Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Indian Weddings

(By Joe)

(Some of you may have read part of this in an email, but I assure you it has now been enhanced with less redundancy, better descriptions, better grammar, better phrasing and less redundancy.)

We have now been to a number of weddings here in India. It was just wedding season so for 3 weeks in a row we were at a different wedding every Sunday. Mia got dolled up in very fancy saris for each one. The family we are staying with loaned her the finest silks, jewels and stick-on dots to make sure she was the prettiest girl at the ball. She was a picture of elegance. Truly stunning. I, however, attended each wedding in my same faded, button up black shirt, jeans, brown belt and black sneakers that have been my dress outfit for the past 8 months. It also makes up my daily school outfit here. (Or it did until I got a bunch of custom tailored clothes made cuz I'm a baller.)

Walking into a wedding is not unlike walking into a circus tent with prisms held over your eyes. Red and white striped fabric hangs everywhere and is embellished with rainbow fabrics and flowers of every description. The reception starts before the couple is even arrives and everything takes place in the same room or outdoor courtyard. A dance floor and DJ stand that rivals the hottest night club setup pounds Hindi top 40 hits into the very bones of of the wedding attendees. Laser lights and disco balls create a euro club ambiance that might seem tacky were it not for the 100's of Indians in jewels, suits and saris gyrating, shaking it and getting generally sweaty on the dance floor. The first few hours are reserved for the guests to snack, dance and socialize. Then, around 10:00, the groom comes into range. He rides atop a white horse behind a full marching band, and is escorted through the darkened city streets by men carrying huge, electronic candelabras. His best men dance in and out of the procession, whooping and hollering, pumping fists, playing air guitars, and pelvic-thrusting against anything and anyone that gets in their way.

When the groom arrives at the main gate to the wedding he dismounts, and is escorted in to sit on a raised throne high above the crowds. He remains stern and serious trough the whole ordeal. It is considered very inappropriate for him to so much as crack a smile. After another hour or so, his wife to be is led in by her female friends and family. They walk slowly and she looks as though she is going to cry. I'm told this is also tradition but the effect is similar to watching a woman being led to the gallows. Young men dance around her, pounding huge drums as she is slowly shuffled to her her own throne beside the groom's. I don't really know what happens after that because it is about that time that we usually have to go home and go to bed.

At these weddings Mia and I end up being treated as celebrities. Everyone wants their photo taken with us, including the bride and groom. Those who don't want to actually talk to us simply walk up and blatantly take photos of us with their camera phones without asking. Now I know how it feels to be all these Asians you see photos of on our blog. The host at one wedding kept coming up and shaking our hands and saying, "Good? Wedding good?"
"Yes," we would say, "Very good. It's beautiful!"
Then he would stand there looking very flustered, clearly having so much more to say, but not having the English words to say them in. "All good?"
"Yes. Very good."
The conversation was repeated many times.

The celebrity status became a problem at one of the weddings as I have already related to a few of you. Everyone kept coming up to us to shake our hands, invite us to dance and to get to know who were were. Then at one point in the night a drunk gentleman approached me and started shaking my hand and saying how excited he was to meet me. He began speaking in Hindi and I asked the people I was with to translate. To my surprise they pulled me away from him and told me not to talk to him because he was drunk. Later in the night the man came up to me again and started talking and I began chatting with him. He popped a cigarette in his mouth an offered one to me. I accepted it. He lit it for me and I started smoking, aping him perfectly to facilitate bonding. (This was great for me because in Malaysia I had a middle aged Indian friend and we would hang out and smoke while we talked away the hours. It was like old times.) The man was very friendly.

Then the friends we arrived with came back and started pulling him away again and Drunky stared yelling at them. I assume he was saying something along the lines of, "Why does everyone ELSE get to talk to the white guy and I keep getting shut down!" Someone punched someone and the next thing I knew there was a huge fistfight. He just wanted to talk to me and they wouldn't let him. Everyone in the wedding was rushing around screaming and punching. People who only seconds before had been sipping tea from dainty cups and nibbling h'ourderves were now emitting high pitched, guttural howls through clenched teeth. Their faces angled toward the ceiling, their eyes rolled back in their heads with rage. Their hands clawing and tearing at my new friends face, clothes and hair. I scanned the room for Mia. We made eye contact and I gave her the same look I gave my sister once when I noticed she had just witnessed me cause a large car accident.

Seconds later we were being shuttled out the door by the people we came with. They were yelling at me over what sounded like a stamped of an assortment of world's noisier animals, "That's why you don't talk to a person who drinks! Also, you don't smoke!" However, it seemed to me that the man was not trying to cause any problems. He just didn't like that everyone else got to shake my hand and talk to me and he didn't. I feel the moral may be, "That's why it's better to make quick small talk with the drunk guy and then move on to the next guest," which was my plan. Anyway, our friends said not to feel bad because in India 90 percent of the weddings blow up into fights and then everyone just returns to partying. I said that in America 90 percent of people at a wedding reception are drunk, so it isn't as big a deal to talk to someone who has been drinking. Learning a new culture takes time.

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