I just got back from an amazing 3 week trip to India. I was invited to attend my friend’s brother’s wedding early in 2011 and accepted the invite knowing that it may be the only time I would get to see a wedding in India. There is a lot I could write about on this trip, so I will separate it into three separate posts. This first post concentrates on our time spent in the village of Shiker and the wedding celebration. My apologies if it gets confusing as I left out names of people.
Our plane arrived in Mumbai around 11am where the first thing we were greeted by was a giant rat that was hanging out in the middle of the airport hallway gnawing on something. It didn’t seem to be bothered by anyone, and no one was bothered by it. Outside, we were met by the driver who was sent from the village to pick us up. I forget his name, but he was one hell of a driver. There are virtually no rules on the roads in India. Nobody uses their mirrors or shoulder checks. Instead, people use their horn constantly to let other drivers know when they are passing each other. Nobody uses the lanes properly. We asked the driver if anyone obeys the lines on the road and his joking response was: “We don’t understand what they mean.” When we got closer to the village, we pulled off the highway and onto a two-lane road. This was much scarier because our driver would still pass everyone on the road, only he would drive into the oncoming traffic to achieve this. The last hour or two of the drive was a constant game of chicken with oncoming cars. To make things worse, it got dark outside. You could see nothing but the headlights of cars coming at you, then, at the last second, our driver would pull back into our lane. Some people say that India’s drivers are the best in the world, as well as the worst in the world. After my trip I fully agree with this statement.
We arrived in the village around 7:00pm and immediately got changed into our proper outfits for the wedding that night. A few minutes later the groom’s party arrived. It’s a tradition for the groom’s side of the family to walk to the wedding place in the bride’s village. The walk lasts a few hours and is actually more like a giant party, moving throughout the streets. At the head of the party was a pick up truck loaded with 10 or 15 huge speakers blasting music. Everyone was dancing their way up the street to the wedding tent, while children ran all around lighting off fireworks. The groom arrived on a horse drawn carriage which had been decked out with flowers and lights. Before the groom enters the wedding tent, he must go through a few traditional tasks. The only one I understood and remember is that he has to stand on a little platform and break two clay bowls that have been tied together. If one of the legs on the platform breaks while he’s squishing the clay, bad luck is brought upon the marriage.
After the traditions outside had been performed, the wedding party entered the tent and sat down for the main ceremony. Indian wedding ceremonies are very different from North American weddings. Instead of sitting there quietly and listening throughout the whole wedding, people chat to each other and are free to get up and move about. I was told that I could get up and go right up to the couple and take pictures if I wanted. A great feature is that people come and serve you food and drinks during the ceremony. At all three weddings I attended we were served water, a plate of food, soda, and ice cream. You can also leave the wedding at any time.
We had a Garba to attend that night in a different bride’s village so we left the wedding early, since we weren’t directly related to the bride or groom. Garba is a form of dance. The dancing took place after a cake cutting ceremony and lasted until early in the morning. We were exhausted from all our travelling and ended up leaving around 1:00 am while the party was still going on. That night we were lucky enough to get a bed in my friend’s uncle’s house. We slept very well.
The second day, we got a ride from the house back to the village and dropped off our bags. We then met a driver at the uncle’s house and went to explore the nearby town of Bardoli. On our way we stopped by a grilled sandwich place. They had about a dozen sandwich grilling machines lined up and would make them in large batches. They were veggie sandwiches as most people seem to be vegetarian. (A quick look at wikipedia tells me that about 30% of India is vegetarian with only 30% of non-vegetarians consuming meat regularly.) We bought 6 sandwiches for a total of 90 rupees ($1.80). They were delicious. Once in Bardoli, only a 15 minute drive, we had more food. I unfortunately have forgotten what most things were called. I will have to ask my friend again and update this post when I figure it out.
After returning from Bardoli we got ready for another night of Garba. This night it was in the groom’s village. There was another cake cutting ceremony, although on this night it was a surprise for my friend, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday. After the cake cutting ceremony there were some dance performances by family members as well as a dancer whowas performing with the band. During the dance performances, guys would get up and shower the girls with bills. During one song the dancer spotted me and gave me the “come here” hand signal. I didn’t have a pocket full of rupees to throw at her so I just went up and danced with her. She was trying to teach me some moves, but I didn’t pick up any of them very well. After the Garba, we were in the house cooling off when the dancer came in to talk to me. She didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak Hindi so one of my friend’s Aunts translated for me. She was asking if I would marry her. I assumed she was joking, but just to be safe I politely declined. She got upset and informed me that she had a Bollywood movie star waiting for her at home. We all laughed and went to bed.
The next day was the day of my friend’s brother’s wedding. The events started around 1:00 pm. The family headed over to a house in the bride’s village where we waited for her family to come over. When they eventually came over, the bride’s sisters all played a joke on the groom. They offered him a soda, which they sometimes sabotage with something like masala or salt. This group of girls made it look like they had tampered with the drink, when in fact it was fine. ( After the groom takes the drink, they make him pay for it. ) The groom ended up paying the equivalent of $27 for the bottle of Pepsi. ( Once they’re done, the bride’s family leaves.) We waited in the house until we were called over to have dinner. After walking to the dining tent, we sat down with about 200 people to eat. The tent was set up with about 6 very long tables. People sit on one side of the table facing people at the next table so that workers can walk in the middle of the two tables and serve food. Food was constantly brought to us for about an hour. After dinner, the grooms family retured to the house and got ready for the walk/party to the wedding tent. The groom and his immediate family got changed into their traditional suits and a ton of photos were taken. Once that was over, the groom got on the horse drawn carriage and the party started. We had a moving band, with brass instruments, drums, and a stereo which playied vocals out of a super old loudspeaker. One of the family friends had a hook up to someone who sold fireworks, so we had an entire truck full of fireworks. They were lighting up the sky for the entire 2 or 3 hours it took us to get to the wedding tent. There’s another funny tradition once the ceremony starts. When the groom gets onto the altar, inside the tent, he must take off his shoes. When he takes them off, people from the bride’s side try to steal them. If they are successful, they sell them back to the groom later, or else he has to walk around in bare feet all night. In this instance, my friend managed to protect his brothers shoes for a while. They were eventually taken and they had to pay $50 to get them back.
The wedding ceremony was fairly quick. There is some kind of superstition or rule that you can’t get married on a Wednesday so the wedding had to be over by midnight. This was a relief, as we still hadn’t caught up on our sleep yet.
The next day we attended another wedding. We were part of the groom’s side again, so the day’s structure was the same. We went to a house in the bride’s village and waited for the bride’s family. While we were waiting, about a dozen small boys came in and sat beside me. They kept staring at me, so I eventually started talking to them. Only one or two spoke some broken English. When we asked about what music they like, they all started singing Justin Bieber. I asked if they knew the Beatles or any other English music. Sadly the only English music that had reached them was Bieber. The party through the streets was just as good as the night before, just a few less fireworks. Their wedding started later, and lasted longer. Again this was because the wedding started on Wednesday, but the couple had to be officially married after midnight as to not be married on Wednesday. We left before the ceremony ended. We found out that the wedding lasted until about 3:30 am.
On Thursday we went with the two newly married couples for dinner, into the city of Surat (45 minutes away). The restaurant of choice was pizza hut, which turned out to be the most expensive meal yet (fine dining). After dinner we dropped the couples off at a fancy hotel where they spent the night. The drive back to the village was fun. Rush hour in Surat was the most traffic I’ve ever seen. Cars and motorcycles surrounded us, with only a couple of inches between each other. We got bumped only once. Our driver said that when you drive into Surat, you should expect to get a new scratch on your car by the time you leave. This would explain why we rarely saw nice cars in India.
The plan on Friday was to return to the hotel, pick up the couples and go see a movie with them. On our way to pick them up, we received a call to tell us that my friends Grandfather was in the hospital and wasn’t doing to well. He was old and had been sick for a while. We headed to the hospital, which was in what looked like a back alley. It was small, and fairly dirty. Unfortunately my friends Grandfather passed away at 2:00pm while we were in the waiting room. They planned the funeral for 5 0-clock that evening at their house in the village. We returned to the house with the body. The funeral had to be delayed until the morning because one of the family members couldn’t make it back home on time. That night we stayed in the house next door because no one is allowed to sleep in the same building as the body. The owner of the house was very friendly and drunk. He insisted that before we go to sleep we must have a beer with him. Eventually we accepted, and concluded the beer may have been tainted as we got sick the next day. Gujarat is a dry state. Alcohol can’t legally be bought, so any alcohol is pretty sketchy.
The funeral started at 8:00 am the next morning. There were some prayers, then the body was carried to a truck and driven to a building where it was cremated Darth Vader style. When we returned to the house I wasn’t feeling well (the beer kicking in). I had a fever and felt very cold, so I spent the day in bed. The next day we would leave on our 6 day tour of India which I will cover in my next post.