The seventh shop we went into, R.K. Cards, had a chic, book-style invitation in the window, its blush pink cover embossed with a gold tree of life. A flurry of Hindi broke out as my father-in-law haggled over its price with the shopkeeper and my fiancé and mother-in-law tweaked the design. (Not knowing Hindi, I sat on a stool, sipping a paper cup of instant chai, smiling, nodding and offering opinions in English, which were then translated, presumably.) The price went down to the equivalent of $3.75 per card. My father-in-law stood up to leave: “It’s nice, but let’s check out a few more.”
On we went, my bladder slowly expanding. Starbucks has yet to invade Old Delhi and indoor plumbing remains a luxury. In the putrid-smelling, blue-tiled bathroom of a second-floor card shop, I decided the search had gone on long enough. I pulled my fiancé aside: “I think we should just do that one with the tree,” I said, eyes pleading. We hopscotched back to R.K. Cards, put a down payment on the order and tore into potato and green pea samosas at Haldiram’s, a vegetarian, cafeteria-style joint that specializes in snack foods. Mindful of the bathroom situation, I washed them down with nothing.
Clothes shopping came with other obstacles. Dressing room photos provide crucial points of comparison between outfits, but many stores prohibit photo-taking for fear that shrewd shoppers will take the images to a tailor and have the garment recreated for less. Some confiscate phones before letting you try anything on. In Shahpur Jat, a New Delhi district packed with independent boutiques, my fiancé and I figured out a workaround. I emerged from the dressing room of Inchee Tape in a drapey, silk gown with a crochet bodice and ambled around the couch where he sat with his phone, pretending to check ESPN but actually snapping half a dozen photos, only one of which was serviceable.
No matter. It wasn’t until his younger sister arrived in India that I tried on an outfit that made my heart swell. The three of us took an Uber to the chicest mall in New Delhi, DLF Emporio, ostensibly to browse the bridal collections of India’s high-fashion designers but also to get some space from the apartment we were sharing with five more members of their family. The mall might have been airdropped in from Beverly Hills: all marble corridors and surfaces of mirrored gold, redolent of musk and masala. At Monisha Jaising, I tried on a $5,000 gown appropriate for J. Lo — plunging mesh V-neck, gold beads, figure-hugging skirt. A poofy pink train framed the hips in a manner that recalled Marie Antoinette. It was the type of gown that, worn to the Oscars, would turn heads; worn to our wedding, it would turn my mother against me.
Across the hall, a lehenga in the window of Falguni Shane Peacock caught my eye: the palest hue of lavender, with a blouse covered in tubular silver beads and a skirt splattered with silver appliqués. It slipped on easier than expected. I had heard women wax poetic about trying on a wedding dress and instantly knowing it was “the one;” I assumed they were being overly romantic. Nope. Never had I felt so bridal so quickly. My fiancé’s praise was succinct: “I love it.” (Having done this once before, I figured that the groom seeing the bride in her regalia before the wedding had no bearing on the outcome of the marriage. He works in apparel; I wanted his opinion.)