Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Wedding Spirit

It is wedding season season in India - though the auspicious month for ceremonies has just ended, it is still vacation time, a time when people can travel and the weather is favourable. With busy lifestyles, intermixing of cultures and customs, weddings no longer have a standard format. Yet within all this change, people remain the same and participating in these events is still as interesting (and, at times, exhausting!) as it used to be.

This year, apart from the usual invitations to wedding receptions, I have been asked to participate in three weddings (in different capacities, if that is the right word). Each of these weddings is unique and interesting and fortunately they are spaced out over a few months. I am immersed in this wedding spirit and am enjoying myself hugely in my role as spectator/friend/relative or a sort of mix of these.

The first wedding is just over. A few months ago, my brother came across an unknown cousin quite by chance. We were all delighted to meet and trace our family roots. Interestingly all of us have descended from the same locality of a town in northern India. Quite by chance, we are now all living in Bangalore. Our cousin was to be married soon and last week we we attended the two day event and met many other relatives we had never seen before. It was a Indian-Brazilian wedding and was filled with colour, music, dancing, good food and celebration. The Brazilians seemed very much at home with all the festivity. Indian families at times can be very easy - loose, billowing, inviting structures - there are all kinds and ages of people and one is just swept into the rituals and conversation without much ado. So there we were, celebrating with tremendous vigour along with everyone else, the wedding of our cousin whom we had just met a few months ago!

The next wedding is a few weeks away; my neighbour's daughter is marrying another acquaintance's son. The bride and groom both work in the U.S. and will arrive a few days before their wedding. In these situations, all the arrangements are done by the parents and as soon as the children arrive, they are swept into an increasingly hectic schedule of social and ceremonial functions.

In my view, much of the interesting action occurs much before the wedding; friends and family drop by to help and also to spend long hours downing cups of tea and chatting about relevant and irrelevant matters. Lists are drawn up and misplaced, tailors are issued ultimata, houses are scrubbed, flowers and sweets ordered.

Yesterday I trundled downstairs to view my friend's saree shopping (many relatives are gifted with sarees at this time). We pored over the different things she had bought; discussed workmanship, quality, usability and price; she described the people she had selected each saree for. This is a different aspect of many Indian weddings - a behind the scene glimpse of events that involves reassuring the concerned parents, offering a helping hand or just a sympathetic ear. As more and more people leave their original homes and settle elsewhere, families are unable to come before the wedding to help as they used to in earlier days. Of course, in those days everything was done at home, with just some basic support staff and an official cook. Now events are fancier, time is short and people look to friends and caterers to de-stress and simplify matters.

Today my neighbour came up to my house for moral support and to get some clarity of thought. What flowers are needed, what kind of food would suit elderly relatives, how should one decorate the house, what had been done for my wedding (which was organized completely at home)? We exchanged ideas and I know there will be more such sessions as days go by. It's almost a ritual in itself.

The third wedding, six months down the line, is my nephew's. He is in the U.S. and is marrying someone who lives there, a second generation Indian. The wedding will be along traditional Indian lines, but will be held in the U.S. This will be followed by a reception in India. Needless to say, my help has already been enlisted for the Indian end of things. We are all currently on the look out for suitable arrangements and gifts for a couple who would value something traditional but who now have a very American lifestyle.

My thoughts turn to an American wedding shower I attended in California a few days after I first set foot in the U.S. I was unaware of the concept of 'showers' and found it strange that there was only one relative invited, everyone else who came was a friend. It was also a revelation that one could actually tell people what gifts one would like to receive! A very practical and down to earth custom but it would not work in the India of old.

I observed the wine glasses, the coffee maker and other bits of things being opened up with sighs and exclamations and finally - the bride's mother handed in her special gift - a slender, designer silk nightdress. There were gasps of delight all round and I gasped too, but in amazement! I thought of our solid Indian gifts, designed to last (whether one liked it or not!) - the beautiful Indian silk sarees, the gold and stone jewellery, the family silver; the emphasis on beauty and tradition, far removed from physical realities of everyday life. Well, not always. I could picture my great aunts frowning and saying, "What if there is an earthquake or war or famine - what will you do with your nightdress and glassware?" But then, weddings are weddings and there is a place for everyone and everything in these celebrations and that is what makes them memorable.

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