Written by Kamal Mirwani
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 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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