Indian Wedding Madness

Written by Kamal Mirwani

Pre-wedding Shenanigans

This was the first trip to India I was actually looking forward to. No visiting aunties that I had last met when I was five years old, no obligatory pilgrimages to overcrowded temples and no eating copious amounts of food at relatives’ houses just to be polite. I was going back to India after over 10 years because one of my best friends was getting married, and I was taking my girlfriend. This was going to be a trip of great memories, riveting adventures and lots of surprises.

Immediately, I warned poor Teresa that she would potentially be stared at a lot at the wedding, and in India in general. She’s a petite, beautiful blondie with emerald-green eyes- quite a contrast from the average Indian complexion. In a country where pale skin and the west is somewhat idolized, I knew Teresa was in for quite an interesting experience.

The wedding was to take place in Udaipur, also known as the White City. The buildings here are often white, or sport white roofs at the very least, which is where its moniker comes from. We were staying at the Radisson Blu, a hotel that was very posh and painted completely white, despite its name.

Our first order of business upon arrival was to get Teresa a custom-fitted Lehenga Choli. A Lehenga Choli is a type of Indian outfit worn by females for formal occasions like weddings. She had already picked out a shop to visit for her new Lehenga Choli, and we took a quick auto-rickshaw ride to get there.

The shop was a kaleidoscope of bright fabrics and funky colors. Teresa looked visibly worried, much to my amusement. She’s definitely not the type of girl who likes bright, flashy things, but luckily she had requested certain fabric colors online beforehand. I dread to think of how pissed she would have been if she had been forced to wear an outfit made from one of the standard fabrics.

As Teresa’s fitting took place, she was draped in various fabrics until she found a combination she liked. I snapped away with my phone’s camera to document this cool moment. I later realized, while analyzing the backgrounds of one of my photos, that there was a massive sign saying that photography was not allowed in the store. Oops.

The Wedding

The wedding of one of my best friends, Akhil, was to take place over four days. Though I am Indian of descent, this was to be my first Indian wedding, and I had plenty to learn. My girlfriend long ago realized that relying on me for information pertaining to the formalities and customs surrounding an Indian wedding was a waste of time. If anything, she helped me far more than I helped her in terms of preparation.

Unlike typical western weddings, Indian weddings are filled with lavish parties, intricate ceremonies and loads of parties. In all there were around ten events spanning the entire duration of the wedding. Each would require a different outfit, and neither I, nor Teresa had the willpower to purchase a different outfit for each event. Thus, we improvised!

Teresa took the smart approach, trawling the net for Indian outfits being sold on the cheap for her to wear. She lucked out and managed to find several outfits at low prices. I, on the other hand, had two different Indian-styled jackets made and just rotated a combination of blue and black slacks and shirts to make it seem like I was wearing different outfits each time. Somehow, we both managed to pull off our outfits spectacularly!

Just in case any of you are curious, here is a full list of the events: High tea, welcome Dinner, Youngsters Party, Aashirwad, Mehendi, Sangeet, Leena’s Haldi, Akhil’s Ghari Puja, Wedding and the Reception Dinner. Explaining what each of these events are would require a separate article on its own, so I will only touch on a few major highlights of the entire wedding experience.

Firstly, Teresa and I learned that nothing in an Indian wedding starts on time. The first event, which consisted of high tea, started some three hours after the announced time. With not a soul in sight and with near 50-degree (Celsius) heat frying us in our outfits, we retreated to our room for some air-conditioning, which even Teresa enjoyed for once.

The Welcome Dinner was my time to shine. I was scheduled to make a grand speech for Akhil with another childhood friend of mine, Nicky. The speech was supposed to start with a Bollywood track, but the DJ seemed not to have gotten the memo, so our grand entrance was somewhat less grand. However, thanks to some great stories and improvisation skills, Nicky and I managed to make the crowd laugh after the heartfelt and emotional speech that came before us.

Teresa and I continued to attend as many events as possible, which proved tough after plenty of drinking and shenanigans during the Youngsters Party. Let’s just say that some Slivovice (strong Czech alcohol) was involved and caused one of the best men of the wedding to get so drunk that he went comatose and had to be carried back to his room. Good times, good times.

The Mehendi was a bright and colorful event where girls could get henna applied by locals. The event was traditional with dancers, great food and a lively atmosphere. Akhil rode in on a bicycle/rickshaw with Leena sitting in the back. The bride and groom’s parents escorted the couple out with enthusiastic Bhangra dance moves and upbeat music. Teresa and I watched the event with glee as we suspected Akhil may have been slightly hung over from the previous night’s shenanigans.

The Sangeet required guests to dress up in their most flashy and impressive Indian outfits. Since I’m not too fond of Indian outfits, I settled on an Indian-style jacket and some slacks. Teresa, on the other hand, was resplendent in the outfit she had custom-made a few days earlier. She received plenty of compliments for her outfit, and though it was heavy, it suited her to no end. The night was spent making merry with music, dancing and drinking. I did more drinking than dancing while Teresa made new friends on the dance floor. She looked so beautiful that she even managed to get me to dance for a few minutes. Those who know me will appreciate how much of an achievement that is.

The following day was the day of the actual wedding and what a treat it was going to be. I had joked with Akhil previously that there should be no animals since most typical Indian weddings have a horse to carry the groom, at the very least. Turns out Akhil forgot about that conversation because as we entered the hotel’s driveway, there was a massive elephant waiting. Some of its handlers fed it treats to keep it calm until Akhil arrived. Once again, the previous night had been a late one and Akhil looked even more hung over today. I think the gravity of what was about to happen hadn’t fully sunk in for him, but once the elephant knelt down and he scrambled up the saddle, he looked positively green in the face. Poor Akhil.

Lofted atop the elephant, Akhil was preceded by an enthusiastic group of his dancing friends. Teresa and I opted to drink brightly colored alcoholic concoctions being handed out by hotel staff. I might have had more than Teresa, but in my defense, it was hot. The elephant led Akhil to a grassy field where the wedding ceremony would take place.

The actual wedding ceremony featured a mix of Sindhi and Bengali prayers conducted ceremonial priests. A slightly raised stage allowed the guests to see Akhil ad Leena, resplendent in traditional Indian attire, following the prompts that the two priests gave them. The priests chanted impossibly quick after the vows, offering prayers to the gods and blessings to the couple. Finally, Akhil and Leena started walking around a small fire. This is the equivalent of saying “I do” in western weddings. They walked around the fire seven times, before sitting back down next to the priests and being showered with flowers and a final few good luck prayers. Finally, they were pronounced husband and wife in both the Sindhi and Bengali traditions which was signaled with the popping of small fireworks and sparklers. There were plenty of tears, loads of smiles and one VERY proud friend. Teresa definitely knew I was ecstatic for Akhil and Leena.

 

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A White Girl at an Indian Wedding; In a Pursuit of a Lehenga Choli

„Yo, Teresa, Akhil is getting married in India in April, wanna be my plus one”?

„Sure! That sounds like fun”!

Little did I know what would be necessary to go through during two months prior that event. Well, after booking the tickets to India, the real fun started.

„Listen, Kamal, what outfits do I need for the thing”?

„I have no clue… And I’m not wearing any of that”.

„Whaaaat?“ (Yes, you are, you just don’t know that yet.)

Alright, luckily, the engaged couple created a wedding website with all the necessary information, for instance a list of events and suggested dress code. I still remember how did it feel after visiting that website for the first time.. How do I do this? Words like lehenga choli, salwar kameez or anarkali didn’t sound really familiar to me, neither the given„hints“ such as „Indian glamour“, „Indian chic“ etc. Basically I was to get outfits for 10 events within 3 days, of all the outfits, 7 were traditional Indian. Boom!

I gave up on asking Kamal for advice really soon because all I got was: „I have no idea“. (Sorry Kamal, you’re a nice person, you really are, but you SUCK at being Indian. Actually, I’m convinced you’re a fake Indian!) So I turned to good old Google for advice. After hours of researching, my head was about to explode. There are billions of Indian outfits out there and every extra hour of researching was creating bigger mess in my head. What styles are appropriate, what should stay covered, which colors are or are not allowed, what if those outfits vary depending in regions, what about jewelry, what about shoes,… Not to mention, that I as an extreme minimalist struggled a bit with the philosophy of an Indian outfit itself.

After all that research and getting some advice from „more Indian Indians“, I was still kind of stuck. I knew too little about the Indian culture, that’s a matter of fact. Indian weddings are known for their colorful and bright atmosphere, but also, on the other hand, I was warned that Indian weddings have turned into kind of pretentious display of wealth. My main goal was to make the effort and also, not to offend anyone by „not knowing“. I had to bear in mind that this wedding was going to be very traditional.

Alright, you might think that after finding my feet in the Indian dress code requirements a little bit, the rest was easy peasy. Unfortunately, that is VERY incorrect. The real struggle was to get those outfits. I’m not an activist and by no means have I mastered the zero waste approach andd other stuff, but I always try to think about the environment to the level that is doable for me so I try to get „local“ things first. After paying visit to three stores with „Indian“ clothes in Prague, I had to admit that wasn’t gonna happen.. The clothes there either were not Indian (just western clothes in crazy colors) or ugly as f… Hey! Just because it’s difficult, I will not settle for something ugly just because it looks Indian! You know, I’m a girl, I want to look good!

Not being able to get anything in my country made me think and actually gave a first useful hint. „Wait a sec. Maybe there were more girls in this country attending an Indian wedding, managed to get the outfits and since most probably they don’t need them anymore, they try to sell them online. Bingo! Just like that, I found my first anarkali dress. The seller was even so nice that she sent me the outfit letting me to check and try it on and send the money afterward. Such things still happen these days?

Step by step, little by little, I was collecting my modest Indian wardrobe. The next outfit I got was borrowed from my dear friend Eva, who was in India years ago and since she was attending a wedding there as well, she found a local tailor and got an outfit which was suitable for the Udaipur wedding as well. Luckily, we are the same size (we are the same size we were 10 years ago, isn’t that impressive :)?), Eva still had the outfit and her mum was super nice and willing to search for it in her house. Then I searched through second hand stores in Prague and even tried ebay. Unfortunately the reviews of the sellers there were terrible and I didn’t want to end up stuck with some „rags“.

Although I managed to put some outfits together, I was still missing the icing on the cake – a lehenga choli (also known as ghagra choli or chaniya choli), a three-piece heavy and heavily embroidered attire consisting of a looong skirt, a cropped top and a massive scarf called duppata. Since buying lehenga online was not an option, I tried to find a tailor in Udaipur, who would be willing to cooperate with me prior my arrival, to take my measurements real quick and sew my dress ideally until the next day. I succeeded and this is my big thank you to Mr. Ravi from Madhushree Sarees in Udaipur. We agreed on my budget and preferred colors for this piece and step by step, we put the perfect one together. I kind of enjoyed Mr. Ravi’s whatsapp messages with pictures of more and more fabrics. After landing in Udaipur, one of the first things we did was a trip to Madhushree Sarees. They took my measurements real quick and the next day Mr. Ravi delivered it to our hotel. He was so nice that he also showed me how to handle this masterpiece and how to pack it.

 So this is the story about a white girl getting ready for an Indian wedding. Some of you might think that I was too stressed about it and shouldn’t have cared that much. Nah, not my style. Whatever I want to do, I do it with all my heart. Honestly, this was a team work. Thanks Eva for your Indian outfit, thanks Simona for tailoring two dresses for me, thanks mum D for finding a nice choli in Wroclaw, thank you random people online, thanks Míša for your sparkling shoes and pretty much everyone who helped me not to fail on this mission 🙂 I don’t have pictures of all the outfits, so check out a sample if you like.

 

 

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Hanoi Vibes

Unpredictable. Surprising. Chaotic. Full of amazing stories. Delicious food on every corner. Tasty and spicy. Charming. Colonial.

 

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People of Vietnam; Capturing Souls

Here’s the thing. I suck at landscape photography, I really do. I always feel so helpless on every trip of mine when it comes to taking pictures of “things” and I’m always disappointed with the results. Somehow, I’m only able to take pictures of buildings and scenery when people are involved. It’s not a secret that I enjoy street photography and try to get as close to people as possible. I simply love that thrill and rush I feel during taking pictures in the streets. It requires several things that might be difficult right at the start since you must leave your comfort zone, but the reward once you get used to them and learn how to handle “streets” is beyond exciting.

During my Vietnam trip I had the honor to see and meet many souls and also had the chance to photograph them. Step by step, little by little, it was getting easier to approach people and luckily thanks to my non-intimidating appearance and common sense, I never got in trouble.

 

 

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Incredible Sapa & around

High in the mountains of Northern Vietnam near the Chinese border lies the town of Sapa, established as a hill town by the French. I took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and just after an hour spent in a minivan, I made it there. If you’re keen to see some amazing landscapes, dramatic scenery and breathtaking cascading rice terraces, you made it to the right place. The hike to the Muong Hoa valley with its´villages inhabited by Vietnamese ethnic tribes was for sure one of the best hikes I’ve ever gone to. I had seen rice terraces before, but this time I made it during harvesting. I couldn’t be more lucky. Let’s take a look.

 

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