Wednesday 10 February 2010

A Bit of a Do

Preparations for the event begun in earnest the day before with wooden poles being erected in the ground around our neighbours house. Actually now I come to think of it, preparations clearly started weeks ago, when they had their house painted, transforming the non descript mucky white cconcrete block into a blue
 one. Colorful and distinctive enough to act as a landmark when my VSO colleagues visted a few weeks back. But back the the wooden poles. They made up a couple of box frameworks. Were we going to have the Indian equivaent of a marquee, I wondered?

There was also much coming and going on the house roof, lots of washing hanging out, with things being moved around and cleaned. Then on Saturday the music system was  tested - in a word loud! But believe me nowhere near as loud as I have heard others! Clearly if the proceedings went on late, sleeping was going to be an issue being in the nearest house.

Sunday morning saw the first trappings of colour going up, red edgings and borders onto the wooden frames. Then the arrival of many people in the afternoon and the delivery of a tanker full of drinking water to supply two large vats which had materialised in the grounds. Now when I say grounds, don't think that this is some lovely  garden, gated estate, no one in this nagar has the likes of that, the ground surrounding a house and between houses is wasteland, left for the animals to roam and rubbish to be flung onto. As to how one acquires or buys land to build a house on I have yet to find out. I've seen lots of people walking out plots and plans on the vacant areas - clearly there is some process, as other parts of the nagar have number posts in the ground as if delineating plots. But that may be the post of another blog story.

The next thing to happen was the lighting of fires, and I could make out huge pots, more like vat like in size, being mad handled into place by the army of cooks. By the time darkness fell the site had been transformed. Fairy lights adorned the house and the track upto the house was covered and lined with lights and a fluorescent banner announing Pinky weds Sunil.

I attended the event with my landlady, Sushila, and her 12 year daughter, Rinky. Sushila doesn't have much Englsh but Rinky's is very good for her age and I often need her to convey complex messages to her mother, and vice versa. 

We arrived just after the stated time of 7:30PM but before the 8PM time billed for the arrival of the groom. As I expected much of this earlier part of the evening is a women's and family event like some other cultures do where the bride is "on show" at home, and everyone comes to pay respects and give their gifts. Gifts came in all shapes and sizes.

In Scotland, presents are for the couple are usually delivered to the bride prior to the wedding. There is a "showing of the presents" day held at the bride's family's home, where all the presents are laid out on show for everyone to come and admire, and nosey as to who has given what. Tea, sandwiches etc is usually served and its an occassion for a good old chinwag. In England, there is nothing quite so formal. Some presents are given before the wedding, others are brought to the wedding. Even this is now being sperceeded by The Wedding List, where the couple decide on one or more stores, pick items they would like and compile a list. Then guests go to the store either in person or online and pick an item from the wedding list. It works quite well as couples do get the things in the designs and colours they want, and more importantly for second time round couples who dont need home furnishings, they can include things like holiday vouchers etc on their list. Here in India, no wedding lists yet, at least not in Rayagada. At least some  of the presents were delivered on the night and clearly to the bride's house. None was opened on the night, but slowly a pile began to take shape in the corner of the room where the bride was holding her audience.

This room had been converted for the day and lots of chairs had been lined up along two of the walls to enable the more elderly ladies to sit. The bride was installed on a rug covered mattress along the thrid wall amidst the ever growing pile of gift boxes. She was being constantly attended to by her sister and friends, her mother and other family members to ensure she was perfect - her clothes, her hair etc - were the flowers in her hair tied up properly, when they were droopig they were refeshed or cut; her jewellery was fixed to ensure it all stayed in place and was laid out and worn perfectly, in particular the one worn down the parting line of the hair, which seemed in Pinky's case to be forever slipping sideways.

There  was a never ending stream of people, men and women coming in and respectfully handing over their gifts and clearly also their best wishes. I joined the line and sat for some time with the other women. Although I couldn't say much my few words of Hindi and few words of Oriya helped to break the ice, and making faces at little children always helps. Everyone was intrigued by my presence, but I was made very welcome, not just by Pinky, her sister and parents, but by everyone.

In addition to the growing pile of boxes, Pinky had beside her a handbag. Now we all know about women's handbags! How much is crammed into even the smallest one, they are never big enough no matter how big they are, and you'll find everything and anything you ever wanted in one. Well as bags go this one wasn't at all big, not tiny like a clutch, just ordinary everyday size, but boy was it getting full. Full thhat is of envelopes, mine included which were the gifts of money. I have no idea how much people were giving but the number of envelopes was large. I suspect there were a few hundred there.

ll the married women guests had henna painted tattoos on their feet, but he most amzing were the bride's hands - an incredible work of art. How long this took I dread to think - definitely hours!

The next big even of the night was the dinner. The army of cooks had done themselves and the family proud. The food was excellent. In the Indian tradition of finding work for everyone thee was a server on each dish, load of people picking up and disposing of used plates, and the inevitable person in charge shouting orders and sprucing up the servers shirts and ties. The dinner started with Pani Puri as an appetiser, served in small leaf pressed bowls - very eco friendly. t Indian retaurannts back home I've had a varant on this usually made with prawns. here all the food was completely vegetarian. Pani Puri takes a small puri, breaks the air  pocket and places a small ball, of about a teaspoonfull in size, of spicy potato mixture inside, then the whole item is dipped into tamarind water. very tasty - slightly sweet with the tamarind, with a touch of chilli on the potato. I had to ration myself to I think 5-6! The main courses were served up carvary style - grab a plate and join the queue - Indians here at least were adopting the great British tradition of patiently queuing! Well at least to begin with, then as people started going back for seconds the queuing idea seems to disappear as their appetites grew. The main courses I can remember were dishes of mushroom and paneer, dates cooked in a sweet tomato sauce, some sort of dry vegetable pakhora, dahl, two rice dishes - plain and vegetable and Indian breads. My memory of the different dishes is completely colouured by the fact that the date dish was excellent. I love dates at the best of time and adore arabic style dishes with dates and apricots, and even just dried dates to nibble on - all of which take my thoughts back to Djanet. But I digress. I shall definately have to try and recreate the dates in sweet tomato sauce dish I could eat that quite regularly or for as long as my date supply held up! I never fail to be amazed at how much people here can eat. There is no way I can eat anywhere near as much rice and bread, even on a vegatarian diet. I get such funny looks when I say that I want only a small portion of rice. But I'm usually understood even if it is with disbelief that anyone would want such a thing.

Then desert - I've fallen in love with Indian puddings!. Forget those awful sickly sweet cakes, think rice puddings. Now I've never been one  for liking rice pudding, except for when I was a baby and was given stuff from a can that I can't remember the brand name of. Otherwise the rice puddings I've tasted have been white, bland and soppy. Not inspiring at all. But here rice puddings are la creme de la creme! They are a rich creamy colour, sometimes with added saffron threads, they have a full nutty taste, sometimes with whole cashew nuts in them, sometimes you can see the rice grains, other times they are more ground, sometimes there have vermecilli like structures in them, and something in the taste most imply the use of condensed or boiled milk - so many variants on a theme. They are sweet, but not sickly, and in my opinion absolutely delicious. Again I ration myself. But they are heavenly. I am now a registered rice pudding fanatic! Then the sweet tooths of the Indian really took over and there was also ice cream cones delivered to each person.

Remember that here people eat with their hands, there's no cutlery at all. I'm getting used to this and managed all the dinner without a prooblem and without causing any amused grins and giggles at a European trying to eat properly.  It is quite something to see people eating with their hands at the best oftimes but it is a bit incongruous when they are decked out in their finaery for a wedding, with smart saris and jewelery, to see folks taking handfulls of rice, mixing it up with the vegetable dishes, scooing up a ball and shovelling a handfull into their mouths. Your right hand is a real mess after eating and this of course is where that huge water delivery comes into play - the water butts are strategically positioned one the cooks for cooking, and one for the guests for hand washing, and another load of water bags for drinking. No alcohol of course, in fact no fizzy drinks either, just water. ater comes in plastic bags here - so you have to bite of the corner and pour or suck it into your mouth, there is a knack to not getting it all down your front.

What has happened when all this eating has been going on is that the groom is late. That's usually deemed to be the bride's perogative back home, but here because the groom comes to the brides house it is the man who can be late. This one was over 2 hours late! I suspect the boys had been partying! He arrives in a big white car, being driving a break neck speed at a snail's pace or slower...with his mates dancing in front of it all along the road and down into our nagar. You can see and hear it as it turns of the main road and winnds slowlly through the lanes towards the house. I reckon it took over 30 minutes to drive down from the main road, which is less than 5 minutes drive away at normal speeds. The boys are letting rip, music is blaring out, chants are sung, fire crackers are let off, fireworks lit evey few steps along the lanes.

They stop at the end of the approach which has been laid out and defined by the lights and welcoming signs. Clearly something is happening. There are murmours and much coming and goings. Then the parade starts of again. Has he had second thoughts?  No, someone has decided that it is auspcious to approach from the east and the entrance way is from the west. Minor panic is averted by some clever chappy sussing out an alternatve route and the procession snakes off down along side our house, turns and comes back to the brides house from the better direction.

The groom then gets out of the car and walkes with his father towards the brides house. he is met by the Brahmin priest and everyone stops by a basket of flowers and other godoies place in the middle of the road. There is much clamouring to see what is happening and I can only manage to fling my camera in the air and hope for a shot. The pries is undertaking some sort of blessing, puja, on the groom and his father. This goes on for what feels like ages before the progression chants its way into the body of the house grounds.

The groom, his father and preist are steated on the dias which had been  erected on the grounds just outdie the house's entrance. The next stage is a very long singing blessing by the priest, with both father and son undertaking pujaand making offerings. Much throwing of insence, water and grains around. None of which I understand. Again this takes a lot of time. During this everyone is just sitting around. I do the tourist bit and step up as close as I can to get some pictures without causing any offence.

The next stage sees the dias cleared of the groom and in his place comes the bride. She is escorted out from her room by her sister and mother to much wooping by the women. She sits beside her future father in law, head bowed, covered by her beautiful red and gold sparkling shawl. More puja.

All the symbolism is lost on me and appears to be lost on everyone else. I'd met Pinky's uncle who has good English and ask him what is happening. He can't explain the symbolism just that  this is what happens. I'm slightly disappointed. The only other time I ahve been in a similar situation was in the late 70s when I was a student in London, one of the girls on my course got married. She and her husband were Singhalese Buddhists from Sri Lanka. His family lived in London, by her's coudln't make the trip from Sri Lanka and so she had already been entrusted to her new familys care via some aunt and uncle. Her aunt spent the whole ceremony explaining the symbolism to us. It was a weird experience, it took place above a typical London eat end pub, only use two the Europeans from the course and my then partner were drinking alcohol, The pub staff had seen nothing like it. This was 1976 and there wasn't a Buddhist preist to coduct the ceremnoy in London so the uncle did the role.  I bet there are load now. How times have changed. Anyway I had been hoping someone could explain al the puja rituals to me, but no such luck.

However, one part was clear even to me. At one point a twin is wound round the third finger of the right hand of the bride and another round the same of the father in law. I'm sure that what this symbolises is that they are now bound together, the bride of course becoming part of the husband's family.

With everything running so behind schedule, it was now gone midnight and still no sign of bride and groom coming together. It was also very cold. Lookig around, numbers had already started to dwindle. My landlady and I had to get up for work and Rinky had to head of to school by 7am, so relunctantly we decided to head home at 12:30am leaving the family and closets friends to await the final stages. As it was I was awoken around 2:30am by much noise and blowing of horns, which I took to be the departure of bride and groom.

Perhaps not quite the expereince I had thought it would be but always interesting to see how it is done elsewhere. I think the biggest difference to wedding in other cultures is that here the wedding ceremony is precedent, and lasts ages, the fun part seems to be missing for many, or totally subdued within the ritual. Ma souer du desert, Clair, and I were treated to a video last March of Moussa's brother's wedding the year before in Djanet. There again, much of the wedding is split into the women's part and the man's part. hat struck mee tere was how the women took to the streets and raced round from house to house gathering people as they went, enjoying the relative coolness of the night in the peak Saharan summer. The whole proceeding seemed and sounded joyous. The noisy part of this Hindi event was the arrival of the groom, but throughout both bride and groom maintained a certain decorum, head bowed, face solum. Perhaps I've not yet tuned in the the Indian sense of mirth.

The Wedding Video

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting Sheila
    comparative study of wedding ceremonies and all