Raj’s Big Fat Indian Wedding

D & A Suited Up DipFrom Varanasi we took a short train ride to Patna, the site of the wedding. Patna is not a destination for foreigners. Although an effort has been made to improve its reputation over the last several years, Patna is the capital city of what has come to be regarded as India’s most corrupt and impoverished state, Bihar. Traveling there is not generally considered safe or easy. Any time we mentioned to people that we were headed to Patna the smiles faded from their faces to be replaced with a look of concern. But we knew we’d be in good hands with Raj and his family.Austin & Budda DipRaj arranged for a driver to collect us at the train station. We felt like VIPs. We made our way past the vying tuk-tuk drivers to the nearby bank where we were told to meet our driver. We got to the bank and waited, certain that we stood out enough from the surrounding scene for the driver to easily identify us. But while we waited we were approached by several men who offered us rides and it was difficult to tell if any of them was the guy we were waiting for. A moment later a man approached us who seemed to be our guy. We spoke our native languages to one another with complete futility until finally he spoke the only word we needed to hear: “Raj.” He took us to a guesthouse where Raj had arranged for us to stay.David Posing DipThe day before the wedding, Raj planned a special outing for us. We were to meet his two friends, a Swiss couple living in India, and travel together to Bodhgaya with a driver Raj had hired for us. The Swiss couple, Barbara and Kay, are lovely humans and we enjoyed their company. Austin even got to practice her now-abominable German, which was very fun for her. Barbara seemed happy to humor her, perhaps only because Barbara doesn’t speak English. We were excited to visit Bodhgaya. While translating itineraries for Tendrel Travel, we’d written about Bodhgaya and were curious to see it for ourselves. Bodhgaya is the location where over 2500 years ago the Buddha attained enlightenment sitting beneath a ficus tree. Four hours, a chai-halt (Kay’s Deunglish interpretation of a tea break) and one hit-and-run dog later we arrived to Bodhgaya. We really enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere there. We visited the revered ficus, strolled the temple grounds amidst the many devotees and visited a giant Buddha statue. After a brief couple of hours in Bodhgaya it was time for our four-hour drive back to Patna.The Band DipOn the way back to Patna we got a message from Raj that we’d be stopping by his family’s house for a quick visit. We’d gotten the impression we’d just pop in to introduce ourselves to the Singh family. Raj assured us this was a casual affair. As the driver pulled the car up to the Singh residence we were amazed at the amount of noise overflowing into the street. One of the neighbors was throwing a massive party and the music was overwhelming. We felt badly for Raj’s family who had to endure this racket on the night before the wedding. We were led up the stairs of the apartment building, the dance music echoing off the walls. The music grew louder and louder as we made our way to Raj’s family and Austin joked that we should party with the neighbors instead. We were led up to the rooftop. As we turned the corner, the music was deafening and we were suddenly flooded in spotlights. We shielded our eyes from the light and found that we had been led right into the middle of a crazy, loud dance party. And everyone was staring at the four white people. Austin’s joke was more accurate than we’d expected. Raj stepped off the dance floor to greet us. It was the first time we’d seen him since our visit in Mumbai. The members of his immediate family all came over to greet us warmly and invited us onto the dance floor. We were shell-shocked and not exactly in a dancing mood just yet, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Raj leaned over to inform us that “this will all go a lot better for you if you just satisfy them with a 5-minute dance.” So we obliged and stepped onto the dance floor into the center of the loudness and flashing lights. We did our best to whip out our craziest dance moves while we were filmed and photographed from every angle. Being sober made it more difficult. But in fact, it was a dry wedding and that didn’t seem to impact anyone’s ability to go absolutely wild on the dance floor. For the record, we have never seen a more impressive, uninhibited, outrageous dancer than Raj’s dear mother. Barefooted and in her sari, that lady could seriously get down. She definitely outdanced us.Image-1-2The following day was the wedding. Raj arranged for one of his out-of-town guests, a college friend of his, to spend the day helping us prepare. Raj’s friend ended up being one of the best things that happened to us. Easy to be with, friendly and equipped with an English vocabulary that surpassed our own, Shankh was a fun and interesting person with whom to spend the day. Shankh talked with us about the mountaineering course he’d just completed, the books he was reading and was skilled at asking thought provoking questions. Shankh brought us around the city to find some wedding footwear and even treated us to some delicious roadside sugar cane juice fresh from the press. Then we split up, Austin to join the ladies to do lady things, and David to join the fellows to wait around for hours while the ladies did lady things.Fireworks DipAustin was gifted a hot pink sari from Raj’s generous mother. Austin and Barbara were brought to a salon down the street where they had meters and meters of sari wrapped and folded and pleated and pinned and draped around them in an order of events too confusing for Austin to track. Make-up was hastily applied, bangles and earrings provided and the whole ordeal of ladies things ended up taking less than thirty minutes. Shankh and David and Kay had gone out to drink while doing their lady-waiting and returned to find that the ladies were actually waiting for them. The gents got dressed (David’s wedding outfit fit him perfectly even though Raj never even asked for David’s measurements) and it was time to begin the festivities.Parade 3 DipThe entire Singh family paraded Raj down the stairs from their apartment to the parking garage where a car was waiting to chariot the man of the hour to his bride. A small band was there playing horns and drums and shakers. Their wild beats echoed throughout the parking garage at a nearly painful volume. Led by Raj’s mother and her killer moves, all of the ladies joined together for a crazy parking garage dance party. Rupee notes were thrown into the air and rained down on the groom’s head. The guy playing the shakers abandoned his musical obligations to dive with determination into the crowd of dancing ladies, shoving people aside to scoop up whatever money he could. Everyone piled into cars and drove off to the next destination.Parade 2 DipThe drivers delivered the Singh party to a parking lot across town where another band awaited our arrival. There was a waiting parade float carrying a massive wall of speakers. We were intrigued. A series of giant, heavy light features with big flashing bulbs reminiscent of an old-timey circus marquee were attached by electrical cables in two rows to the front of the float, like the ganglines of a dogsled. Men hoisted these enormous flashing lights atop their heads, the band started up a driving beat, the wall of speakers blasted music and the crowd gathered before the float. It was in this fashion that we walked and danced our way to the wedding site in a procession that occupied the entire street. We made a left turn, blocking the intersection for a leisurely length of time, fireworks were lit in the street, outrageous dancing ensued, our hearing was damaged. This was an Indian wedding.Speakers DipWe made it to the wedding site. Someone ignited a long line of firecrackers to announce the groom’s arrival. On the other side of the parking lot was another parade float carrying another wall of speakers and another band blasting insanely loud music. Was this a battle of the bands? Another wedding on the same night? No, this was the equally raucous arrival of the bride and her family.D & A Parade DipFrom here the wedding continued like many weddings do; servers served hors-d’oeuvres, we met lots of nice people, (an amazing, giant, delicious) dinner buffet was presented, the hundreds of guests (over five hundred, to be more precise) chatted and mingled. Meanwhile, Raj and his beautiful bride Sinni sat on a small couch on a stage. Bedecked in gold jewelry, the two of them sat there for hours and posed as a rotating cast of family members and friends took turns joining them on the couch to have their photo snapped. Televisions were strategically placed throughout the room showing live video footage of the couch and the activities happening on stage for those who could not see the bride and groom from their seats.Potraits 4 DipAfter hours of entertaining conversation with other guests, we inquired when we might expect the marriage ceremony to take place. We were informed that it probably wouldn’t begin until midnight at the earliest, and would last for at least two hours. What?! By the time midnight rolled around, most of the guests had taken their leave and called it a night. Apparently it’s normal etiquette to show up for the photos and food and avoid the ceremony altogether. We were warned that the ceremony would probably bore us, but we wanted to stick around to see what it was all about. What it was all about was this: Raj and Sinni sat on the floor inside a small framed space that was draped entirely in garlands of fresh flowers. A priest sat there with them and spoke an hours-long series of Sanskrit phrases, which they had to repeat. These Sanskrit utterances were accompanied by various ceremonial acts, such as sprinkling water, burning things, walking in circles together, and rubbing pigment into the bride’s scalp. Each act represented various aspects of Raj and Sinni’s new union and Sinni’s departure from her family of origin. Raj and Sinni had both been fasting all day long and it seemed as though this lengthy ceremony was difficult even for them to endure. The whole affair was a surprisingly solemn event with very few smiles on the faces of the newlyweds. There was also a significant cathartic release as the women in Sinni’s family formally cut their ties to her. At 4:30 AM when the ceremony finally drew to a close, Sinni and Raj were ushered away and it was all over. A fact that we found interesting: Sinni’s maiden name is Singh, the very name that she would have otherwise adopted upon marrying Raj.Portraits 5 DipWe thanked the Singh family and said goodnight, bid farewell to our new friend Shankh (who, though currently working for a major Indian bank, is secretly plotting his escape to travel the world and threatens to join Fodenvensel Studios one of these days) and called it a night. We had experienced the colorful, loud, delicious, welcoming, wild, marathon event that is an Indian wedding. We couldn’t have dreamed of a more amazing way to end our chapter in India.

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4 thoughts on “Raj’s Big Fat Indian Wedding

  1. And I thought American weddings were a production! You two must’ve been exhausted with all the excitement, noises and delusion of things to your senses! Thanks for sharing. I would’ve loved to see some of the Mom’s rad dance moves.

    • Barb, it was a barrage of joyful noises and flashing lights. I wish we had more video of Raj’s mom dancing. Raj’s dad can be seen displaying some skillful moves at a few points in the film, but it might be hard to pick him out without knowing what he looks like. He’s wearing a white suit and a mustache.

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