Today, I met her for the first time
As we sat around the fire
the young played and the old told stories
of other lovers meeting
we went around the fire
more stories, some songs
getting dark, time to go
Today, I took her to meet my mother
Sister showed her around the house
father, grandmother, brother all like her
I think they are happy
she hasn’t decided yet
Its fast for her, I’ll give her time
Today, she decided
I face her as the music plays
mother, sister, grandmother
she made her decision, her final commitment
it was time for her to take this step
When reading this poem from an English or American perspective it can be seen as a simple love story. Boy meets girl at an innocent campfire get-together, their relationship grows and eventually they decide to marry. By employing familiar symbols we can understand the story—campfire stories, meeting the parents, white wedding dresses.
But some of these symbols, when seen from a different cultural perspective- can have widely different connotations. The title gives the clue as to what culture is involved here. “Aaj” is the Hindi word for “today.” In traditional Indian culture, it was not uncommon for a bride and groom to meet on their wedding day- many times as part of an arranged marriage. Integral in the Hindu wedding ceremony was a fire, around which both extended families sat singing songs, telling stories and playing music. The new couple walked around the fire to symbolize their upcoming journey together. To a reader familiar with this custom, mention of circling a fire would be enough to make the message clear. The couple are now married.
So where does the story go from here? The newlyweds often would move in with the groom’s extended family. Now the references to the sister showing the girl around symbolize more than a friendly tour. This is the bride being inducted into her new life. Hindu girls in this situation often faced the possibility of never seeing their family again. This new family was her family now. This gives new meaning to the groom’s giving the girl some time. He doesn’t have to do this, but wants her to feel comfortable in his home before claiming his rights as a husband.
Now the story takes a turn that only someone familiar with Indian culture would see. In India color symbolizes life: the more color, the more life. In this culture, when all the color is taken away what is left is white. White is the color of death, the color of mourning. When a person dies their body is placed on a pyre and their closest relation stands facing them. Now we understand exactly what the girl’s decision is. She only saw one way out of this arranged marriage. This was her final step.
Although much has changed in India today, the symbols and their connotations are still familiar to modern Indians. Reading the poem from this perspective reveals an entirely different story. Many people- from any culture- take their own perspective for granted. They don’t think to look at any situation from any view but their own. We can learn a lot about the world around us by looking at it from another angle.