A very long yes

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The mother of the groom refers to herself and all of us westerlings as the white monkeys. It was not a term she made up but that was used some time back before the bride’s family realized the relationship with this white young man was for real.

The bride’s family is a Jain family which means, among others, that the food is entirely vegetarian – fine with me as it is varied and delicious. It also means there is no champagne, beer or white wine at any point during the wedding. For me this is nothing new but I can see that for the contingent of friends of the groom that had come from a beer drinking country (including the groom himself) this is not easy. The weather is exceedingly hot and humid (it hasn’t rained for two days in a row) and a nice cold beer would have been perfect.

The groom’s male friends, from his student years in Leiden, came with wives and girlfriends, many from Holland, some business partners from Bangelore. They all wore the local pajama style dress and wore red turbans elaborately styled, some round and flat, others feathered like a peacock, by turban experts hired for the purpose.

All this was happening while the tall blond girls stepped out of the spa building in their sarees, expertly wrapped and pinned around them by the women who do massages during the day. Most walked awkwardly and much too slow for their liking in their unfamiliar attire.

Everyone, including the teenage cousins, looked the part that required accompanying the groom as he rode on a decorated elephant to the entrance of the hotel. In front of him the groom’s party danced on the frenzied tones of the band as if it was carnival in Rio. For us, the parents, aunt and uncle and grandma of the bride it was too hot for dancing – we fanned ourselves as we walked slowly in front of the dancing mass, wondering why it took an hour to cover the 200 meter distance.

There is much teasing in a Hindu wedding as we discovered. The slow progress of the groom, leaving the bride waiting, the stealing of his shoes to be sold back later for a fee, the bride’s effort to put a flower garland around her betrothed’s head while his friends keep raising him up on their shoulders to keep him out of reach.

Even later during the ceremony on the stage there was much irreverent laughing and joking and much tolerance of these westerners not knowing what to do when. Never was there the solemnity and the emotional moments that we know so well from our traditions. And indeed, the emotions and tears came the next day during part 2,the more western part of the wedding).

The bride was brought in carried on the shoulders of men clad in only a loincloth, seated in a palanquin that was curtained off with roses and jasmine petals – a very fragrant arrangement. She emerged in a red gauzy saree, bejeweled and embroidered. Around her neck and arms jewelry that was dazzling and heavy. I was told this was not custom jewelry. Even her face was bejeweled. She, usually standing tall and straight, appeared slightly bent under the weight of it all.

The ceremony was carried out by a priest who came with bags of paraphernalia needed to complete the countless steps in the process. There were various objects, spices and substances I could not identify, large shiny green leaves that were used to wrap around money as well as the couple’s hands, kerchiefs, straw rings and a fire around which the couple was to walk seven times over the course of the evening, bound together with a string, involving all sorts of other rituals.

The seven walks around the fire took forever, the groom grinning to his friends sticking up his finger to indicate how many more. The foreigners stayed and watched not knowing the drill – after all we didn’t want to miss anything , taking thousands of pictures – everything was so very photogenic, the indian ladies in the bejeweled and colorful sarees, the thousands of white and red and green lights on every inch of grass and draped over every tree branch. The lush greenery accentuated by large green floodlights while a laser show was going on above our head on the tent ceiling.

Many of the Indians, knowing the drill and how long the ceremony would last, got up at the very start and went to the dining hall to sit down and enjoy the exquisite buffet. Only the immediate family of the bride, her aunties and sisters, remained on the stage, sitting across the Dutch parents.

The Indian side of the family was actively involved in the ceremony, given a variety of tasks by the priest while the Dutch party sat at the groom’s side mostly watching in wonderment and confusion, Hans alternating in his role of father of the groom and photographer/videographer with both cameras on his knees. Although somewhat prepared by their son, there were a few awkward surprises such as not having bills of rupees on hand when money was supposed to be deposited in then this then that container the priest held out for them. They had nothing in their pockets. The Indian laughed good natured and moved on to the next step in the process while the Indian dad, well prepared of course, constantly put small bills in hands, leaves, and kerchiefs.

It was a bit of an ordeal for everyone on the stage because (a) they didn’t get to drink or eat anything like everyone else; (b) it was exceedingly hot and humid but the clothes the men wore were seemingly for colder climes – thick damast-like long coats with stiff collars closed high at the neck; c) a ceremonial fire was burning in front of them which required that d) at least on the stage, the high power fans that we in the audience benefitted from had to be turned off.

After the ceremony was finally over – as someone said, a very complicated process for simply saying yes, we joined the Indian families in the restaurant and had curries and ice cream. On the program was a reception but this was mostly a photo shoot with everyone and their mother and brother posing with the couple. Some of the Dutch saree-wearing contingent had gone back to their rooms and changed into more comfortable wear and take a swim to cool off.

I decided to call it a night and found my room on one of the houseboats where an enormous spider had settled in for the night as well. I called the boat staff and they entered my room with a spray can and chased the poor thing around the room – it was not a fair fight. I had intended to send it back to nature but the chemicals did their work. I slept like a baby.

2 Responses to “A very long yes”

  1. 1 tskraghu July 10, 2011 at 8:29 am

    ‘A very long yes’ – that’s a very unusual way of describing it! In my parent’s days, I’m told, the ceremonies went on for 5 days!

  2. 2 Sharon Hughes July 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    What a wonderful experience Sylvia…. thank you for sharing such a detailed description … the slideshow is awesome…. and aweee to finding the spider at the end of a long day…

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