilliant blue ocean beyond, I could only agree.
I finally met Vimla and my partner- in-crime Sanjana Abraham over much shrieking and hugs at an Airbnb in Flic en Flac, one of Mauritius’ most touristy areas. It was as if we were back at Sophia College’s hostel, except there were no nuns to ensure that we were staying away from cigarettes and anyone with a Y-chromosome. Ah, if only they could see us now.
As most respectable maid of honour, I took on the task of organising Vimla’s last night of freedom. Alas, I found no trace of male strippers on the island. But we did end up dancing till 3am at a bar called Big Willy’s, grooving to the beats of rapper Bigg Frankkii along with some fine-looking men. We cabbed back in a giggling mess, with me trying out Creole curse words and Vimla almost crying with joy. She kept repeating, “Oh my God, he means so much to me.” It remains unsure whether she was referring to Bigg Frankii or her future husband.
The morning of the wedding felt as if we were sitting on a ticking bomb. We rehearsed vows with the bride, practised our surprise dance, squeezed in hair and make-up. It was a wonderful explosion of chaos. We got to the venue an hour late, with the wedding planner screaming, “Get the bride, we’re losing light!” hysterically into her phone.
The ceremony was in the lakeside garden of a beautiful guest-house situated in a forest clearing. As the first notes of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” began to play, the bride took her first step towards the groom, and a hush fell over the crowd.
Nothing quite prepared me for the emotion I felt as I watched my best friend walk down the aisle. There’s something about sharing three years of constantly escaping the wrath of nuns—and hence, possibly Jesus Christ—that cements a friendship. Standing beside her that day, I truly felt, most ironically, #blessed.
Later, on the dance floor, traditional Sega music segued smoothly into Hindi pop. Elegant saris mingled with tapering gowns; conversation flowed from French and Creole to English, Hindi, Malayalam. Mauritian culture is already such a beautiful mix of the West and East that the wedding truly seemed meant to be. Between twirling around, trying to catch the eye of Didier’s only single, very attractive friend, and headbanging to some unexpected rock music, I found myself unable to stop smiling. When we ended up back at Big Willy’s, the packed bar broke into cheers at the sight of Vimla in her wedding dress, entering arm-in-arm with her husband, a couple of tipsy bridesmaids following suit.
On my flight back to Mumbai, I had one of those eureka moments straight out of a romcom. At first, the wedding preparations were nerve-wracking, as I was forced into situations where I didn’t know anyone in the room. But on my final night, we stayed up until sunrise on the beach, twelve different accents mingling as we laughed and joked together. With my best friends by my side and the taste of whisky on my tongue, this felt like the beginning of a new family; the island felt like home. I realised I didn’t have to get married or crawl back to a toxic relationship because I was scared of being single. Being alone didn’t make me abnormal or sad or weird. I was perfectly capable of taking charge of my life. I didn’t need a hand to hold at a wedding or a person to go home to every night. I am happy to wipe my own tears as I watch friends walk down the aisle and perfectly content with “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” For now.