Sunday, February 24, 2008

Uninvited Guests

During a swift spot of post-prandial exercise, we stumble upon a wedding in full spate. We mill, with the milling crowds, admiring the decorated groom on his decorated horse. As well as the elaborate tufted turban, he wears a veil of fine chains over his face, which he lifts, periodically, to peep out. Personal curtains.
It’s tricky, just being another face in the throng, when yours is the only white one. Well, the only white two. We’re greeted like long lost friends, and invited to join the celebrations. A person we’ve known for less than a minute introduces us to another complete stranger, “See, my daughter, this is your Auntie and Uncle from England.” It’s easy to see how the guest list got to over three hundred, if this is how it was drawn up. Later, he says to her, “What is your name, daughter?” so either he’s a very forgetful/unusually fruitful father, or it’s a courtesy title. She’s called Shweta, which they tell us means “White.” She’s put in charge of me (!), while her not-father, Raj, spirits Roland away to do Boy Things. I watch his retreating back, wondering if I’ll ever see him again. For the first time, I’m without a mobile phone. When I try to find him, half an hour later, another guest puts two and two together (or, white stranger and white stranger together, more precisely), and points me to the car-park.
The Boy Things in question involve a bottle of whiskey, inevitably. The wedding is teetotal, so the men fortify themselves before attending. In the car-park, a black-turbaned Sikh has the back of his car open, dispensing liquid fortification. Shweta and I remind the lads that there is, in fact, a wedding going on, so we leave the Pub-In-The-Boot, and head for the bright lights.
Remember that an Indian woman will wear her own weight in sequins, just out shopping for potatoes. Imagine her, in full flig, for a special occasion. The spectacle in the wedding pavilion is breath-taking, with the ooh-aah factor of a firework display. I feel more conspicuous for drabness than for whiteness, with not the merest sequin or bead to call my own. When they’ve finished painting their faces, they paint their hands and feet. Weddings take all day to set up, using bushels of fresh flower heads, and miles of twinkly lights. I’m definitely going Hindu, next time. Hardly surprising, then, that the feast can last four days. False economy to be any shorter, if you think about it.

I ask my new Best Friend Shweta, if this is an arranged marriage - are we seeing the bride and groom, seeing each other for the first time? But Shweta says, it’s a love marriage. Rahul and Deepti – we don’t meet them, but their names are picked out in flowers, on the stage – have chosen to take one another “into my heart” for the rest of their lives. It’s also a mixed marriage, very 21st century. Not what you’d call radical, the bride and groom are merely different kinds of Hindu, but even that wouldn’t have been tolerated, a generation ago.
The more we try and wriggle away, the more they press delicacies on us, to make us to stay. If I looked less like I’d been double-digging the vegetable patch all day, I might be tempted. But we take our last photo, and tear ourselves away. “Say, ‘Bye-bye, Auntie!’” says a mother, to the child in her arms. We’re given a royal send-off, then these people can get back to the rightful focus of attention, the nuptial pair. It’s eleven o’clock at night, the wedding ceremony will take place at one-thirty in the morning. There’s some serious partying to do, before then. To Rahul and Deepti, much joy.