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February 17th 2018
Published: February 21st 2018
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Delhi to Suratgarh

After the first three hectic days, I had nothing officially planned for the next two, which was good, because I spent them in my hotel room being sick. 😞

Friday night, I uber'd out to a metro station to meet Ishan and his family on the bus which would take us to Shubha's hometown in Suratgarh. Once again, my driver could not speak English and my whopping 5 words of Hindi were useless, so Ishan called him for me to tell him how to get to the apparently very well-known metro station with instructions to drop me at a specific gate to meet one of his cousins who was also arriving to meet the group. We took a few interesting wrong turns, and after meandering down an alley filled with shipping containers and people (and cows!) shuffling around hauling boxes, then asking a few people where this metro station was, we finally ended up in a bus parking lot, but not the one where Ishan's bus was. He turned off his car, got out to speak to someone and then got back in and just sat there. Not speaking. With the car still off. So I waited. I was expecting something to happen. What? I don't really know, but something. After five-ish very uncomfortable minutes, I finally managed to struggle out the question of whether or not we were going to drive to the gate or what was the plan, but he just pointed and basically told me he was done with me. OK… So now I’m frantically messaging Ishan and his cousin to say this dude isn't bringing me to the right place and can you please call him back and I don’t know where I am and here's a picture of what's outside my car, but it's blurry and I know that doesn't help but now I'm struggling to tell my driver to call you and you're trying to call him at the same time so your line is busy and I don't want to get out with all my bags to just wander around aimlessly in the middle of the night because I'm all alone. But I did. I put on my brave face, kept my head up and walked to the nearest building, which thankfully was labeled, and I only had to wait a few minutes for Ishan's cousin to find me. Relief!

Fast forward
Hotel selfie!Hotel selfie!Hotel selfie!

My roommate, cousin Rikita and my groupies. ;)
to Suratgarh about 9 hours later, and just outside of town, I looked outside my window to see what I thought was camels farming, but they were being used for labor to build something (no idea what). That was awesome and something I'd never seen and also never even heard of, so I snapped a few pics from the bus. We checked into the hotel where most of the action would take place, and got settled in and rested for a while before the fun began. I roomed with one of Ishan's cousins, since we were both women without kids (her husband and kids unfortunately couldn't make the trip with her, but she did some video chats with them so they could check in on the festivities). Family members flowed in and out of our room (and really everyone's rooms) visiting with each other. So much of what I saw and am describing is completely different to me and almost the direct opposite of what I've experienced in the U.S. (Example: go to hotel, go to room, shut door and stay there until it's time to "go") Ishan's nieces and nephews LOVED me, and after having conversed some on the
Cousin selfie!Cousin selfie!Cousin selfie!

Monika to my left - she was one of many who took me under her wing to make sure I was well fed and enjoying everything. Harshit to my right - he was the one who rescued me at the metro station.
bus ride, they were always in our room to see what "Jessica Didi" was doing and to practice their English with me. And selfies. Tons of selfies and posed pics with the constant flow of people made this #celebritymoment number three.

Saturday was filled with rituals and the Ring Ceremony, where Ishan and Shubha obviously exchanged rings, making their engagement official and essentially starting the chain of events that would take place over the next several days. The couple took turns sitting on stage where he was joined by a Hindu priest who chanted mantras and performed a bunch of rituals I didn't understand due to my language barrier and the fact that there was so much else going on around us, and she was presented with gifts from the women on his side as a welcoming tradition into their family. There was singing and drumming, and all the while, music playing, dancing, constant photography, and talking - basically everyone was having fun no matter what they were doing, and there was never a dull moment or silence at all. (U.S. example: man asks woman's father for "permission" to marry, man proposes to woman and gives her the ring,
Bride to beBride to beBride to be

Shubha's first appearance on stage, receiving gifts from Ishan's family. His sister is to her right, and various aunties to her left.
there may be a small casual gathering, but not always, man doesn't get a ring. They are now "engaged" and the wedding will likely not take place for 6 months to over a year.) There were three cameramen constantly photographing everything, often blocking the views of what was happening on stage, and also often pointed at me - the grooms had a running joke before this trip that I was going to be in every photo in both of their wedding albums...now I'm seeing that may not too far from the truth.

After some time, the bride and groom-to-be were finally brought together, the rings were exchanged, and they sat on a fancy couch while everyone took turns visiting them and taking photos. All the while, everyone was still chatting and dancing and eating. People were constantly trying to feed me. Have you eaten? Are you hungry? Can I get you something? You haven't eaten enough. Please have something else. Please try this thing. Are you sure? I was warned this would happen, but after just recovering from illness, I had some appetite loss and hesitation, though I did manage to eat more each day, and that seemed to
Bride and Groom to be Plus MeBride and Groom to be Plus MeBride and Groom to be Plus Me

This was my first time saying hi to Shubha.
make everyone happy. On the topic of food, I've never had Indian food I haven't liked, and this trip has been no exception. As a longtime vegetarian, this was one of the few times I'd been able to eat everything and anything available, but I knew it would be difficult to maintain my vegan diet here since most dishes have dairy in them (though eggs are not as common), so I decided to just be vegetarian on this trip and haven't been disappointed. It's also been helpful that I could eat curd (yogurt) with my food since a lot of it is generally too spicy for my mild midwestern palate.

There was a break in festivities for a while, and everyone had a wardrobe change (I didn't know this was a thing, and I only brought 2 outfits for each wedding), then there were more rituals, more photos, and another meeting of bride and groom to be. Once the official stuff was wrapped up for the night, the dancing began for everyone. Several of Shubha's female family members performed a dance on stage. Then Shubha followed and was joined by Ishan, and the couple danced for everyone. It was
Photo Session 2Photo Session 2Photo Session 2

Everyone changed except me for the second event.
so sweet. I've known them both for a while, but they'd always come to the U.S. at different times, so this was the first time I'd seen them together; they were so adorable and I could tell they were just perfect for each other.

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