Published: September 4th 2009January 2nd 2009
Well it's been another one of those two-days-blurred-into-one!! The wedding celebrations began early yesterday morning. Shivali and I were woken by Arpit calling up the stairs. I grudgingly got out of bed - I think I was lucky if I'd got 6 hours sleep. Shivali went straight downstairs while I pulled the shutter open a crack to get some light. The village looked so peaceful in the early morning and the cool morning air helped me wake up a bit. I adjusted the clothes I'd slept in and tried to do something with my hair in the dim light before going downstairs. It didn't help that as I came down I was greeted by three of the guys who were all still tucked up in bed in the room below.
I located Arpit and asked about getting some hot water so I could wash my hair before the wedding. Poor Arpit looked like he had more than enough to do already but he went to get me the water while I hovered near the bathroom determined to make myself presentable befor emeeting any more guests. He brought me two small containers of water which was enough to make about 3/4 of
a bucket of warm water. I washed and changed quickly and then crept back to Shivali's bedroom where Anu and her family were sleeping. Fortunately everyone was getting up so I perched on the edge of the bed trying to dry my hair with a towel while the other women bustled around me looking for jewellery or matching scarves to their salwar kameez or sarees.
A few other women seemed to have followed suit and washed their hair too. I noticed water being heated over a fire in the garden and wondered how many other people had actually got hot water to wash with. I have always naively assumed that there was a hot water tank round the back of the house - I feel quite bad now I realise everytime I have asked for hot water someone has gone to boil it specially for me.
I found Shivali in the kitchen scrubbing her mendhi off with cold water. Eventually we all ended up sitting in the main living room, clustered in ragged circles around the charcoal braziers. I wore my coat despite the fact it clashed with my pink and purple salwar kameez and held my hands over the
glowing coals trying to keep warm. Someone brought sweets around and Shivali insisted I take one as it is tradition to leave for a wedding with a sweet taste in one's mouth.
The men started to move our luggage out and Ankur made sure my suitcase was kept with the families luggage as like Shivali I would be leaving directly from the wedding and not returning to the village.
The guests all began to disperse until only Shivali and I were left. A few prayers were said by the mini altar which was then carried out with us. Leaving the house was very ritualised with Shivali and her parents making offerings as they walked away. We walked up the slope to the road, while Shivali was starting with what was to be a long day of tears, I found myself getting tearful too. This has been my home too and I have so many happy memories of living in the village. Now Shivali is moving away I will only ever be a visitor. This trip might be my last time of waking to the quiet sounds of the village, walking to the water spot in the evenings, looking up at
the clear night sky from a bed on the rooftop. I'm sure I will revisit again with Shivali, but somehow it's not quite the same.
A taxi arrived and the small gathering spilt up. Anu pushed me forward to ride with Shivali and I found myself squashed on the backseat with Shivali, Monika and Vaani, and holding the mini altar carefully in my lap as we set off into town.
Everyone seemed to cheer up once we reached town and saw the colouful marquee set up in the field for us. The rooms in the building beyond were apparently solely for the use of the wedding party. We went into one room where the grandmothers were already sitting in the corner covered with quilts. We joined them for a time, all huddling together to keep warm. The altar was set up on the floor by the wall while the boys ran around storing the luggage and putting our change of clothes in the next room.
Eventually we were called for breakfast. I followed Monika and Anu to the marquee where table were set up and already filled with stacks of plates, huge metal pots of curry and plates of steaming
rotis. I met Sageeta and Shweta again and we all stood talking while I struggled to master the art of holding my plate with one hand and tearing off pieces of roti with the other without tipping the whole lot on the ground.
After breakfast we all crowded back into the same room, the women all sitting on quilts facing the altar and the men wandering round and hovering in the doorway. From then on I was lost in a confusing and complex string of ceremonies and celebrations. Half the time I was unable to guess if we were in the middle of a religious ceremony or just a party. There were several outbreaks of spontaneous singing and a few attmepts at dancing which was quite difficult given the limited amount of space.
Later in the morning some of Lokesh's female relatives arrived to show off all the new suits and sarees and jewellery they were giving to Shivali. Each item was produced with great relish and the room soon had a colourful display heaped in the centre. This was accompnaied by a lot of singing and banging on drums. Monika explained that basically the women were singing to insult
the other party and arguing over who was better - the bride or the groom. It was all very good natured and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.
Eventually the groom's party left and the rituals on the brides side continued. What unfolded was a scene very familiar from endless Bollywood films. Shivali sat as friends and relatives came to put a paste of tumeric, sandlewood and other things on her arms and legs - she moved away everytime anyone went for her face! Other people were not so lucky and the yellow paste, known as butna, was cheerfully spread around all the guests - some of the boys managing to smear liberal handfuls on each others' faces. Even I was attacked by an aunt who managed to smear a glob across my cheek. Fortunately this was after I had my turn painting Shivali so at least the photographers didn't catch me with a yellow face.
Finally the photographers let Shivali (and the boys) go and wash themselves clean. I believe the ceremony used to be a lengthier process and was intended to purify the bride's body and mind but now it is mostly, as Shivali puts it,
'for the photographs'. I returned to my seat at the back next to Sageeta and attempted to scrape the yellow paste off my face without spoiling my makeup.
Shivali returned clean, in a different salwar kameez and with her hair freshly washed.
Another ceremony, havan, began. The fire was built up and the priest chanted while Shivali and various relatives threw herbs into the fire. Eventually I was pulled forward too and hesitantly copied the people around me. A glance from Shivali alerted me to the fact I was using the wrong fingers to pinch the herb mixture and I quickly adjusted it so I was using my thumb and middle two fingers, holding my index finger out of the way.
The priest tied kalava around my wrist. Kalava is the sacred red thread tied around the right hand of men and unmarried women, and on the left hand of married women, during Hindu puja. I sat back in my place but was soon called forward again for another ritual which involved more prayers while relatives came and held a green leaf over Shivali's head and offered money. Shivali's mum handed me a rupee which I circled over Shivali's head
before giving it up as an offering.
Afterwards we went for dinner back in the marquee. Rugs had been laid out and we all sat on the ground while banana leaf plates were placed in front of us. Shivali escaped from whatever prayers were going on and came to join us. I struggled to finish the heap of curry and rice in front of me as I was still full from breakfast.
After lunch we continued on with the next ceremony. Shivali sat on a low stool outside her head covered and new wedding bangles on her arms. An aunt pulled me to stand behind her and placed the end of my scarf on her head until someone realised the professional photographers had disappeared and I was asked to take the photos instead.
I followed some of the other relatives to the front of the building and one at a time Shivali's uncle poured water into little pots held by each of the women. They then formed a procession back to where Shivali was sitting and placed the pots in a row by her feet. Vaani of course managed to get involved in the whole thing and looked very cute
wrapped in a red headscarf alongside all the other women.
At the end of this ceremony it was time for Shivali to leave for the beauty parlour. I accompanied her to the room where all our bags were kept and collected my dress and slippers. The car dropped us off at the beauty parlour and I settled in for a long wait as Shivali had her hair and makeup done. The beautician's daughter helped her mother, and obviously decided I looked bored and cleverly made me a rose out of a piece of red ribbon. The husband turned up at one point with chai for his wife and watched the proceedings too. Part way though all of this we heard a huge noise start - music blaring, horns beeping, people cheering and shouting... the barat had arrived back at the marquee!
Once Shivali had changed into her lengha I asked if I could use the changing room too and quickly slipped into my dress. Shivali smiled as I came out and asked me if I was joining her in being freezing. I put my cardigan and coat back on and sat on the bench hoping I'd soon get used to
the cold. I watched Shivali have her nails painted and make up done and watched the beauticaian painstakingly peel off tiny bits of bindi and arrange a glittering pattern across Shivali's eyebrows.
Next she tried to wrap flowers around Shivali's plait which took some time to arrange to her satisfaction especially as her husband and daughter both had ideas on how best to twist the flowers into Shivali's hair.
She was just finishing when the photographers turned up. They stood watching for a time while I tried to take a photo of Shivali looking into the mirror which the photographer obvioulsy thought was a good idea as he immediately pushed me out of the way and did the same. When Shivali was finally ready the photographer took some photos of her sitting on the bench. He was very nice about letting me take pictures too and I was certainly glad of his lighting equipment he;d brought. Shivali's uncle kept complimenting my pictures and saying what lovely natural shots I'd taken... well obviously Shivali was looking at the professional photographer not me! I found it amusing that the photographer kept giving Shivali instructions to 'look bold, look confident'... aren't Indian brides
supposed to look meek and demure?! :)
The photographer finally decided he'd taken enough photographs and Shivali's uncle was looking very relieved that he could finally take the bride to the wedding as everyone was waiting. Shivali however was adament there was one pose she was going to do before the cameras were put away. She hurriedly sat on the floor of the beauty parlour, sweeping her skirts into a circle around her. The beautician quickly moved forward to adjust her outfit and Shivali was left looking absolutely gorgeous, her flower woven hair hanging over one shoulder, a few coconuts positioned on her skirts for added decoration.
We finally all filed out of the beauty parlour, picked our way over to the road and into the car. Fortunately Shivali managed to step over the gutter in the dark without spoiling her long skirts.
We arrived back at the wedding. The car drove us past the groom's party and we slippe dback inside to the ceremony room where Shivali was to wait. I stayed for a while until she urged me to go and join the party. I left her in the company of the grandmothers and walked over to the
marquee where I found Anu and Sageeta and Shweta and some of the others waiting by the entrance.
The groom's party had obviously been informed that the bride was here as they were dancing exuberantly, banging drums and making a lot of noise. We had a rope across the entrance to prevent the groom's party from joining us yet. Our job was to barricade the entrance when the grrom tried to come in and pretend to try and stop him from taking Shivali away. According to some of the younger girls I spoke to this is obviously a very coveted position as the groom tries to bribe his way in with money. The girls were very excited on my behalf and I didn't like to disillusion them that a handful of 5 and 10 rupee notes really wasn't worth anything to me at all.
We stood talking at the entrance, letting guests in and out of the tent to get drinks and watching the guests from the groom's side.
One girl made us all stare in surprise. She was maybe 14 and was wearing a black strap top, denim mini skirt and had her hair in messy paits that resembled
dreadlocks. I probably wouldn't have given her a second glance if she was walking down the street in England but she looked so incongrous amongst all the saree clad guests. Her attire obviously shocked the other women who said they would have expected that kind of dress from me but not an Indian guest. My assertion that I have never worn a skirt that sjort made them laugh and Anu said 'of course not, you're a saree-girl'. I'm glad at least that my dress hasn't caused any offense since it is only just below the knee, but everyone only smiled politely and some of the girls dubbed me beautiful so I guessed I passed!
We waited by the entrance for some time and for some reason I suddenly felt very faint. Sageeta fetched me some water and then I went to find the toilets. I stopped on the way back to chat to Shivali again and she wanted to know if they were ready for her at the marquee. I walked back to find the groom's party finally trying to get in. Lokesh and his friends were giving ruppe notes to the girls at the entrance and they in turn
were holding onto the rope and trying to turn the guests away.
Eventually the rope was allowed to drop and a great cheer went up from the groom's party as they poured inside. I got caught up in the crowd and tried to slip inside without being caught on video mixed up with the wrong party.
I found Anu just inside and told her Shivali wanted to know if we were ready for her. Anu and the others came with me to fetch Shivali who was still sitting patiently on her plastic stool in the doorway. We all walked outside and stopped on the path where we were given handfuls of marigold petals. Anu instructed me to walk beside her and throw the petals over Shivali who walked in front, a red scarf held above her head.
I was slightly concerned as we walked in to hear 'It's the Time to Disco' blaring over the loud speaker. I half expected Shivali to turn around and demand I sing 'my song'. Having taught me it word by word four years ago she tries to get me to perform it at every occasion. Thankfully she had more important matters on her mind!
We showered Shivali with the marigold petals as we walked behind her. We tried to do so sparingly as we didn't seem to have enough. The photographers obviously wanted a more dramatic display for the film but as it was we only just managed to make out handfuls last up to the front of the marquee.
At the front of the marquee was the platform with its two large thrones and sitting in them was Lokesh and another woman (I think it's supposed to be the most recently married woman).
We followed Shivali to the side of the platform and gathered around her as Lokesh came to meet her. Shivali took half a step towards him and then fell back. I thought at first her heel had caught on the step and then I realised she was feigning reluctance to go. The women around around me tried to dissuade Lokesh who was patiently holding out his hand trying to coax Shivali up the steps. Eventually she gave him her hand and walked up to the throne where the other woman moved aside for her. Lokesh and Shivali stood for a few pictures and then were handed garlands. They placed the
garlands over each others head and everyone burst into applause while Any whispered to me that they were now married and everything else was just ceremony. This part of the ceremony is known as the Jai Mala and the couple accept each other as life partners.
What followed was the lengthy process of the bride and groom having their photo taken with all the guests. Anu and I moved away to get some food. When I had eaten something I found Sageeta and Shweta and some of the other girls sitting on the chairs and joined them. I watched with some bemusment at the antics of the guys on the dance floor. They were behaving in the kind of way English men only behave after a few pints of beer - exuberant dancing with no inhibitions, even jumping up on the table tops to dance! None of the women had joined this madness although lots of kids were joining in, dancing around the men's legs and bouncing around in their wedding outfits looking very cute.
After some time Arpit came over and wanted to know if I wanted to give my wedding present now. There was actually a queue of
people waiting to give their congratulations to the bride and groom so i said I'd wait. I was left sitting with my present until Arpit came back and said we could go now. The girls all came with me and we waited near the platform. Sageeta took my coat from me as I was determined to get at least one photo without my outer clothes on! I have nothing but admiration for the women who actually managed to wander around in thin sarees all evening. Anu's explanation that 'it's fashion' doesn't seem a good enough reason to freeze all night.
Arpit and I went up the steps, I presented my gift and then we both perched on the arms on the thrones for our picture while the three photographers called my name and all tried to get us looking at their camera. I can only hope there's at least one picture with us all looking in the same direction!
I returned to my coat and then watched the others having their pictures taken, then we returned to our seats for a while. As the last of the guests had their picture taken the music really started and Lokesh's friends tried
to pull him and Shivali over to dance. Shivali escaped gracefully but Lokesh was lost in a crowd of men happily behaving like imbeciles.
Finally Shivali and Lokesh went to sit at a nearby table and Arpit and I were able to join them. We attempted to talk over the loud music and Shivali and Lokesh were both fiddling with her nose ring which kept falling out. Some waiters descended on us with large plates of food and then the photographers swarmed around us, first getting Shivali and Lokesh to feed each other and then taking pictures of the four of us. I'm not sure what etiquette there is about who sits with the bride and groom, but bride, groom, bride's brother, and bride's friend seemed an odd combination. Eventually we were left alone and were free to talk and eat. I noticed many of the guests had already started to leave and by the time the four of us left the table the waiters were already stacking chairs and the only people left were some excited children and a few of the more entusiastic dancers who were still bopping away in a corner. They came and asked me to
join them but I refused wanting to leave with the bride and groom and see what happened next. We walked back to the building where Lokesh sat by the fire in the courtyard under a recently errected mandap for further prayers while I joined the women sitting around the edges watching. Most of the women seemed to have already changed into warmer clothes and many people were starting to go to bed as it was already midnight and we'd all been up since early morning. Sageeta came and offered me a bed with her on the roof but I wanted to stay awake and watch the ceremonies.
Shivali reappeared having changed out of her lengha into a pink salwar kameez. She and Lokesh went into one of the rooms closely followed by the photographers. I wandered in to watch a whole new set of photographs being taken and perched on the edge of the bed narrowly avoiding sitting on two small children who were sound alseep under the blankets. Anu and Monika were busy heating milk on a portable gas ring for the baby.
The ceremonies began again in the room we had previously been in although this time most
people were asleep, or at least lying tucked up in the quilts. There were more prayers by the fire inside and gifts were being passed around. I was feeling quite exhausted and getting a bit disorientated and asked Arpit if I could change and get some sleep. I changed back into my salwar kameez and folded my dress into my suitcase. I was told there was a bed I could use in the other room but when I glanced in there were already two other people there. I wandered back outside and sat by a charcoal brazier and decided to try and stay awake to see what would happen next. I was glad I did as Shivali and Lokesh came back to the fire outside and offered prayers and walked around the fire. The couple are supposed to walk around the fire four times, alternating who leads while the priest says:
Om Svaha! With the first turn, we pray for happiness in the union of the couple.
Om Svaha! With the second turn, we pray for the long life of the couple.
Om Svaha! With the third turn, we pray for the healthy life of the couple.
Om Svaha! With
the fourth turn, we pray for the happiness and health of the couple.
I'm not sure if this is exactly what was said as none of it was in English, but this is traditionally what is said at Hindu weddings.
Shivali and Lokesh sat back down and the chanting continued a while and then they stood up and walked around the fire again, their scarves tied together. What followed were the seven vows of the Hindu wedding:
May the couple be blessed with an abundance of food.
May the couple be strong and complement one another.
May the couple be blessed with prosperity.
May the couple be eternally happy.
May the couple be blessed with children.
May the couple live in perfect harmony.
May (bride) and (groom) always be the best of friends.
Arpit joined in with the ceremonies after this and I continued to watch bleary eyed from a distance. Ankur was running around still in high spirits and the aunts seemed to have the right idea as they were sandwiched between two quilts in a makeshift bed outside. My eyes kept drooping and I certainly wasn't very good compnay for my compnaian by the fire, one of Lokesh's
relatives. He didn't seem to mind anyway since he didn't really speak any English and my Hindi is pretty much limited to singing along with Bollywood numbers.
At around 3am a new ritual started. Shivali's mum came and handed me a kalira and motioned for me to follow her. The kalira is made of a coconut hanging from a shiny thread and decorated with tinsel. I stood in a line with the other women fighting to stay awake and actually quite relieved to be doing something as I supposed there was less chance of me falling asleep on my feet than sitting by the fire. I struggled to break the thread at the top of my kalira as everyone else seemed to be tying theirs around Shivali's wrist and mine was in a loop. I finally managed to snap it before bending to tie it round Shivali's wrist.
Afterwards I retreated to my chair by the fire and fought tiredness although I did get to the stage where I was falling asleep for a couple of seconds and then waking as my head fell forward and then repeating the same thing. It must have been in one of my two
second naps that Shivali got her wedding ring as I saw her wearing it later but didn't notice her being given it.
At about 3.30am Lokesh put the sindoor in Shivali's parting marking her as his wife for the first time. Shortly after that Shivali retreated to the room at the end where all our bags were kept and Arpit collected me saying she wanted my company. Two of the guys came in and set up the fold-down bed, and I got a quilt for Shivali and myself as Shivali wasn't really able to do much with her hands. I asked her what was happening next and Shivali said she had to wait for a couple of hours until it was time for her to leave. I asked where Lokesh was and if he had more ceremonies to do and she just shrugged and said she didn't know. I figured if the bride was too tired to care what was happening at her own wedding then I couldn't be bothered either and stayed curled up on the bed. We talked for a while and Shivali thanked me for coming in case she didn't get a chance to later. I got
the impression she was actually more touched by the fact I was staying awake all night with her more than the fact I'd come all the way form England. Arpit and one of the cousins came in and set up a bed of quilts in the middle of the floor. We all sat talking for a while then Shivali and I finally curled up and went to sleep. We got maybe an hour's rest and then were up for the next part of the wedding.
I helped Shivali check all her luggage and rearrange her outfit. She also wanted me to reapply her lip liner which I though was a bit much to ask before 6am when my eyes were refusing to focus - I hope I didn't draw a line across her chin!
Back outside Shivali and Lokesh stood together ready to say goodbye to everyone. Each of Shivali's friends and relatives came to say goodbye to her while Shivali stood tears running down her cheeks. My English reserve kicked in and I stood awkwardly, uncomfortable with the public display of emotion. I didn't join in with the hysteria when I said goodbye and to be honest I'm not
sure how much of it was genuine and how much was just play acting. Shivali's father broke down sobbing and clung to Shivali, but when he finally moved away the photographers ushered him back and encouraged more tears for the camera so I think most of it was just for show.
When Shivali said goodbye to her mother they had a blanket held over their heads and said their goodbyes in private.
Finally the couple were ready to leave. Lokesh's parents led a sobbing Shivali away, Lokesh following behind and the cameras capturing the whole scene. When they reached the road the cameras were switched off, the in-laws stepped aside and Shivali and Lokesh hurried back inside to say their proper goodbyes to Shivali's family. When they re-emerged the cameras went on again, filmed Shivali and Lokesh driving away and then were switched off as the car stopped further down the road.
The guests all wandered back inside. A couple of Shivali's relatives organised my taxi back to Delhi for me, checked I had all my luggage and then sat me by the fire to wait. I found myself sitting with the grandmothers again who kept smiling and patting my
hand. One suggested that now Shivali has left the house they should keep me in her place, they'd be happy to arrange my marriage too.
The other guests were slowly packing things up and one little boy was in floods of tears as he'd woken up to find the wedding over and the bride and groom already gone.
Ankur came to collect me for an early breakfast. We walked to the marquee to find the food just being put out and I ate my last breakfast of curry and rotis and Ankur made me promise to come and visit again soon.
I returned to my spot by the fire and was presented with some sweets to take home with me. My taxi finally arrived and I was led out to the road. I had nearly as big a send off as the bride and groom as all the guests gathered around to wave goodbye. I hugged Shivali's mum and shook hands with everyone else and left with lots of 'thank yous' and promises to return. Shivali's dad sent me off with instructions to the taxi driver to take good care of me and then I started the long drive back
I was a little disappointed not to drive through the village again and get one last look at my old home but I enjoyed the views of the farms and mountains anyway. I only wished I felt more awake! I soon fell asleep. I woke briefly as the drivers stopped for lunch but was too tired to consider food and just carried on sleeping. I finally woke properly as we reached the outskirts of Delhi. Unfortunately there was a problem with the taxi and we had to stop to change the tyre. We stopped at the side of the road where a ramshakle hut with some tyres stacked by the door seemed to be the nearest garage.
They changed the tyre and then seemed to get the old one patched up. A skinny boy of about 10 worked on the tyre while his dad and my drivers stood around chatting. I waited patiently for about an hour. Then as the light faded so I couldn't read and my MP3 player threatened to run out of battery I waited impatiently. Finally the drivers took their old tyre and put it in the boot, replaced my suitcase and bag and set off again. They got lost a few times, drove in circles and asked for directions but eventually we found Metropolis Tourist Home and they even carried my bags inside and waited until I'd got my room key before leaving.
I was shown up to my room where I promptly ignore the proper bathrooma nd plentiful supply of hot water and instead indulged in a large pizza, fruit salad and cup of tea before esorting my packing and collapsing into bed.
I didn't have time to do anything more than pack and leave today. I would have liked to do some sightseeing. This trip has been wonderful but far too short and has only served to remind me just how much I've missed India. I got up, fianlly made use of the hot water in the bathroom, had breakfast and then relaxed on the bed sipping tea until my taxi arrived. I enjoyed my last drive through the bustling streets of Delhi witn Om Shanto Om playing on the radio. I had an easy trip through the airport, a smooth flight and all too soon found myself driving along flat English roads without a cow or camel in sight.