Friday, July 9, 2010

Monsoon Wedding

We had a major uptick in excitement yesterday evening when we were invited to a wedding. The manager of the local hotel which has been providing our food got married, and we were honored guests. We appeared just as the groom was leaving for the temple to do the final rituals of the two-day process, and therefore, everyone’s attention was freed up for us. We were chatted up by the local boys, greeted cheerfully by the little girls and shook the hands of small scared children who had never seen “Anglaise” before.

I was asked by one handsome young man to meet his aunty and a plastic chair was pulled up for me in the aunty circle—the circle of matriarchal power in the family. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it was a really huge honor. I was sort of trying to hang back, because it isn’t my style to be in the spotlight. I wasn’t even appropriately dressed—wearing jeans and a tunic. I’m not sure why I even went to the wedding, because I knew we would not go unnoticed. I had my speech all prepared to get out of going, but Sreedhara convinced me.

It wasn’t hard, because I really wanted to dance.

I hadn’t moved my body properly in an entire week because women’s movements in public space are somewhat circumscribed and/or subject to heckling by the local boys. But, I knew that the wedding would be a good place to move my body with some vigor, and that I could dance my ass off and everyone would love it. Sitting in the aunty circle felt good too. We sat in silence and one of them patted my knee to the music. It felt a bit like being home. I was handed a baby and pictures were taken and my handsome young friend told me that I was the "best guest".

The groom came back and met his bride, who, for many and various reasons was visibly devastated. Her life with her first family was over and her new life with her husband would mean the end of any freedom she might have ever enjoyed, depending, that is, on how open-minded he is. My heart ached for her, and I could only see these rituals as the celebration of her bondage. Threads were tied, turmeric applied, blessings given by the priest, and the deal was done. The whole party (a couple hundred probably) then picked up and moved down the road to a community hall for the reception.

The whole procession, headed up by a wall of speakers thumping out Bollywood music (with two oxcarts outfitted with generators) and a bunch of boys carrying, on their heads, electric flashing lights running on car batteries, proceeded slowly down the street in the ominous sprinkles of a oncoming monsoon shower. Our party arrived at the hall in a few minutes and we debated a bit about going back to the mission because we had an early morning start back to Bhopal.

But the food at Indian weddings is supposed to be really good…

By then our hesitation was noticed and we were swept by an enthusiastic crowd into the courtyard festooned with Christmas tree lights and set up like the state fair with food booths. Our host ushered us to the front of the line and we proceeded to smack our lips around the best food we’d eaten in India yet. Dal (lentil stew), carrot curry, paneer maater (cheese and pea curry) and two kinds of paratha (stuffed flatbreads). Just as we started to eat the sky opened and the rain came pouring down. We took refuge under an overhanging eave, and were soon joined by about 25 other soaking wet wedding goers. Most of whom were young men with wet cell phones and soaked wallets.

We finished our meal while watching everyone scatter for dry ground--most in the hall, which was packed. We also enjoyed watching the young men peel off their shirts—Bollywood style. I perched for awhile on my little ledge, holding my empty plate savoring all this awesomeness, and feeling the beat of the music start to make me move. First my head, then my shoulders, then my feet. The young man closest to me took my plate and threw it on the ground. I think it was breaking such a western taboo that started the little bit of mayhem that followed.

The rain slacked a bit and I jumped out from under the eave, bolted for the hall and found myself smack dab in the middle of a bunch of beautiful young women in gorgeous saris. They wasted no time pulling me into their circle for dancing. It was like a gift of pure joy. I danced and danced and danced. Danced in the rain and felt the dust and sweat and accumulated sadness like silt on a river bank, wash off me, carried down the street, into the river, into the ocean.

Open to the sky, falling rain. Gift of life.

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