Sonu’s wedding was a great experience, in multiple parts – although four clearly recognisable categories & pictures will hopefully allow for a moderately cohesive narrative.
Sonu is my mother’s sister’s daugher – my first cousin – and whilst we’ve grown up with each other in bits and pieces, she’s spent most of her life in India – which I visited for the first time ever last week. MBA qualified & possibly one of the most dutiful and loving people I know (with the possible exception of her sister, Monu, wedding planner extraordinaire… ;)), it’s not really a surprise that she’s picked up a very charming, personable, responsible husband in Chirag – and it was great fun, very emotional, and a phenomenal cultural experience to share the proceedings with them.
Stage the first – the [[mehndi]] ceremony
Although this is not the domain of the boys of the family, this was the point at which I arrived in India; my cousins, sister, aunt, and many female relatives I was meeting for the first time were in the process of getting their arms painted with [[henna]], a natural die that leaves temporary tattoos on skin (if left to patiently dry for long enough). It is tradition for the girls in a wedding party to all have some form of mehndi art on their arms, and Sonu’s was particularly elaborate. Sheila’s was pretty good – she was unwell and dozed off with the henna still thick on her arms – resulting in a particularly impressive dye…
There was food, and something of surprise as we all experienced the unique way in which my cousin’s family made us feel welcome. The street outside their house, with the agreement of their neighbours, had been sealed off, marqueed & carpeted (completely obstructing any traffic), and set up with food. The cook, reportedly drunk, provided us with excellent fayre, and was completely unphased by the presence of a bullock parked next to the motorcycles that surrounded his gas stove & oil-filled wok.
Following a brief interlude in the evening – which took longer than expected, due to the bizarre jetlag I seemed to suffer from, we returned to the party and hour and a half after it was scheduled to begin – to find we were the first guests! An hour later, the entire neighbourhood, their friends and family; all were dancing on a stage to explosively loud Indian pop music, interspersed with occasional live Indian drumming from a trio of freelance drummers who didn’t quite know when they were meant to be playing… and consequently competed with the DJs for volume on occasion. Amazing to see a party to come to life quite so rapidly. Dinner was served (after an entire evening spent eating large amounts of starters) at 11pm, and the party began to wrap up at about 11.30pm, after a number of inexplicable ceremonies involving a pot, large wads of 10 rupee notes, a pyromaniac and a large bundle of fireworks, and some great gifts we were presented with. This summary barely does it justice; hopefully some of the pictures will be more illustrative… All at Flickr, as usual.
Stage the second – the wedding ceremony
Unusual in using three priests, having a wedding bower built on a fire refuge on the fourth floor of our hotel, the Hotel Nikko Delhi, the ceremony was strange for someone with a moderately Western cultural mindset as it really was about two families coming together. To that end, and given that the two hour ceremony took place more or less entirely in Sanskrit, much of the proceedings were moderately incomprehensible to me – but very moving nonetheless.
A great party ensued & preceded this; although Sonu & Chirag had to spend much of their time posing for photos and didn’t get to eat till about 1am. Hard work, getting married! My responsibility – and Arvind’s, and a couple of other male relatives (Johnny & Sanjay?) had to carry a lattice of flowers over the heads of the bridge & groom as the proceeded into the main chamber – an arm-tiring, but positive experience. Very touched to be given such a significant role.
After all that, though, they were finally married, and it was, as Monu put it: “party time.” Of course, as it was 2am at this stage, there was limited partying – just a family dinner and some more photography – but the next night was another opportunity for Indian dancing…
Stage the third – ‘party time’
At a country club (or something like that) in southern Delhi, we danced and ate again, this time hosted by Chirag’s family — and therefore the first formal non-veg meal of the trip. Great food, amazing dancing once again (with Mum and Dad getting involved again — utterly out of character for my, erm, somewhat corporate father). Another amazing evening, great food, and some time spent hanging out with the beautiful twins, Milia and Marissa (Johnny & Ruby’s adorable twin daughters).
Stage the fourth – family dinner
Indian weddings have been known to go on for months at a time, so that the fourth and final celebration for Sonu & Chirag was a quiet family dinner with a mere 12 of us attending was hardly extravagant. It was a great evening though; we all made little speeches thanks to Sonu’s emotional and insistent father, Uncle Suresh, and ate yet more amazing Indian food. Even though I grew up eating similar food in Malaysia, the Indian experience was very different…
In short; an awesome experience. The scope and scale of India, which I barely touched on, is enormous; like a sleeping giant that those without an experience of it can barely imagine. My pride and happinness for my cousins and their family is enormous. What a trip.
Three afterthoughts, and then out for now. This is already too long a blog post…
Note A: Food: My family fed me incessantly for four days. Mountains of cottage cheese, prepared in a number of different ways, pakora, potato tikki, dosai etc, in vegetarian mountainloads — and Chirag’s family provided a health quantity of “non-veg” options at their function too. Indian food is awesome, but it played havock with my digestion, and am pleased to not have to consider whether the water is likely to have come from a bottle or a tap…
Note B: Driving in Delhi: A terrifying experience. Apparently the “best city in India” to drive in, the entire experience was bizarre; off-road, dodging moto-rickshaws, constant tooting on car horns; insane would be too charitable a description! Massively impressed with my cousins’ ability to navigate it.
Note C: Cultural implications: There were some bits of India that I found hard to deal with and am glad my upbringing in Malaysia/the UK has allowed me to escape. The male-dominated social circles, the ever-present considerations of caste, race, wealth, the overwhelming and boundless poverty — all somewhat upsetting. Most of the proceedings, however, were dominated by a remarkable and powerful sense of family, which thankfully kept us clear of the trickier issues.