2: The Wedding! (Cultural Disengagement)December 9, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 29 °C
A 'mundu' or 'dhooti', both/either of which I reserve the right to edit the spelling of post-publication, is what the garment David and I had been purchased to wear for the wedding was called.
Now, in fairness, it's not like a pair of trousers comes with instructions. There's no manual included when you buy a cuff-link shirt nor a step-by-step guide provided for knotting your tie.
But these comparators, I feel at least, possess a form factor which at least implies their correct usage. You'd be hard-pressed to fit trousers over another part of your anatomy, shirts are patently torso-shaped and ties, quite clearly, should be wrapped tightly round the forehead so you look like a ninja.
A mundu/dhooti is a big sheet. Rectangular with imprinted golden lines around three sides, it bears more resemblance to a tablecloth than an item of clothing. Harnessing our resources, David and I scoured the web for tutorials, finding that it needed to be wrapped round the waist like a long beach towel, however the outcomes of our attempts were insufficiently tightly wrapped to remain in place. Wearing only boxers underneath, I wasn't keen on this risk as I'd hate to detract from the formality and spiritual reverence of the occasion by inadvertently flashing my Calvins.
In a momentary flash of genius I realised we could wrap our belts, objects where their usage is clearly apparent from design, inside the sheets and use these to keep the mundus/dhootis secured affixed. We did this and they looked fine. We went down to the lobby and the receptionist decided mine didn't look fine, so he re-did it for me. Throughout the day, Charlotte would be complimented on her stunning attire which she purchased from India, got tailored in the UK and was perfectly suited to the occasion. David and I received a few raised eyebrows and a polite 'well, they tried' expression.
All sorted, we were off to the wedding. The mini-bus took us to the venue ; a lovely building with an entrance adorned with flowers within beautiful grounds of vivid greenery. We were given another albeit different fruit drink on our way in and took seats within the vast hall. Bigger than the engagement ceremony room it was set-up similarly, but with the elevated stage far more elaborate; four huge golden pillars holding aloft flower-laden beams framing the centre-stage. Somewhat like an Emporer's four-poster bed, only without a mattress. Or an Emporer.
After a while people stood and exited the room, so we followed. They, and therefore consequently we, were headed to receive the bride and groom. The groom arrived first, surrounded by his family, with Nam following closely behind. Sid was very smart and Nam looked beautiful. They genuinely did, but it's their wedding so I would have said so regardless.
And so the ceremony began, which I'm going to attempt to capture here in an overall sense rather than a play-by-play ; I will miss things out and get things in the wrong order because I was present and observing and not taking notes. Fortunately we sat alongside some people who were happy to explain some of the intricacies, however they didn't grasp all of it either. I was informed that the wedding was a blend of multiple styles and traditions, with influences from Nam's family merged with individual traditions from both of Sid's parents, who themselves were from different regions. By way of foreword I felt truly honoured to be present on such a special day for my amazing friend Nam and her new husband Sid and hope my dry, occasionally wry tone does not infer any retraction from the utmost respect and reverence I had and have for the occasion.
Similarly to the engagement ceremony, the room doesn't actually go quiet when the wedding starts ; the marriage just sort-of 'happens' whilst everybody else is present.
There was musical accompaniment at times provided by two distinct instruments, a nadaswaram and thavil. One is a long-ish, trumpet-y clarinet-y sort of thing and the other was like a horizontal big bongo-drum device, though I can't for the life of me (nor without data, Google and check) which was which. There were a lengthy series of pre-wedding chants delivered in Sanskrit by some shirtless priest-equivalents to thank/bless the gods which I obviously didn't understand and I'm told many present probably didn't understand, but presumably the priests did.
One notable distinction from christian weddings is that the bride first positioned herself on the stage and the groom walked down to her, which I felt was both a rather modern statement on gender neutrality but also probably an ancient tradition. Sid was flanked by his father and Nam's brother, with this apparently being a measure of symbolic permission on the part of Nam's family granting Sid blessing to wed Nam. Again, I'm doing my best here to join the dots of what I saw and what I was told with a perplexion-leaded pencil.
With both Nam and Sid and various family members and religious officials on the stage, the wedding ceremony got underway. At least I think it did ; one of the first things that happened was that Nam and Sid washed the feet of their parents to express their thanks and respect, which I'm not sure whether was a pre-wedding ritual or a mid-wedding ritual, or if the wedding even can be split into distinct pre/during/post sections.
At a few points before and during, which per what I just said mightn't truly be categorised as such, there was occasional interspercement of a sort-of 'woooh' sound being made by a few of the guests. I'd initially misinterpreted this as an oddly-muted and inemphatic celebratory cheer, however I was later told that this practice was intended to ward-off evil spirits. That this sound was so similar to the sound ghosts/spirits typically make themselves in western cartoons, (see Scooby-doo), I felt to be an interesting association. (Post-publication edit : actually there weren't really spirits/ghosts in Scooby-doo, it always turned out to be the janitor/owner/businessman the gang met at the start with only a tangential connection to the haunted premises who would have gotten away with it were it not for those meddling stoners and their munchies-craving canine).
There's no rings involved in the wedding ceremony, they were exchanged at the engagement ceremony yesterday, so the marriage was accordingly finalised with the tying of a thread around Nam and Sid. There were three knots tied with each knot symbolizing something different but, try to contain your shock, I don't know what. Does this custom have anything to do with the phrase 'tying the knot'? The answer may surprise you. It may not. I personally don't know what the answer is.
Rice was then chucked about a bit, more incredibly-intricate flower garlands exchanged and valuables/jewellery passed between them all. At some point I think Nam suddenly acquired one of those forehead-pendant things, though I just might not have been paying full attention earlier. Bells were rung, a stick was tied to a pillar and the still-bound bride and groom, which I think by now were husband and wife, went for a wander round the pillars a few times. Incense was burned, or something else was burned and there was a coincidentally concurrent release of incense-like fragrance. We were then told we should go up with other guests to give our well-wishes, but when we reached the stage were told otherwise so retreated. I'm certain by now they were definitely married and so therefore no-longer engaged, thusly 'disengagement' was complete (lolz, wordplay innit).
Then came food, which I'm 99% positive is a post-wedding thing, but not the full official proper 'reception', which isn't until later in the week. It was another buffet, which was somewhat fortunate as we were told we might be getting a 'leaf meal' (food served on large leaves) which, though it would have been cool to see, our proven inability to eat with our hands would have rendered consumption troublesome. In general, I enjoy a fair balance between novelty and practicality ; there's little point in something looking incredible and delicious if it's inedible. Like wax fruit. Or Papa John's Pizza.
After shovelling in another delicious mixture of various Indian dishes, rice, breads and ice-cream (this time with a delectable sweetened carrot accompaniment) we went to do what we thought we were supposed to be doing earlier and issue our well-wishes to the married couple. The queuing system left a little to be desired; we joined the back of the primary queue to the left of the stage so as to reach Nam/Sid then exit stage-right, but it appeared some people invoked a 'fast-pass' approach and started queuing up the exit. Perhaps it was our innate Britishness that rendered this rather loose queuing affair somewhat unsatisfactory. Perhaps, and more likely, it only bothered me because I have a sixth-sense for spotting anything worthy of even slight complaint. Either way, it didn't take long for us to reach the front and convey our congratulations and thanks to Nam and Sid. I was also able to off-load the card that I had brought and been holding onto all day to Nam, with apologies that clearly a card is not a traditional thing to bring to an Indian wedding and so my gesture amounted to a a paper-enclosed cardboard redundancy.
Following this we had to head quickly back to the hotel as our check-out time was impending. As our bus wasn't until half-past-midnight, we transferred to a hotel across the road where there were some block-booked rooms for the wedding no-longer in use. Whilst considered an improvement on our original plans, we we remained sceptical as to the likelihood of actually sleeping on the sleeper bus so had some sleep for a few hours, waking early evening for dinner. We decided to try the hotel's restaurant, which turned out to be on the top-floor with open side-walls offering gorgeous views of the city. The menu and food was good ; so as to take full advantage of the culinary authenticity of actually being in India, I ordered a tikka-masala.
After dinner we went for a walk through the surrounding area; Charlotte needing hair products and us all needing cash. Eventually locating an ATM we remarked that it would be good to have a drink, but recalled we'd been forewarned by Nam that the wedding would be dry and alcohol difficult to come by in Madurai. Fortunately my seventh sense, the one after finding things to moan about, came into play and we found an appropriate intoxicant dispensary in the form of a bar not too far from the hotel. Behind big heavy doors and fairly inconspicuous from the outside, inside it was fairly typical with soft lights, decent and low-priced beers and Indian music video channels playing on the multiple television sets. I ordered a Kingfisher Blue beer, which I was initially concerned would be a low or alcohol-free variant of the Kingfisher beer brand but in fact transpired to be a 'strong beer' version instead, so I was pleasantly buzzed by the time we headed to the bus.Read more