A Cultural EngagementDecember 8, 2018 in India ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C
Following my spring spent in Vietnam I wasn't expecting to really 'travel' again this year, yet here I was/am/are embarking on a fresh mini adventure determining the appropriate tense with which to transcribe my experiences.
I'd usually dedicat some space to describe my means of arrival, however so much has happened over the past thirty-six hours since touchdown it would seem a shame to waste word-count reviewing my in-flight entertainment (Mission Impossible 6 : 8 out of 10, Antman & the Wasp : 7 out of 10, Tag : 6 out of 10, various episodes of Family Guy, American Dad and Rick & Morty : 7, 6, 8, 7, 5, 6, 9, 8) or pass comment on the planes themselves (ranging from nigh-luxury aboard our first upgraded flight between Birmingham and Dubai to our patch-job, refurbished, lucky-it-landed internal transfer to Madurai) or mention our observations within the airports themselves (Dubai is fancy though not as fancy as you'd expect, Chennai has KFC but with a heavier emphasis on spice and rice), so I won't.
Upon landing we collected our baggage, kindly advised the Thomas Cook currency rep offering us only 70 rupees to the pound to sod-off and took a taxi to our first hotel, which as far as Madurai goes we'd expected to be our only hotel, but I'll get to that. Nam greeted us at reception and it was wonderful and emotional to see her so close to her big-day, albeit expression of this emotion was suitably reserved in adherence with what we're informed are the more conservative attitudes of Madurai.
By this point it was Saturday afternoon and David and I, who had travelled here together, hadn't slept since Thursday night (aside from a brief ten minutes I'd managed during the second-half of the 5-rated Family Guy), so we resolved to kip for a couple of hours ahead of the engagement ceremony in the evening.
This we did, then threw on our glad-rags for the sundown shindig. Nam's brother sorted the transport and we clambered into a mini-bus with a gaggle of other guests whose names I briefly learned then promptly forgot. This was to become a pattern over the following day which in no way infers those I met weren't memorable, I thoroughly recall my fleeting association with each of them, but is instead symptomatic of my personal memory issues which in fact necessitate my keeping of blogs such as this. Names are my particular Thingy's heel.
Upon arrival at the hotel venue we were handed a mildy-minty slightly-limey very-greeny fruit drink and asked to dunk our forefingers into a small pot of yellowy-paste and pop a dot on our foreheads. I know this has a proper name and is imbued with symbolism/context that my basic description likely undermines, but I don't have a mobile data connection in India so my standard-but-silent co-authorship partner, Wikipedia, is sadly unavailable. We met up with Charlotte at the ceremony who one-upped our dots-on-the-forehead with beautifully sketched patterns all over her hands and wrists which I'm fairly confident in calling 'henna'.
The room was arranged in an unsurprising layout, rows of chairs adorned with pretty seat-covers with an aisle down the centre leading to an elevated space where the 'main event' was to occur, but something that did surprise was that when the ceremony began their was no ask or expectation that the guests be quiet or remain in their seats. Indeed, conversations continued and folk generally wandered around the room, as did I so as to get a better view of what was happening. From what I could tell there was some symbolic exchange of foods between the two families, the putting-on of elaborate flowery garlands and, as finalé, the exchange of rings between the betrothed. I'd have instinctively asked Nam what exactly was going on, but she was somewhat busy being the focal part of the thing I didn't understand.
Following the ceremony several bowls of sweets handed around to the audience before we headed across the car park to a reception room where a buffet was being served. The selection was incredible and the plates fortunately vast enough to put a bit of everything on. As the serving staff dolloped on the helpings of rice, meat, veg, sauces and breads we looked around the room with mild alarm, noticing that the guests were eating all this lovely nosh with their hands. Fortunately we didn't need to display our trepidation for long ; we were soon spotted as the incapable Westerners that we are and metal cutlery was brought swiftly to us. Noting further that our ability to use cutlery to eat whilst standing was also lacking, they then quickly delivered to us some chairs so we could incospicuously sit in the dead centre of the room amongst the standing crowd and fork-feed ourselves. There was ice-cream for dessert served with a delicious gooey, syrupy dough-ball thing, of which I had seconds.
A number of the guests asked us the typical questions I'd no-doubt be asking them if they'd flown across the world to a foreign wedding; where are you from(?), which football club do you support(?), is this your first time here(?), what are your plans(?) etc. As we shared our travel plans we noticed a particular reaction as regards the news we would be travelling to Kerala via night train in a 'sleeper' carriage. It was one of surprise, mild horror and an impetus to gently advise us we might want to rethink our plans fairly pronto. Concern was mainly being expressed in relation to the restroom facilities ; insomuch as they apparently technically existed, but it was highly discouraged to actually use them. There was also to be no air-conditioning, only a small window for ventilation, little room for luggage and quite compact bunking arrangements that might render sleep difficult to achieve. As keen advocates of sleeping, air, taking our luggage with us and using the toilet, we decided to look into other options.
Our plans briefly, became the 'hot topic' for the room, with multiple people with data connections scouring the net for alternative options. In a period of fifteen-or-so minutes our schedule shifted six-or-seven times back and forth. We were briefly finding a carriage with A/C, then there weren't any, then we were flying, then we weren't, then we were going to grin & bear the sleeper carriage, then we were taking a cab until, finally, we were booked on a sleeper bus, with A/C, at half-past midnight the following night.
In celebration of a job well-done, entirely by other people, and also partly in respect of the successful engagement of Nam and Sid, we went back to the ceremony room for a bit of dance. Charlotte was commended for here dancing prowess, effectively taking part in the Indian manouveres and movements to the extent of full assimilation, whilst I was there too.
We headed back to the hotel in an OLA, India's better-named Uber equivalent, by way of another hotel to pick-up Charlotte's humongous bag, which was more problematic than it should have been. But the journey was necessary in order to pick up the 'outfits', a term I'm using loosely, David and I would be wearing the next day.Read more