East and west

I imagine there must have been many negotiations when the wedding was being planned over how traditional or how modern this event would be. The parents of the bride were, I believe, very happy with the traditional part. The Jain vegetarian food and absence of alcohol were, no doubt, non-negotiables. The western ceremony, and especially the Bollywood disco party were probably non-negotiable on the young couple’s side. That’s the part that took place on day two, part two of the wedding.

After a very challenging yoga session from 7 to 8 in what must have been around eighty percent humidity and a swim to cool off, we were offered yet another lavish breakfast. Although mostly a breakfast for Indians, for those craving for their home food there was even bread and cheese.

The rest of the morning was free until noontime when the next event would start. Some people went on boat rides in the backwaters – the one thing we had already done on our way out here – others went to the spa, all slots of treatments were booked, and the friends of bride and groom went to the adjacent presidential suites respectively to hang out – apart but within hearing distance.

Each of these bungalows had a fair sized swimming pool and waiters at beck and call to bring in goodies. The groom and his friends hung out in the pool while the bride, on the other side was, I presume, chitchatting with her friends while being made up and dressed in another saree fit for a princess for the next program. The groom simply slipped into another stately Indian outfit just minutes before the next event; no turban this time.

The afternoon program consisted of traditional dances and dances by the groom’s family and friends. The groom’s sister and her friend, plus their teenage (male) cousins had studied a dance routine and the bride and groom had taken some lessons back in Mumbai. Everyone was forewarned – showing off your dancing prowess is apparently part of the deal. In an Indian-to-Indian wedding, I was told, the two families show off before the wedding in a rather competitive spirit.

The traditional dances gave us a taste of the variety of exquisite feminine dances like those from further east as well as demonstrations of martial dexterity with a variety of very scary looking weapons. Although these martial dances were done by men, a large poster from the Incredible India campaign showed women with shields and swords jumping high up while going after each other.

Then a late lunch buffet before the next to last part of the wedding. All the men, Dutch and Indian, including the groom came dressed up in two or three piece grey suits (although the Indian ladies continued to wear their bejeweled sarees). I knew that some of these suits had been tailor made from Italian fabrics according to the latest Italian designs but frankly, to me each grey suite looks like the next one.

The groom and his dad waited at the front of the completely transformed outdoor wedding hall – new flowers, new decorations, new theme, new lights, new colors – when the bride, now dressed in white, with still spectacular but now less abundant jewelry entered on the arm of her (suited) dad. The audience stood up and only the traditional wedding march was missing – now we were marrying the two in (somewhat) western style. There even was a churchman who sermoned about two becoming one and the responsibilities and duties of each towards the other.

There were vows, lighthearted and funny revealing things about habits that have clashed in the past and may well continue to clash in the future, then the rings, a wedding cake and other parts of the western wedding ceremony, slightly altered or influenced by the Hindu context.

Following western tradition a MC asked for people who wanted to say a few words and that is when the tears came when family members and friends of the bride offered tearful farewells (I wondered why as the couple is, apart from the honeymoon, not going anywhere).

The father of the bride had made a slideshow of the groom’s early years with the theme of ‘finding India.’ I wondered what the Indians thought of it all – scenes of snow and travels around the world. I noticed how we have all aged – four among the people in the audience were featured in the film (the parents, oma and friend Joe – over the last quarter of a century.

The grand finale was in two parts: first what is called the sangheet – a series of dance acts on Bollywood themes performed by family and friends of the bride with the greatest joy in the greatest heat that none of them seemed to mind. The young generation was taking over while the older one sat stoically in their seats – I wonder whether they were suffering all this or simply sad that the very traditional wedding they would surely have wanted was now a thing of the past.

Part two of the grand finale was definitely a western affair in a pavilion off on the side, decorated Bollywood style with lifesize cutouts of Bollywood stars, a smoke machine and laser light and a real DJ who played very loud western music. We danced a bit while there was still room on the dance floor – in spite of the immense heat – until the young people moved in, the girls in tight short dresses and the men in comfy clothes – most holding glasses with, I assumed, adult beverages.

Drenched from sweat I returned to my houseboat to find the electricity off. I dozed off thinking how most people in Indian sleep like this every night – mosquitoes, intense heat and no electricity for fans let alone AC. I was woken up at 2:30 when a generator was turned on and bringing the fan to life making the rest of the night a breeze.

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