Friday, December 16, 2011

A short drive, two weddings and lots of relatives

This I think is a complicated post and I'm not sure where to begin or how it will flow. And believe it or not this is the condensed version too. Yesterday I was take by my cousin's driver from Gurgaon to my other cousin's house in Noida. There I stayed with my cousin Seema and my Thiaji (Hindi for aunt) and then in the afternoon we all drove a couple of hours north to Meerut. Seema's husband and my other cousin Rajiv also went with us (Seema and Rajiv is my aunt's children).

Meerut is where my father's ancestral home is and where he grew up. My father had three bothers and seven sisters so there are a lot of relatives in this family. So much so that many don't even know all their cousins and aunts and uncles. When I was here 35 years ago as a young boy the ancestral home was small but on a large lot where my brothers played, climbed trees to eat it's fruit. The road out front wasn't very busy and the town of Meerut small. Yesterday though when we arrived I didn't recognize Meerut in anyway. It's now a city of 3 million, crowded with buildings and people and has the same issues with a lot of smog that Delhi has. The ancestral home is no more but now a three story apartment building with one apartment on each floor of about 2500 square feet. In the front of the property my fruit trees have been replaced by a two story building that now houses a bank and some small businesses. Meerut is now mostly Muslim which it wasn't back in the day. There are stores everywhere! It's like a non-stop strip mall with goods of all kinds.

What remains the same is that cows, water buffalo and monkeys still roam at will. The market that was here 35 years ago is still there, just a bit bigger. Street vendors still line the streets and the relatives are still very warm and welcoming.

Last night my cousin Tarun got married as did another very distant cousin Vibhor. I had a chance to attend both weddings and traditional Indian weddings are exactly as I remembered. All of the grooms relatives met at the groom's house where he sat on the couch, he sat there next to a young boy who in Indian tradition is a family member and will be with the groom every step of the way for good luck. Every relative, one by one, blessed the groom, posed for photos and mingled with the other relatives. Money was given not only to the groom but money was also given to the domestic help (Indians call them servants). During this time outside a very very loud band plays music. Very loud, this way everyone can hear the celebrations of the husband to be.

After a long time we all went outside where the band continued to play. The groom and the young boy mounted a very well decorated horse and relatives danced all around in celebrations. Money was circled above the dancers as well as the groom and boy then thrown up in the air. In tradition the money is circled above the groom and family to attract any bad spirits, once the spirit is attracted the money is thrown, the bad spirits follow and the less fortunate such as the home less and poor run to pick up the money. But in doing so they also take with them the bad spirits and thus will remain less fortunate.

After a long time of dancing (I had to dance too and it was NOT a pretty sight) the procession began and we moved slowly towards the place of the wedding. We would move 20 feet, dance and rejoice for 20 minutes, move another 20 feet, rejoice, move, rejoice and so on. Eventually many of us got in cars  and drove to within a quarter mile of the wedding place and waited for the procession. It was a long wait. I was in the car with three of my cousins and after a while my cousin drove us not to far to a location. We pulled up in front of a building where a man came out, my cousin spoke to him and then he parked the car across the street. A few minutes later two men brought my cousins one rum drink, two whiskey drinks and me a beer. It's the first time I've seen a drive up bar. So we sat there and each had one drink and then drove back to the wedding area and arrived just when the procession was arriving.  At one point the groom and boy were taken off the horse and put on a very nicely decorated horse drawn cart. And then again we move 20 feet, danced 20 minutes, moved, danced. Once at the wedding location the groom remained on the cart while the bride's family received the groom's family. A brother on the bride's family would shake hands, exchange garlands and exchange money with a brother from the grooms family. This also takes a long time because sisters welcome sisters, uncles and aunts and inlaws all do the same. Once the grooms family has been received then we all enter the wedding hall. There is a large couch or chair where the groom sits. And he sits there until the bride decides to appear. In the mean time this is the time where everyone eats and mingles.

I had the best food imaginable. All the possible street foods of India were represented (but in a safe manner) and an endless line of main courses were available. At Tarun's wedding I met so many cousins, aunts and uncles that I can't even begin to remember names. Every there knew me as they all knew my father. Plus I was the only non-Indian looking person there so everyone was curious who I was. An hour after mingling and eating and the groom was still sitting waiting for his bride.

At this time I took off to the second wedding and arrived fourty minutes before the groom's procession. I met more but distant relatives and again ate way too much food. One thing about being in India is that I am always offered food and no matter how many times I say no or enough the food keeps coming. And I try to be polite and eat what is given but last night when I returned back to Tarun's wedding I finally had to refuse. Those seven pounds I lost in the last three weeks are finding their way home. Varun's wedding had about 300 people and Tarun's half that. Each was similar in the way of tradition in which the wedding was performed. But so different in how it was done. Hard to explain.

The weddings went until three or four in the morning. I ended up leaving shortly after midnight. After I did all that eating I was back at Tarun's wedding and after the bride arrived and the wedding ceremony completed I was invited to sit at the table with my cousin Tarun and his bride as well as my uncle and aunt. What no one told me is that now dinner was being served. Dinner? More food? I thought I had dinner but what I had earlier was an endless line of snacks. There was no way I could eat any more but then I didn't want to disrespect the relatives either. So I took a table spoon of each item, ate a little bit more and loosened my belt buckle.

It really was an amazing event last night. Not only the wedding but meeting so many people. There are a few photos here but there are not many and the few I have aren't all the great. There was a professional photographer at the wedding and I didn't want to compete with him so I took only a few photos and kept my flash off.

My cousins Amar (left) and Onkar

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