2 Americans Attend Indian Wedding (or how Nick & Angela became Tamil Nadu celebrities) – part 2 of 2
Haven’t read part 1 yet? You really need to or you won’t know the characters in the tale I’m about to finish telling.
…once again this is insanely long so please go grab a beer or some wine or tea first!
The day of the wedding came but we couldn’t go directly to the wedding hall because the ladies still needed to dress me. Our driver Sudhir looked crisp and perfect even though we learned later that he had slept in the car and had apparently freshened up in the employee area of the hotel. We bee-lined it for T’s family home and this time the house was almost deserted and the final touches were being placed on the bride.
She looked lovely! And I was instantly reminded of the vast cultural differences between us when I saw her. T’s sister was the exotic polar opposite to western brides who have “barely there” makeup and all white dresses and wear a simple string of Gramma’s pearls to adorn their neck. She was bright and adorned with “made to be seen” traditional bridal makeup…and enough gold to ensure that she would have sank to the bottom of the sea if she were on a ship centuries ago and forced to walk the plank by pirates! There was certainly no mistaking the real gold on her that showcased the family’s status in the community.
But I had only attended one other wedding since arriving to India and it was very small and inside a tiny apartment. Never in a million years would I have imagined what Nick and I had in store for us that day. In my head I kept reminding myself of the vast numbers of people they expected but it is very hard to imagine something like that without having experienced it before. So we followed the wedding caravan from T’s home to the hall which was just a short few streets beyond the village square (A.K.A. the shrine to the current village president!). Sudhir followed the group in and we parked in a massive parking lot, Nick and I sorted out which electronics we were taking in with us to the wedding, opened the car doors to exit – and then we heard the start to our unbelievable day!
Indian weddings are not musically scored by a harpist or a pianist or soft classical music. I knew this already from my first Indian wedding. But no one told me that the wedding from start to finish would have a marching band playing at top volume! Nick and I looked at each other as we walked up and just smiled from ear to ear. The scene was absolutely magnificent. In the distance we saw the entrance to the hall, which was more colourful than any party I’ve ever been to. There was a cute, brightly dressed clown a few metres away from the entrance holding a big colourful umbrella. A few of the band members were outside all dressed up in something akin to what the Beatles wore in Sergeant Pepper or what a big university marching band would wear on the day of a big game! It was amazing. I was totally in awe of what I saw and Nick was in heaven because he was in the marching band in high school and uni and this was AWESOME!
The walk into the hall was between two rows of marching band members … sort of like a procession you’d imagine in the military with men with swords on each side when royalty enters a room. It was so loud, it was impossible to really speak while walking through. I don’t know how many photos I snapped but I couldn’t enough of them. Bright, over-the-top, festive and fun…they set the tone for the entire event.
Since it was early and nothing in India starts on time is my guess, the family had invited everyone to breakfast. I snuck around to the back of the hall to take in the magnitude of what that meant it was astounding, and I thought I had seen it all the night before at the dinner with the massive pots of food there. But oh no! Dozens upon dozens of pots of fresh food and griddles for dosas and idlly were setup. It was quite a sight to behold.
Nick and I tried to eat breakfast but we were ill equipped to deal with the frenzy of it – and by ill equipped I mean slow and lame! You see, Americans are taught that you wait in queue and wait your turn, walk slowly when in public, etc…and we have zero experience in mad-dashing for a place to eat before someone else takes it. Well, given the amount of people to be fed, they had set up long benches and tables in one room – and hundreds of people were sat down eating all at one time. Well, when one couple or family finished, more people would move in to take their place. I swear Nick and I tried four or five times to tuck into a spot we saw was opening up but there wasn’t one queue and people were stood all about waiting for space to open. We would start walking when we saw people getting up but then an Indian couple would see and swoop in faster than we could walk with me in a sari and Nick in his Aladdin shoes with the pointy toes! It was hysterical and we felt pretty stupid after the second or third attempt but we kept trying. At one point T even tried to help us but we moved too slow still and other guests slid in before our slow asses made it to where T was! We literally went hungry because we were too slow!
So we decided to go sit down and people watch in the hall to await the ceremony instead. T showed us to our seats, which were set in the very front row with the elder family members…although little by little people started grabbing chairs and making new rows in front of the initial “front row” so it didn’t stay the front row for long. We were in a massive hall setup for 2,000 people that had flat screen monitors positioned every 20 feet so that the people in the back and middle of the hall could see what was happening up front – and at the moment the screens were looping photos of the bride and groom and their families.
As we looked around we started laughing again that I had screwed up so badly with my shopping list for Nick’s Indian wedding outfits because he was the fanciest dressed man in the entire hall. Aside from the groom who came in later, even the male members of the both families were in casual western wear or dressy lungis again so Nick looked even more insanely Maharaja than the night before because now there were thousands of people and not just a couple hundred – it was really funny, I swear!
Videographers were setup around the hall from front to back to capture the wedding from all vantage points. After a short time the video guys switched to live feed so the flat screens were no longer showing the looping family photos but the guests who were seated and awaiting the wedding to start. They were taking turns so at first the back rows were being panned over slowly, then the middle section and then the front. They moved past Nick and I and this was the start to one of the single most memorable moments that my brother and I have together from his India trip. We stood out SO MUCH from the rest of the crowd and I guess since we were a bit of a novelty they passed by us quite frequently with the cams. And then it happened. I have no idea who had the brainy idea to stop the live feed and freeze frame it but they did … and right on us! For twenty whole minutes they decided to leave a freeze frame image with me and Nick on the monitors for everyone to see. Not the looping pics of the bride and groom or of the ceremony area but US. And it was hysterical because we looked freakishly tall or like we are standing and everyone is sitting because compared to the cute little ladies and the gentlemen seated around us we looked like gigantors! We were dying it was so funny, so I snapped a photo with my Blackberry of the huge six metre wide screen in the front of the room and instantly uploaded it to Facebook…I really wish I had a less grainy shot from my actual camera because we still laugh about that today.
Eventually the wedding started and there are so many things that I found really interesting I’m not sure where to start. First and foremost I should state that the bride and groom both looked absolutely stunning…as did the Moms and girls in the family and wedding party and the men in their dressy lungis.
There really is no comparing an Indian wedding to a western wedding but since all I’ve ever known are western weddings it’s impossible not to. Generally speaking, a western wedding is practiced the day before so it is orchestrated with precision. It is orderly and only the appointed wedding party plus the person performing the ceremony stands during the wedding at the front of the venue. The women of the bridal party all wear matching dresses and then men are all in the same suit or tuxedo. There is generally one wedding “colour” so the wedding party is wearing it (the dresses and the men’s tie or cummerbund), the flowers accent it, the napkins at the reception are the wedding colour, etc. The wedding march is played as the bride walks down the aisle past guests but there is silence during the ceremony so everyone can hear.
But not Indian weddings!
When the bride and groom entered the hall and walked down the aisle and up onto the elevated stage I kept waiting for the marching band to stop playing so everyone could hear what was going on but it never did. In fact, they actually moved from the entrance of the hall in closer to the stage. I knew that Nick and I wouldn’t understand a word but it never occurred to me that people would come to a wedding just to watch it. But that is exactly what happened! Trumpets, drums, you name it…they were belting out tune after tune through the entire wedding and never stopped until the guests had all departed.
Up on stage with the bride and groom and the priest (I’m not sure if that’s the right term for him so please forgive me) was what appeared to be the entire family plus the village VIPs. Everyone was stood around, moving around as they wished and helping to fetch this and that. There were at least a couple dozen people up there at any given time … and in all honestly I didn’t get it at first but it was truly the only way to hear the ceremony and fully share in and experience the wedding. Every once in a while one of the family members also performed a task although I didn’t always see exactly what it was or understand why or what was happening. An Indian wedding is very interactive and very free flowing and appears so much less stressful because there isn’t that need for military precision that is expected of western brides and their weddings.
There wasn’t one colour used as the signature colour for the day and therefore it was a visual cornucopia all around us. I did notice that a lot of red and yellow was used so that might have been the signature colours of the day but then there was also blue and green and every other colour under the rainbow amongst the attire of the wedding party.
After the wedding ended, we didn’t know we were supposed to stay for the group photos so sadly we missed that opportunity. After giving our wishes to the bride and groom and their family we jammed out for masala dosas at a hotel in the town down the street from our lodging and enjoyed the last few minutes of Nick dressed up as like a Maharaja and me in my sari. We tried to order cocktails with lunch but their bar didn’t open til the evening so we stopped the car in front of a local hole-in-the-wall liquor shop and bought what we later guessed was some sort of moonshine rum as a half dozen half-drunk guys stared at the white lady in a bright pink sari buying hooch! It was funny until they sent me down a bit of a dark twenty five foot hallway to the back to buy the mixers but in the end, aside from 20 guys back there stopping to stare, it all turned out great. Cheap too! Although the hangovers we had later explained the cheap price and we paid dearly in the end.
That afternoon we did some sightseeing and shopping around the village, with Nick back in his normal clothes and me in my only salwar kameez. As we walked around people would literally stop their motorbike or car or stand still to check us out, it was pretty strange and gave us a small glimpse into how it must feel to be famous. We couldn’t do anything without onlookers taking in our every move. In fact, we even had people inviting us into their homes just to talk to us or snap a photo with us! At one point, we were just around the corner from T’s house and this girl came running over to us from across the street. She introduced herself and invited us home with her and I said no but thank you that we were in a hurry but Nick thought it would be fun so he talked me into it. She was so happy she ushered us across the street and into her house, introduced us to her Mom and told us to stay put as she dashed back out the door … to return less than a minute later running in with orange soda! That village loves orange soda, let me tell you! She handed us tennis rackets that were really mosquito zappers because they were all around and starts telling us about them and asking about us. When I said I worked at a BPO company she asked if I could get her a job when she finished school and invited us back for a weekend trip. It was very cute. But I made the mistake of giving her my mobile number instead of just my email ID and by the time we reached Bangalore that night she had called or sms’d 15-20 times…and continues to call periodically or send me invites to come stay for the weekend.
Before we started back for Bangalore we were able to walk in the procession with the bride and groom for a while. The band was there and our group was loud and proud! The clown and other performers were there so when we stopped in front of people’s homes they entertained them. I know from T that they all carried on until the wee hours and later there was a horse and buggy that was added in. I have to say I was super impressed since none of them had slept a full night’s sleep in DAYS. I would have been downing Red Bulls every hour but Indians have massive stamina around wedding time!
That trip was certainly a once in a lifetime experience with memories that Nick and I both cherish and recount to friends still today.
© 2012 Angela Carson. Do not reproduce without permission from the author.