Monday, August 15, 2011

Cordially Invited

Two weeks back, I attended an Indian wedding.  A friend has asked to write about it and post pictures/videos that [supposedly] I took.  In a fit of frustration, I've spent the past two weeks thinking of how I'd present my experiences; anyone who's heard a story from me knows that I almost never tell a story in chronological order, and that there are normally interruptions and anecdotes within other anecdotes.  Additionally, weddings are [traditionally, depending on your culture, upbringing, and family's views] special events, and thus require special story-telling treatment.

In honor of the family that so graciously took me in for the weekend, I've decided to describe the wedding through the traditional poem that is thought to bring good luck to the bride who wears the following articles of clothing.


Something Old:  Getting Lost

I've spent a considerable amount of time this year wandering around a city or town, not for the sake of curiosity, but because I have a terrible sense of direction, lack a smartphone in which I can find my exact coordinates on earth, and am usually surrounded by police officers who don't speak a word of English except for "no."  So it makes sense that on August 6, I found myself running around the steps of ISKCON Temple during the wedding, as pictured below.

Imagine Laura Croft or Indiana Jones running trying to reach the top of the pyramid or the Temple of Doom before the Russian art collectors or Nazis do, all while trying to convince temple guards that they have good intentions and therefore should not blowdart them in the eye, and you'll have a rough idea of what the morning of the wedding was like.  Already two hours late from taking public transportation, I found myself in a terribly long line; security surrounding the temple consists of velvet ropes, x ray machines, and bodily pat-downs.  I had read online that buying an express ticket for 200 rupess | ~ 5 American dollars is well worth it, and looking at the flow of people going into the temple, I decided to give it a shot.

BAD IDEA.  The line wasn't that long, and all my "guide" for the express line did was cut in front of non-express-ticket-holders and stuff my backpack and shoes into rice bags and hand me plastic tokens that would allow me to reclaim those belongings [ me: "Excuse me, I'm just looking for the wedding - is this really all necessary?" guide: "Yes yes bags and shoes." ].  In reality, I probably saved myself ten minutes in line, which I will discuss later on.

I followed the long path to the top of the temple, made of an unbelievable number of stone stairs, turnstiles, steel stanchions and water flowing across the stone steps [ over which I jumped, and later found out was meant for washing feet before entering the sacred place - oops ].  I found myself between two things: a very golden statue of Radha-Krishna adorned with at least a wedding's worth of flowers, and a flock of heads touching the ground; the people I had seen in the non-express line were praying and I [ of course ] was standing in their way.

A temple monk led me out of the room and up and down several other flights of stairs, and right to a police officer.  The police officer shuffled me in the direction of the wedding, which was flights of stairs below the temple, and yards away from the entrance.  Oh.


Something New:  Attending an Indian wedding, duh.

I was expecting to burst in through the chapel doors two hours into the wedding and completely interrupt the ceremony, somewhat similar to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.  Actually, I don't think many people noticed me walk down the aisle, jump over several laps, and settle into a chair, drenched in sweat.  Turns out that most people go to an Indian wedding to congratulate the bride and groom AND catch up on years of gossip.  Although the ceremony took place on stage [flooded with enough flowers to make the Botanic Gardens look like a flower pot] and enough chairs were set up to house a small army, most of the wedding goers milled about - in front of the stage.  And talked.  And talked.  Laughed, cried a little, shouted, etc.  Wait, what was it that the bride and groom did?  What did they tie?  What did they do on opposite sides of that flag?  What did they just set on fire?  Don't even bother worrying about what they just said, or even hearing "I Do" - at one point, I found myself three feet from the stage and I still couldn't hear anything from the ceremony.  Even the bridesmaid equivalents were allowed to walk on and off stage to say hello and chat with the guests.  You could say the ceremony was relaxed; regardless of the amount of effort put into planning the event, you would almost consider it another dinner party.


Something Borrowed:  A spot on the bed with two women I just met at the wedding.

Dear Penthouse,

This was not that kind of night.

As a college graduate, I've been told to network as much as possible, and my school even hosted networking dinner/hors d'oeuvres events to practice it in the real world.  Although my given circumstances are a tad more exceptional than most, the times I've networked during this journey has never happened at a gathering created for the purpose of meeting future contacts.  In this instance, I was introduced to some other travelers - a wanderlust, as she called it - Linda and Laura who were more than welcoming to let me spend the weekend with them.  Oversimplifying everything, Linda is essentially Liz Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love; she's touring the world studying yoga!  Meeting with the bride a while back, Liz was invited to the wedding.  Wanting to visit Liz during her year abroad, Laura met up with Liz only a few days before the wedding; they plan to travel around India for a while.

Here's where things get interesting [as if they haven't been]:  Liz is super good friends with a woman from Berlin who is currently in Kerala studying kalarippayattu, the same martial art/dance my host has been urging me to study.  If this wasn't a sign to go, I don't know what would be.  Liz has since put me in contact with her friend, and my plans to go to Kerala are about 90% set in stone.  Laura, on the other hand, is a corrective exercise specialist.  Within the first ten minutes of watching me walk, she was able to tell me that there was "something wrong" with my walk, and how to stretch and breathe correctly to keep my lower back young and supple.  Mmm.  We spent the afternoon sipping coffee and chai, eating desserts, and discussing coming-of-age novels [ah, the symbolism] and terrible horror movies we have/never want to watch.  The wedding reception at night consisted of [in Linda's words] "showing her what I got on da dance flo."

Being the ever so kind people they are, they insisted I spend the night with them in their bed [Naidu, my host: "YOU WHAT?"] instead of navigating public transportation at midnight.  If this is what networking is like...


Something Blue:  The color of the backpack, shoes, and camera I was forced to check in at the temple.

As mentioned before, I was supposed to take wonderful photos of the wedding and post them on le blog.  After trying to explain to my guide that I wanted to go to the wedding, not the temple ["Wedding.  Weh-ding.  WEDDING."] and that if it was okay to bring my camera [Me: "Okay if I bring camera?"  Guide: "Yes yes camera."  Guide proceeds to take my camera and put it into my bag.], I found myself walking through ISKCON with no recording device.  As I ran up the marble steps covered in bowls full of water and flower petals, an unsettling sensation flooded into my veins; flashes of light popped over and over again, and so did the clicking of shutters opening and closing.  Walking into the ceremony, I realized that the official photographers weren't the only ones with cameras; the guests had them as well.  Confused?  I was too - until I realized that none of these guests had gone through the security check.  They didn't have to.  There must have been another entrance to the temple especially meant for the wedding in which people were allowed to keep their belongings.

Case in point: no pictures of the ceremony.  Sorry, friends.


And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe:  I would if I could, except...

[The original Victorian poem had this line at the end, so why not include it?]

I lied before.  I knew something was wrong before I saw the camera flashes; the first thing I actually noticed was that everyone was wearing shoes.  Except me; I was barefoot.  Security had taken my bags and especially my footwear, remember?  I sheepishly and shamefully padded my way over to a seat, bewildered and clutching the plastic tokens I was given before.  This was where Linda first decided to come over and say hi.  After introducing myself as Shwetha's friend of one week, she asked, "Are you okay?  You look a little stressed."

"Yeah, it's been a long morning.  But I think something's wrong - they took my bag and my shoes but I don't think they were supposed to."

"Hm...  Yeah, that sounds like something that would happen to a tourist."

I spent the rest of the ceremony barefoot.  And lunch, too.  Since the wedding was between an Indian girl and an Irish man, the temple decided to have an American lunch room and an Indian lunch room; I'm still hazy on why the families were segregated as such, but I'm pretty sure it was to reduce culture shock.  I started walking towards the Indian side out of curiosity; I saw guests eating off of what looked like very large leaves.  Almost immediately I was shuffled to eating with the Americans.

I felt cheated by a country to which I had no allegiance.  How could they do this?  Stick me in a room with people who used knives and forks.  Please; I had been using my hand for seven days.  My hand shook while clutching the fork and as I carried out awkward conversation with the other western travelers around me.  Had I really been in India for this long?  Where I was completely incompetent with utensils and my social skills had taken a dive?

Linda and Laura answered that: they immediately started scooping rice with their hands and said, "If you're fine with it, just use your hands.  Those people don't like trying out new things, especially with how they eat. That's kinda boring, no?  I mean, you're in India.  Oh, and they are that weird to talk to, it's not you."



  1. Wait, so getting your bag and shoes back went OK?

  2. Flo, getting the bag and shoes also involved a lot of running around, getting lost [again], and jumping over things I probably should have. But yes, it was OK.