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Published: January 7th 2013
4 January 2013
So much has happened today that it’s hard to know where to start! I was woken up by a mixture if dogs barking, train going over the bridge and chanting or praying from a nearby home. We experienced Indian time when the plans and timings changed, something which is common here but makes everything feel laid back and relaxed.
We have a bus to use for the duration of the trip and our driver Nagaraj is to take us into the city of Mangalore. As we are driving in, we are able to see lots of things we missed yesterday. It is amazing that there is so much wealth and poverty living side by side. I have seen wealth before and I have seen poverty before, but never both so close together without anybody batting an eyelid. One minute we have cows and goats grazing by the roadside, small fires and people looking through rubbish, then we have expensive advertising, shopping malls and people immaculately dressed n bright and expensive clothes. Everything is very loud and the main noise is car horns tooting and the whistles of road police and parking attendants.
We arrive at
the venue for our first Indian wedding! The father of the bride is a Rotarian and his 24 year old daughter is marrying a 27 year old man. Although arranged marriages still happen, they are less common and Rathi and Rajesh met through work and they are marrying for love. Both have university qualifications and will work once they are married. Rotarian Sathish and his wife Sapna talk us through the ceremony and answer our questions. It was interesting to learn that the groom changes the name of the bride to match the same letter as his first name. In todays case, both names began with ‘R’ but Sapna was called Tara before she married Sathish. They also have children, a son of 20 and a married daughter of 26 with the same initial. Sathish and Sapna had an arranged marriage, with suitable partners picked by their horoscopes.
The wedding ceremonies here last for days, with lots of celebrations and rituals include burning, henna, (more common in North India) washing feet, giving beads and hundreds of thousands of flowers, used as venue decoration but also as a garland for the couple and in the brides hair. We learn that
best man must be younger than the groom and we are told that if there are two boys or two girls in a family, the younger cannot marry until the older has. Similarly, the sons must wait until the daughters are married before they can marry, unless there is an age difference of more than five years. They also tell me that there are far fewer women in India and for every 200 men, there are just over 130 women, meaning that many young men can’t find a wife. The maternal uncles deliver the bride to her groom and she is paraded to the guests, and lifted towards him before a blanket is removed to reveal her. I feel very emotional watching this and the loud music and smells sweep you away.
Everybody must have a full stomach to wish the couple well and we are shocked to see just how many people are being fed. There are around 1000 guests and while some quickly eat at the buffet outside, many are sitting down in a canteen. Here, we are given a banana leaf to use as a plate, as well as around ten small meals, eaten with our
hands. We are also given a box of Cadbury sweets, some I have never seen before, with a sticker noting the name and date f the wedding. (Apparently the bride’s father is a distributor for Cadbury!)
All of the guests who are invited will turn up for just part of the ceremony as it lasts so long and takes place on various days of the week. Many people go to around 30 weddings per year but they are asked not to bring any gifts as their presence is enough. Also, if the couple are given gifts, they must note what they were given and then in the future return something worth more. This could end up a bit pricy I think! What has hit me most is the fact that people in India are celebrating their marriage with so many people, making family and friends the most important part of their day. At home, this isn’t always the case and more and more people put on a show but forget the real meaning of their marriage.
Our GSE organiser in India, Devdas Kamath, invites us to his home and tells us that he and his wife had an arranged marriage and married two months after they met. His mother and father have been married for 52 years. They met on the day of their wedding! Devdas and his wife show us their wedding album from 19 years ago which is similar to the wedding we seen today.
We then travelled about an hour north to Manipal and Udupi where we met our first hosts. We were all greeted by female Rotarians, mine a 73 year old lady called Mithra Bhandarkar. Mithra has two children, her son living in California and her daughter living in Mumbai, and four grandchildren. Mithra has lived alone since she was widowed seven years ago. Her husband was ten years older than her and she tells me that when she had her arranged marriage, this was normal. Now women have a partner just four or five years older. Mithra’s house is beautiful and sits back from a main road through secure gates. The home was her husband’s dream home as he grew up in a house with just two rooms. The house features an indoor fountain as well as indoor and outdoor balconies. Mithra now just uses the ground floor so I have the top floor to myself! She also has staff, a young woman aged 27 who lives in quarters below the main house with her husband, a construction worker, and four year old son. He is delighted to see a foreigner! Mithras helper only works in the mornings to clean and wash. Her own mother worked for Mithra for more than 20 years and Mithra greets the little boy like he is one of her grandchildren which was very nice to see. She also tells me that she had a driver for 22 years but she sacked him two years ago because he was stealing from her.
Mithra takes me to her ladies club, Manipal Mahila Samaj. She spends a lot of time between here and the rotary club and the hall where the meeting is held was named after her late husband. She also tells me that she is a donor to the rotary foundation and so far she has donated more than $60,000. During the meeting, Mithra unexpectedly grabs my hand and takes me up to the stage where I have to explain to all of the guests who I am and why I’m here! After introducing her friend Nandita, 42, they take me in the car. Although Mithra has said we might go some places, plans change quickly and they speak to each other in their own language so much of the time I am at their mercy, jumping in the car and wondering where we will arrive next!
They take me to see a car festival, which are basically floats or a parade. We are in Carstreet, ironically a street with no cars but eight small community temples and one large temple. Although I’m finding it hard to keep up with all of the religions and community names, I gather that each of the eight compete to take over the larger temple for two years. This celebration today happens twice a year and everybody crams inside to watch the rituals and catch a glimpse of the idol through a grate in the wall. He is decked in diamonds and there are candles everywhere. The bell ringing, chanting and praying is quite overwhelming and although I understand hardly any of what they tell me, it feels like a very spiritual place. After leaving the temple and visiting some shops selling many idols, I get a chance to see my first elephant. It dances for the people before blessing them!
We also bang into some friends of Nandita and Mithra and the children are fascinated by me. One of the children, Greetha, 10, is very intelligent and asks me what I think about the protests being made in Delhi and if I feel safe. I am shocked that she seems to know so much but she goes on to tell me how she feel about this and being a young female in India. Greetha is intrigued by my life in the UK and asks a lot of questions. She is sad to leave when we head back to Mithras. I have also spoken to a lady about family life in India and we discuss adoption and why it is not so common here. I have learned so much already!
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