Monday, 18 March 2013

Everything Indian!

End result of a henna mehndi workshop I attended in 2008
What a week of all-things-India!  Not only were we involved in an Indian wedding (a whole week of festivities and celebration) but we also had a meal with different Indian family friends, and Mike headed off to India Sunday morning!

An Indian wedding?  I can sum it up in 4 words: Colour.  Noise.  Food. Ritual.

Bride's lovely nails and henna mehndi (traditional hand decoration)
Decorated Palms
We have had the pleasure of attending another Indian wedding 3 years ago, but this one was more personal, given that we are friends of the bride's family.  We were invited to attend the week long celebration.  First off, we were gifted 3 beautiful outfits to wear.  These had to be altered to fit our bigger Western frames.  It was difficult to choose between them.

Having spent 2 months living in Kerala (in Potumkulum Towers apartment in Kalatipady in Kottayam, we fell in love with Indian culture!  The food, the spices (not too spicey), the people and their generosity.  We met so many people who gladly would give away what little they had to share.  A truly humbling experience for us that has remained etched on our children's minds.  Memories cherished.
My own foot with henna design from our Mehndi workshop
An interesting note is that prior to the wedding, the bride's house is filled with guests who all pitch in to help feed the multitudes.  One woman explained that it was a way to really get to know one another.  Everyone seems to know what to do as they take up a job, be it chopping vegetables or cooking! People come and go in a flurry of activity, or organised chaos.  On Thursday evening we arrived to help, every corner of the house was taken up by preparations.    While the kitchen was filled with beautiful woman chopping and cooking, in the garage, 2 older ladies sat around a gas fire, cooking up large batches of milk to make paneer (cheese curd).  I wondered briefly if they thought about their own wedding preparations so many years ago, when they themselves were brides.  It was a fascinating insight into Indian culture.

My handiwork on my daughter, way back when I first learned how to prepare
and apply henna.  Note the really simple designs!

My crazy Persian-Indian shoes get dusted off for the occasion.
They seem to only come out for Indian occasions.

The Friday night celebration was Big, Loud and filled with ritual.  We arrived at the hall at a pre-arranged time, fashionably half an hour late.  Curiously, we found no sign of anything happening, so we drove to their house.  Chaos ensured as we discovered someone had collected the key to the hall, but no-one knew where it was.  15 minutes later, it was discovered, so caterers and musicians were able to get inside to set up for the evening.  It took a further hour or two of pandemonium before we all headed off  in convoy for the party.  We watched as both groom, and then bride sat on little decorated stools, while guests took turns rubbing a mixture of ghee and tumeric onto their arms and feet.  The children run about and no-one seems to mind them, but I think everyone keeps an eye on them.  The food is out-of-this-world delicious.  There was a resplendently dressed traditional drummer who kept up a frenzied beat outside the hall, while the young men gathered around him and postulated, danced and sang.  Inside the hall, the disco was in full swing, with decibals set to blast the toughest of ear drums!  As dancing at an Indian wedding was suddenly thrown spontaneously onto our bucket list, we bravely entered the gender-segregated groups gyrating and grooving.  Mike came back puffing and wheezing after a very enthusiastic older Sikh gentleman grabbed him by the wrists and proceeded to show him how to dance and shimmy Bollywood style!  I feared for his life as he whipped around in vigorous jumps and arm-waving fit for a drowning. The old guy was still going strong, long after Mike had managed to regain his breath!  We laughed till the tears rolled down our cheeks!

Detail of one of our gifted outfits

An Indian wedding is the opportunity to throw
all caution to the wind and wear as many bracelets
as can fit on your forearm!  I even had bells on my ankles!

At times I felt like we were mashed up in a huge cultural divide.  Not understanding the culture, the language or rituals, one can sometimes feel like being caught up in a bubble of ignorance.  Often the music was too loud to even ask a question or understand what was being explained.  I did manage to make a new friend there.  A beautiful, strong, single Indian lady.  I still don't understand the stigma attached to single divorced Indian woman.  The men go on to remarry and live their lives unaffected.  What is it, about societies not valuing their woman??  Mmmmn, doesn't seem fair!  I used to say, in my next life that I would come back as an Indian lady, so I could dress up as a princess every day.  Now I think, maybe not!  Maybe I'll come back as an Indian man, married to a beautiful Indian princess, who cooks like a Master Chef for me every night!!  
Actually, it makes me feel happy and privileged to be married to a man who appreciates all I do and treats me as an equal.
Friday night's celebratory outfits

The stunningly beautiful bride on Friday night
Her wedding outfit was even grander!
Pleasantly exhausted, we survived the week of wedding celebrations, wondering at what cost this celebration comes.  No wonder girls are not as valued as boys in India.  Who would want a half dozen girls if each had to have a lavish wedding all paid for??!  I think I might encourage my daughter to marry barefoot on the beach in Rarotonga - that way, we get to have a holiday and a wedding in one!!  Or better yet, what about eloping....?          

The bridal car
On Sunday morning, Mike picked up his baggage and left on a jetplane bound for India, for a week of meditation and spiritual strengthening in an Ashram.  The week of celebrations would have prepared him nicely for the food to come!  Namaste Mike!  Radha Soami!

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