Greetings from Hindustan
Part 4: Wedding Preparations
After a breathless, whirlwind tour of India we are back where we started, a little bit wiser and a lot more bemused. You may recall that Versai is a little village of no more than 60,000 occupants (not counting the monkeys), on the outskirts of Mumbai, which in turn is a rather large village with a shifting population that is nigh on impossible to count due to the fact they won’t stay still long enough, and even if they did by the time you had finished counting, countless numbers would have died and many more been born.
Distant relations are arriving from all points of the compass. Some work on construction sites in Dubai, others on cruise ships in the Caribbean. A few hail from a great empty land to the south (that’s us). The ceremony is a week away but here at the bride’s house the place is a hive of activity; Gulab Jamun (Indian Donuts) are mixed in a tub the size of a toddler’s pool. A phalanx of aunties is beheading half of the village chooks. Everyone is running hither and thither in a state of agitation and anticipation.
Into this mayhem is inserted The Watermelon Seller, just setting off on his daily rounds like his father before him. His arrival sets off a series of discussions that give me the briefest glimpse into an otherwise unfathomable way of doing things here on the subcontinent.
The matriarch of the family goes out to the street and offers him a good price for his delicious watermelons. A heated family debate ensues, the jist being that the price is too high. The patriarch of the family goes out and offers him a rather low price for his delicious watermelons. Another heated debate ensues involving much righteous indignation about cheating the poor fellow. So, Number 1 Son marches out and offers him a reasonable price for his delicious watermelons. The Watermelon Seller graciously accepts the reasonable offer, so Son Number One says, “We will buy all of them!”
“What, the whole barrow load? Oh no, you can’t do that. What will I do for the rest of the day?”
The happy and industrious preparers scoff their watermelon slices with gusto and return to their important tasks. We are soon interrupted by an archaic wedding ritual passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial.
The groom arrives unannounced with much fanfare and hoopla and clashing of cymbals et cetera, et cetera. He is immediately set upon by all and sundry with mock slurs and slander concerning his manhood, his trustworthiness, and his lack of pecuniary liquidity, accompanied by much jocular hilarity. The groom returns to his abode with his tail between his legs.
No sooner have we dealt with that charade than the bride-to-be traipses off to his place with the entire entourage in tow. According to ancient ritual, the bride must ask the family of the groom for a jug of the purest water (a rare commodity around these parts) that she may cleanse her body of whatever sins she has accumulated in her short and innocent life.
For no good reason, this escapade is performed in the middle of the night, with much banging of drums and setting off of firecrackers and tributes to all the little shrines along the way. With all the racket I am a wee bit worried about the neighbors complaining to the E.P.A., but on the contrary, they all come out on their balconies and wave at us with grins from ear to ear. Your average Indian does love a good wedding.
The purpose of life for every Indian, (or nearly every Indian) is to raise as many children as is humanly possible, then to marry those children off to a good family, ideally one slightly higher up the caste ladder than your own, with slightly lighter skin. When your offspring begin to raise as many offspring of their own as humanly possible, then you know that your allotted task in life is complete and you can sit back and watch the cycle of life roll on; relentlessly! I do believe this is the fundamental reason why India is the most populated place on earth.
But to quote Paul McCartney; ‘the times they are a changin’. This will be a thoroughly modern, middle class wedding – no dowries, please! The young couple found each other on the Internet without any help from parents or match-makers. She was in Melbourne and he was in Darwin, of all places, and they discovered they were both from the same village. Kismet!
Of course, none of that has prevented the families from setting out to create the most extravagant wedding in all of India.
Next Episode: Not a Monsoon Wedding.
Ben Laycock – binsblog.wordpress.com