Friday, August 1, 2008

Monsoon Wedding, Part 2

The second day of the wedding consisted of more meals, and a picnic, which ended up being cancelled because of the rain. On the first day of the wedding, it had rained, but only at the end of the party. It was actually quite dramatic - there was the threat of rain, as it had rained earlier in the day, but most of the party remained dry. Which was nice, because the eating tables were not covered and were on the grass. By the time it rained, everyone had moved over to the performance and dance area, which was covered. The rain started while we were dancing, and it looked beautiful in the night sky. The rain threatened to end the party, as the speakers were nearly getting wet, but they were moved onto the dry stage, and we kept dancing.

On the second day, it rained in the morning, then dried in the afternoon. It was lucky for me that the picnic was cancelled, since I failed to look at the extensive schedule card and thought things were starting at noon, not 8am. Luckily, there really ended up being nothing to do until around 4.

At 4, I came back to my room and put my things together. I needed help putting on the sari, so I headed to the hotel for help. Then I found the Chicagoans/Australians and we hopped in a car to take us to the wedding site. On the way out the door, I noticed an extremely old and tiny Indian woman who seemed to be holding onto a plant for support. I offered her my spot in the car, between the two American sisters(who are both probably almost 6 feet tall), and I climbed in the back with the elderly woman's family. Not one Indian person in the car spoke English (including the driver) and not one of the foreigners spoke Hindi. There was a lot of smiling and nodding along the way, but it was nice. It was probably better that the Indians didn't speak English, because the American sisters turned to the tiny Indian grandma and said "Well you are just so cute!" Which she was, but I'm not sure I would have said so.

It was already pouring rain at this point. We entered the wedding site through the long tented hallway that was decorated with colored lights. I stood with at American family (friend's of Anita's father) and wondered what to do and where to go. The fake grass was soaked, and we women weren't sure whether to sacrifice our shoes and save our saris, or go barefoot but be lower and risk getting the saris muddy. In the end, neither the shoes nor the saris were spared.

Eventually, the crowd arrived and the elephant appeared at the entrance to the hallway. The elephant was huge and very cute, with freckles. People crowded around, and the drummers pounded away. A white structure with 2 seats was placed atop the elephant's back - one for Neil (the groom) and one for the elephant driver. The elephant trainer was like out of a movie. He was small and lithe, with a funny eye, a yellow turban and very little clothing. He scrambled up the elephant from all sides - once up her face, and once to get down, she leaned waaaay over to her right and lifted her left front leg, and he walked down as if on stairs. And this was all with Neil on top in his throne.

There was dancing by close family members in front of the elephant, then feeding the elephant, then the procession made its way chaotically down the tented hallway, with the crowd pushing itself along slowly and confused, and with both a brass band and the drummers competing for the limits of our eardrums.

There was lots of time for stares and smiles from family members, with affectionate patting and hand-holding.

Inside the wedding area (the same place as the night before), we found seats facing the stage. The groom went up to the stage, and then the bride entered with fanfare, in a beautiful dark green sari, completely covered in jewels and wearing heavy jewelry and makeup. She was incredibly poised. I think I would have passed out.

The ceremony took place in a small covered space that looks like a large chuppah, but because the ceremony had to be unexpectedly facing east (or something), their backs were to us. All of the non-Indians moved to closer seats to watch. The ceremony is not as reverential as in US weddings; people milled about, chatted, and checked out the food. I stayed with Mrs. Sharda and Mrs. Rao. It seems like a whole lot of tradition and pressure and formality for the bride and the family, but not as much for the wedding guests.

According to Anita, there is a tradition that people make fun of the priest throughout the ceremony, and play pranks. Apparently there was a whole episode in which there were attempts by the children to steal the groom's shoes, followed by efforts by the groom's side to protect them. The shoes were eventually stolen by a clever and sneaky little girl. I missed all of that though.

After the ceremony, the couple took photos with everyone at the wedding in small groups. It seemed interminable, and I don't know how they smiled and looked so poised for so long.

After that, the bride disappeared to rest a little, and the eating and socializing began in earnest. There was no dancing, but there was so much food, and it was truly amazing. I was able to sample only half of it, because eventually I got tired and couldn't eat another bite. There were more varieties of Indian food than I even knew existed. Everyone was impressed, not just me. Mrs. Sharda and Mrs. Rao had a fine time walking around and sampling. They encouraged me to eat more, and I desperately wanted to, but I couldn't anymore.

Thankfully, the rain had let up by the end of the ceremony, and we were able to walk around the grassy area to check out the food without too much difficulty. I still ended up with a muddy sari, but I'll just have to find a dry cleaner in Jackson Heights.

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