Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An Indian Wedding!

Greetings from Delhi again! After three days, the wedding is finally over and it was a wonderful experience. The music, dancing, food, family, late nights, and the colors were all overwhelming but in the best possible way. This is going to be a long post, haha... I don't know what all the different parts of the ceremony are called, and I don't know what they represent, so some of the pictures will just have to stand on their own without any real explanation from me, sorry about that. Also, I haven't had great internet access so this post (and the last one) are a bit rushed. Anyways, here it is:

I first need to start with a memorial to my flip-flops. They died. I bought them on the first full day of my trip in Manila from an old lady on an overpass. I paid over two dollars for them, about twice what they should have cost, but they have served me well for more than two and a half months. They have been in four countries, taken me up many steep trails, through rivers, down cliffs, across ancient ruins and seen many hard miles. They have been a bit of an icon for this trip to me and it is sad to see them finally die. I'd worn all the way through them in parts, and in parts no yet worn through, they were paper thin. Through them I could feel every bump in the road, feel every inch of land I walked across. They have been on my feet every day of the trip but one and they will be missed.

We woke up in Gurgaon where we ate breakfast and then drove back into Dehli, the first day of the wedding was tonight! I'm still not sure why this elephant and camels were walking down the street, probably part of some party somewhere, but seeing them put a smile on my face. The roads of Dehli are a bit of a free for all, where anything that moves is allowed to use. Granted this causes many problems, and I've seen more than one broken down or crashed vehicle, plus slow ox carts and everything else in the congested, noisy and chaotic roads.

After the usual eating, chatting with the family, and playing with the kids, we headed off to Ghaffar Market via rickshaw. It was rather hard to fit three of us on this and we had initially given up, but the driver insisted three was fine, and Hunter and Sazzy sat in the passenger seat while I sat backwards on the normal bike seat, crushed between my friends and the man peddling. He had obvious difficulty lugging us big Americans around, but it got us there for 40 rupees and was a fun experience.

Our main goal in the market was to get tailored suits for the three of us. This is something I'd really wanted to do while out here due to the the amazingly low price, and was excited for it. I have never owned a suit, nor do I really have the need to, but it is a good thing to own and for 5500 rupees, about $120, how can you go wrong? It's an investment. Luckily we had one of Sazzy's cousins to help us, and she took us to a tailor who had done many suits for the family. We picked materials, had measurements taken and explained our schedules and when we needed them ready by. We also got footwear for the wedding, Hunter bought some sunglasses, and we just took in the sights and smells of the market.

That evening was the first night of the wedding. After spending a fair amount of time getting ready at the house, everyone putting on their best cloths, we packed ourselves into the small Hyundai and Suzuki cars that are one of the most common vehicles of the modern middle-class here in India. We climbed the stairs and entered into a large banquet hall filled with tables, food, a stage and a dance floor.

Dancing is a huge part of Indian weddings, and the sound system was booming. It was pretty hilarious actually, because rather than traditional Indian music, a number of the songs I heard was actually songs I'd heard at clubs and bars throughout se-Asia! I was cracking up thinking about how here I was at an Indian wedding, dancing to songs I'd heard in the clubs of the Philippines, in bars in Cambodia and on Khaosan Road in Thailand. That said, Indian music was a part of it, and the dance floor was burning up!

This is Dalbir, the groom and one of those parts I have no idea what it is called or about, haha. Male family members would come up to the stage where he was sitting and give him the mark on his forehead.

And this is the bride Kawaldeep, sitting next to Dalbir. Here, female family members were putting something in her hair.

The first dance of the couple to be.

And the dancing continued all night with varying intensity. Here is a dance with a cup of whiskey balancing on the head. The party continued well into the night with copious amounts of food and dancing, until we finally headed home around 2:30am.

The next morning we slept in a bit and lounged around the house for most of the morning. At this time, a group of men came to the house to do the traditional application of henna on the woman's hands, which I believe I was told has to do with good luck...

The designs were truly beautiful, and amazingly intricate. To aid in the application, lemon juice is also applied, which helps the colors stay brown rather than yellowing.

In the early afternoon, the three of us headed back to Ghaffar Market. Since I am heading south rather than returning to Delhi like Sazzy and Hunter, I needed my suit ready for the first fitting the day after I ordered it. We returned to Royal Tailors, which is really just a 6x8 foot box crammed with fabric in the side of a large row of buildings, and I did my first fitting of the pants and coat. Everything looked fantastic, but the pants were a little tight on the waist and the jacket was a bit long on the sleeves. With the proper notes taken, we went to our next stop.

Our next stop was for more clothing. I wanted to buy a complete outfit, since things are so cheap out here as I have mentioned, and plus I wanted something to wear for night two of the wedding. I bought two shirts, one classic white and one a bold purple, a tie to match, and a pair of cufflinks. I haven't bought this much clothing in years, and while it felt like I was spending a lot of money I was really getting new shirts and ties for pennies on the dollar.

That evening Sazzy, Hunter and I put on our new shirts and were ready for the party! (granted I'm still wearing my North Face zip-off travel pants, but they look alright and work surprisingly well!)

Tonight's party was at the house rather than at a hall, and the ally/parking area below had been transformed into an absolutely wonderful space. The ground was covered in red carpets, walls and a roof were made of sheets and woven fabric, and the place lit up the street like the Fourth of July.

A look inside.

As I keep saying, food is a very important part of Indian life and of celebration. Tonight’s food was amazing as usual, and after filling up on appetizers that were continually brought to me, I had to double down and eat a proper dinner as well! This was not a problem because the food was all so good, and as usual I stuffed my face for hours.

Once again, the sound system was filling the night with energy and the dance floor was filled with a rotating cast of characters.

A video from the dance floor.

Naturally Hunter and I, being the only white people at the wedding attracted our fair share of attention, which was thoroughly amusing. As is the Indian way, everyone was very friendly and happy to have us around, and it was a ton of fun.

At some late hour, the drummers moved out of the tent, and the party entered the street. A large group of us entered the streets, including women carrying jugs of water on their heads, and we did our best to wake the entire neighborhood. We crossed the main road and paraded through alleys, drum core leading the way as we stopped to dance where ever we felt like. I danced up a storm myself, gathering an excited crowd around me and later collecting the comments of how I was a good dancer, haha. I'm not sure about that part, but I think this was my favorite part of the whole three day event!

Back at the house that night was another of the many ceremonies. The groom and the best man, Sazzy, had to cover their hands in henna. After a few other ceremonial bits, they walked up to the top floor and put their hand prints on the wall, putting the end to another very late night.

The next morning was another set of ceremony and celebration. The white horse and the band arrived early again waking anyone who dared to sleep in. In this ceremony, a red cloth is held above the groom, who is then washed by the women with a mix of turmeric, garbanzo been power and yogurt, as well as plain yogurt in the hair. Messy, but photo gold!

After killing time looking through the 'Grooms Wanted' section of the newspaper, the three of us got dressed in our traditional kurtas and were ready for the final day of the wedding.

As usual, downstairs the music and dancing had begun, and the family was once again gathering to celebrate.

The groom and best man sat in chairs under a gold umbrella, and a veil-type thing was placed over the grooms face by the women.

After more music and dancing, the groom (and his cousin/nephew, not sure the connection) climbed aboard a white horse. Once again, more ceremony was held, including firing a pistol, and the sisters feeding the horse.

At this point the parade down the street begun, and we did our best to disrupt the already messy Dehli traffic, haha! 


 A video of the parade down the street.

The wedding party ambled slowly down the street again stopping to dance whenever the moment felt right, as cars and buses flew past, honking their horns.

After a few blocks, everyone piled into cars and headed for the Gurudwara where the wedding would be finalized. A common part of the dancing at the wedding involved throwing out money and naturally this kind of thing attracts its fair share of beggars, who both ask for money and scramble for it when it is tossed about.


Some of the family, while we dance on the street.

Me in my full outfit with various family members, of whom I am told I am now a part of!

The groom back on the horse for the final stretch.

And of course more dancing!

Upon entering the hall, the yogi (??) said some words, and preformed more rituals. This was then followed by countless family members coming up together, and getting photos taken.

This ceremony, if I understand correctly is the one that finalized the marriage. The yogi reads from the Sikh holy book while musicians play, and the bride and groom walk around the platform four times to show how they will be together forever, sharing everything, good and bad.

Like any wedding, it was photo time, and I felt bad for the groom and bride having to stand on the stage literally for hours while countless photos were taken, including one with us of course.

And like any wedding there is lots of time to kill while people mingle. Having already ate our fill, with the usual service of waiters bringing us food and drinks non-stop (again, we attract attention, haha), we escaped outside for some fresh air and to play with the kids.

At this point one of Sazzy's uncles decided he wanted to give us a tour of this part of Delhi, and I was quite interested to see what he had to show us. This Gurudwara is located in the heart of Indian political life. In the immediate area are the prime ministers house, parliament, the homes of the congress members, head of the military, embassy and more. Despite the power and pomp of the area, slums persisted slightly to my surprise.

After our tour, we headed back to the Gurudwara and got this wonderful view of the building at night time.

After a long day at the Gurudwara, we finally returned home for yet more wedding ceremony! Family members sat in the room while the new couple played some sort of game, one involving picking the rings out of a dish of water. As usual food was had, drums were played, and the night went on until the late hours, marking the end of three amazing days of celebration.

The next day we did our best to sleep in and really had nothing but time to kill. We had hoped to have train tickets to head south on this day, but our plans didn't come through and we had to buy tickets for the next day instead. This made for a lazy day around the house, and not a whole lot happened.

In the evening it was time to say our good byes and to thank the family for the amazing hospitality they have shown us throughout this whole time. Spending time in this house and with the family has been a truly wonderful experience unlike any I have ever had before. I wish I had something to give in return to show my gratitude, but instead, Hunter and I were given gifts!

In the evening we hopped a taxi back to Gurgaon to stay with another uncle before heading out of town. On the way the rain began, and it was the first rain I've seen in about a month. As I said, the air here is awful, a mixture of dust, car exhaust, smoke from cooking/garbage fires and more. At times my eyes have actually burned a bit, so the rain was a welcome refresher of the air.

Upon getting to the home, the power went out, a common occurrence here as rolling blackouts are a part of daily life, and Sazzys great uncle came to chat. He offered a drink which we accepted expecting tea, but he returned with whiskey, and I poured our glasses via headlamp!

So, that was the wedding and I am thrilled to have gotten to experience it. The family has been so kind to Hunter and I that we felt like we belonged from day one. It is now time to head on and get out of the city. We are catching a train south this afternoon where we will visit a tiger reserve, and then on to Goa!