Candy Walter tells driveway stories.
Like the one about the Indian neighbor who stopped while out walking with his wife.
“I see you out here every night,” he said. “Do you mind if I ask what you’re doing?”
Or the one about the Pakistani man who spotted her red Ford truck with “Dulhan Doli Rental” on the sides and got out of his car.
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“I just have to ask you, ‘What’s the deal?’” he asked. “‘I said to my wife, ‘These people are white, and yet she has an Indian truck.’”
The deal is that Walter, a self-taught woodworker, is recreating a centuries-old northern Indian tradition in suburban Chapel Hill.
The driveway – the garage is filled with her and her husband’s motorcycles – is her workshop as she creates dolis, decorated platforms used in Hindu culture to carry a bride to her future husband’s home.
Walter, 62, has rented her dolis a dozen times in the past three years, but she would never have started if not for friend Manjula Raja, whose daughter wanted to ride into her wedding reception on one.
“I wanted to fulfill her dream,” said Raja, 64.
But when she went looking to rent a doli, the company that Raja found in Atlanta charged $2,000, outside her budget.
‘Candy, the (local) Indian community has no doli,” she lamented to Walter on one of their morning walks in their Springcrest neighborhood.
“Why don’t you show me a picture?” Walter said. “I’ll try to make it.”
The doli is a cultural, not a religious, tradition, said Madhu Sharma, a Hindu chaplain at Duke University and past board member of the Hindu Society of North Carolina.
In northern India and possibly elsewhere the groom would come to take his bride to his family, and she would say goodbye to hers and ride to her new home in a curtained platform carried by four brothers or cousins. The covering protected her privacy and also provided security as brides would often wear jewelry on the trip.
“I do remember when I was younger – I’m a grandmother now – 50 years ago in India, I had witnessed it.” Sharma said. “It is kind of a sad moment for the (bride’s) family, because she’s going away to the other family. There’s a lot of crying.”
In recent years the tradition has come back, but now with the bride and groom often departing together in a decorated car, like at some American weddings.
Some brides, especially from more affluent families, do enter the wedding reception in a doli, Sharma said.
“It’s become a fashion statement, she said.
‘Show me what size’
Walter, 62, a mother of three and grandmother, is not a woodworker by trade. For 20 years she has been a deep-tissue massage therapist.
“I always joke with clients, ‘I’m going to warm you up, then I’m going hurt you, then I’m going to apologize,’” she said and laughed.
But she likes a challenge and between massage clients started sketching.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what one looks like. Show me what size,’” she recalls telling Raja. “I literally sat her on the floor and taped.”
Four months later Walter had to rent a Ryder truck to carry her first doli to the Hindu temple in Morrisville where Raja’s oldest daughter, Aekta, was getting married.
“My family was in tears,” Raja said.
Walter knows wood – that garage stores her band saw, radial saw, table saw, jointer, planer, belt sander and drill press – but the doli required another kind of expertise.
“No insurance company would touch me,” she said. Finally Saathee magazine referred her to N.C. Bar Association, through which she found a lawyer who had been to Indian weddings and who drafted a waiver of liability the bride signs. Walter’s dolis also have a handle for the bride to hold as wedding guests carry her.
Walter charges $100 for a basic chair doli to $500 for a more ornate doli decorated with 450 Swarovski crystals, interior lights and velvet upholstery fabric.
She finishes them in an upstairs spare bedroom, and her husband, John, carries the parts up and down the stairs for each event.
Walter also accompanies each doli to the reception making sure doorways are high enough, aisles are wide enough and at least four wedding guests are strong enough.
“They’re always shocked at how much it doesn’t weigh,” she said.
The doli weighs between 30 and 40 pounds and Walter stands in for the bride on a test run as the wedding guests grab the poles that run through the base and lift.
Walter grew up in California and got her first taste of Indian culture when sitar master Ravi Shankar played on Beatles records. A framed print of John, Paul, George and Ringo hangs on her home office wall.
She rode in her small chair doli at a “retirement-lite” party at Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill a few weeks ago, carried into the banquet room by her family.
But while she’s cutting back on her massage clients, she and Raja hope to grow her doli business, maybe even spread the custom to non-Indian weddings.
“It’s such a traditional notion, Walter said. “I think often folks don’t dream it could be here and don’t search (for) it. I don’t make money off it. I do it out of passion.”
Her dolis have taken her to Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Chesapeake Bay and South Carolina. She had the Biltmore Estate booked until a company from San Antonio with its own doli beat her out.
Now Walter’s eying another destination closer to home.
“I envision Duke Gardens,” she said of her dream venue. “Not yet, but that’s the goal, boy!”
Schultz: 919-829-8950; @chapelhillnews1