The Bridal Dressby LAURIE BOLGER To say I'm looking forward to my upcoming "wedding" would be a major understatement. With a hefty dose of God's Grace, and more than a little help from my friends, I'm preparing to take the plunge and become a bride - of the Divine Bridegroom. I feel I'm ready to stop flirting, and enter the stage of "anand ". According to Guru Granth, all people, males as well as females, may become His brides - a potent metaphor oft used therein. For me, taking Amrit is indeed quite comparable to the more conventional sort of wedding: making a complete, lifetime commitment of mind and heart, formally changing my identity, assuming a new name, wondering about how my life will become different. I know that inner preparation is, by far, what is most important. Contemplating my "total surrender" - how to "offer my head" to Him and resist the inevitable temptations to "take it back" - is not only an absolutely essential process, but also an ongoing one that will continue for the rest of my life. But there are tasks of a much more mundane nature to be accomplished, as well. Acquiring suitable attire for the Amrit Sanchaar ceremony - my "bridal dress" - ranks high on this other to-do list. I am not, and can never be, a Punjabi Sikh. When it comes to external appearance, I personally believe (with what I hope is the greatest possible respect for those who do not share my view), that being a "recognizable" Sikh through wearing the Five Kakaars matters immensely. Adopting various elements of Punjabi culture, such as its typical mode of dress, is not an integral or compulsory part of Sikhi, a universal faith. I have never gone to gurdwara or attended a Sikh-related function in anything other than my normal, everyday, "Western" attire. What's more, I had been informed by someone who would be one of the officiants at the Amrit Sanchaar that it was not obligatory to wear Punjabi clothing, such as a salwar-kameez, at the ceremony. A regular pair of slacks, as long as they were reasonably loose-fitting, together with a long tunic top, would be acceptable as well, I was assured. The more I thought about it, the more the idea of wearing a salwar-kameez as my "wedding gown" started to intrigue me, and I began to seriously consider doing so. Previously, I had figured I would try one for the first time during a future visit to India. Under any other circumstances, I had thought it would feel contrived, like donning a masquerade costume, or even fraudulent, as if I were trying to impersonate someone I am not. My other concern was how my wearing this garment would be perceived by Sikhs of Punjabi origin. Might they consider it weird and inappropriate, or worse, offensive and insulting? Two of my closest and most trusted friends, both from this background, managed to disabuse me of these notions. My concerns were unfounded, they assured me; my wearing a salwar-kameez was perfectly acceptable. One of them enthusiastically added that it would be absolutely wonderful for me to dress in this way when I took Amrit, even though it was not essential. The other helpfully suggested the name of a mutual Sikh friend I might ask to go shopping with me, so I could purchase one. A few evenings later, accompanied by my "big sister", I was off on an after-work expedition to Jackson Heights, the largest "Little India" in New York City. We made efficient use of the couple of hours we had until closing time, systematically exploring the clothing shops in the area - more than a dozen of them. Their assortment of offerings was mind-boggling. I was set on getting a white salwar-kameez; a kaleidoscope of vivid hues and bold patterns dazzled our eyes. I wanted something as unadorned as possible; galaxies of glistening rhinestones winked at us as we cruised the aisles. I was looking for one made of cotton; diaphanous, slinky chiffons were draped sensuously from every rack. Although my companion was patient and encouraging, my spirits sank lower and lower, as we left every store with nothing to show for our efforts. The next morning, a Saturday, I moped around the house. There was no "wedding gown" out there for me, I brooded. But both my friends, upon hearing my tales of woe, remained cheerfully optimistic, full of chardhi kalaa. "No problem!" "Not to worry!", they declared. "Go again today and look around some more!" So, back I went, by myself this time. * * * * * * * * * * An unfamiliar doorway, signs in flowing green calligraphy, a poster of the Ka'aba dominating a narrow foyer. At the bottom of a stairwell, a cavernous room pulsating with music, undulating with hordes of shoppers. I peer in, take a deep breath, and enter. I feel a strange gladness when no one approaches me to ask what I am looking for. The anonymity, the invisibility, the impression of being an alien in the city of my birth - somehow, at this moment, they are all a relief. Instead of being disturbing, they bestow a refreshing sensation of freedom upon me, a license to completely, albeit temporarily, reinvent myself. A few aisles over, I catch a glimpse of a long, simply-embroidered sleeve drooping among its glitzier rack-mates. With practiced ease from decades of subway commuting, I maneuver through the crowd. It is a salwar-kameez. Unlabeled, but sizes mean nothing to me here. Blue, not white. But a soothing, light blue. The pale blue sky of my "wedding day". I caress its cottony softness as I jostle my way towards the store's only dressing room. A harshly-lit cubicle with a hazy mirror. I know at once it will be my chrysalis. For my metamorphosis is about to begin. The kameez is too ample; it will be comfortable as I kneel to receive the holy Nectar. It is too long; it will hide my legs if they should tremble. The salwar looks incredibly huge, a sea of pleats and gussets. I step into its fathomless depths, and realize its drawstring is missing. No matter; one can be added. It cascades to the floor as I unfold the chunni. This one seems enormous, much larger than the scarves I am used to. I am not worried; I know expert hands will be there to help me when the time comes. I drape it over my head and shoulders as gracefully as I can, reach down to hoist the salwar back to my waist. Straightening up, I turn to finally face the mirror - and behold the bride.