Back in September my friend Laya sent me a message inviting me to his brother’s wedding in India. Three months later I’m now sitting in the Paris airport on my way home, happy to have gone through one of the most emotional and enlightening experiences of my life.
Thank you Laya and all of the Maheshwari and Binjani families for hosting me (and the rest of the Goodenough crew that showed up). Thank you for bringing us into your culture and intimate moments. Thank you for being such gracious hosts. Thank you.
On the last night, after the last custom was done, Laya told us that he was happy with how our visit was done. We spoke about how bringing visitors from the outside makes people self-conscious and that our visit went by fine. Namely, he pointed to the fact that we did not perceive but joined in on the festivities. As the wedding is now over, I’m overwhelmed by thoughts. In line with my own ritual of summing things up, I again will go down the route of the five-finger-summary that I’ve already done for my birthday, and other experiences.
I’d like to emphasize that everything here is my personal experience, and is a miniscule representation of culture in the Indian sub-continent. I’m humble and thankful for the opportunity granted to me, but am aware that I got a timed and limited point of view on the grand and amazing culture and society that the sub-continent has to offer.
Pinky finger — What was there too little of?
The major dancing event is when the groom arrives at the bride’s family’s side. This is preceded by a ceremonious procession. The groom is mounted on a horse that is decorated in regal jewelry. Women are draped in celebratory saris, decorated in jewelry and throwing confetti. Men are wearing an assortment of traditional festive clothing. Our group of Goodenough friends were in Modi jackets that were so graciously gifted to us by the Maheshwaris. The procession, named the Baarat, travels from the groom’s side lodging to the bride’s side, dancing to the beat of a ten-person drum band. Our Goodenough group contributed a little with putting Laya on our shoulders and doing some juggling.
That being said, I’m used to dancing being the culmination and large focus of celebration. Out of a two day wedding we danced for about an hour. The dissonance between my expectation and the amazing experience being part of the Baarat left me wanting more.
Ring finger — What was emotional?
The parting of the bride from her family.
The last custom executed at the wedding was the parting of the bride from her family. At 2 AM, following the last reception the bride and groom committed the very emotional Bidai ritual. First, the groom and bride, escorted by the Bride’s sisters, went to the groom’s parents’ room. There they went through a religious auspicious ritual. Then the groom, accompanied by his brother (and two white friends, myself and Natania) went to the Bride’s family’s lodging. There a Hindu priest performed one last ceremony. At last the bride made her final parting from her family.
Despite seeing them the next morning at breakfast, this was the last time she would officially be their daughter. The room went from menial jokes like her sister being happy for getting a room to herself now, to complete sorrow and tears. Following the parting, Prerna, went to sleep at groom’s family’s lodging in her first night as part of the Maheshwari family.
Middle finger — What was sad?
My continued inability to fully understand what is expected of me.
Before we parted as part of the Baarat, we participated in the Sajjan Goth ceremony. In this ceremony the bride’s side of the family makes sure that the groom’s side is served a fantastic feast. When Laya explained this to us he said that in old times it was sort of game where the groom’s side tries to eat the kitchen out, and the bride’s side force feeds them so that they are stuffed. Coming from a Jewish family I was ready to play the groom’s side and play it well. When Laya came up to us and told us it was ok and that we ate enough, I realised that our group of friends from Goodenough were the last ones left in the hall I felt like we might have overplayed it.
Aside from the amazing experience, it left me with some sorrow feeling that I couldn’t correctly gauge what the right behaviour was. I’m sure that sitting there and being hand fed ten cookies in a row by the bride’s older brother wasn’t what was expected of me.
Index finger — What would people miss unless I talk about it?
How similar and akin Jewish and Indian cultures are.
I met Laya while living in London. At the end of that experience I wrote a document talking about the 40 best things that happened to me in my first 80 days there. On that list there is an item labelled “Little India”, an amazing (surprise) Indian restaurant. Aside from the great company I had there, the food was delicious. When I try to point at what is amazing about Indian food, it boils down to it being spice-full, i.e. touching a million tastebuds in a million ways with every bite.
In the same manner, this wedding reminded me of weddings back home in a lot of ways. The religious ceremony itself includes the wedding couple walking seven circles around a fire, similar to the Jewish custom of the bride walking around the groom seven times. At almost every point, the relationship between the bride and groom’s families played a major part. A last example here is a game played between the sides where the bride’s family tries to steal the groom’s shoes. Later he will negotiate for them back, almost identical to the Jewish custom of the Afikoman.
Thumbs up — What was a positive part?
The immersive experience.
Getting Mehandi on my hand, witnessing the Mayara ceremony, experiencing a Sangeet performance, being stuffed at the Sajjan Goth, dancing in the Baarat, viewing the Phera and having courtside seats for the Bidai have all been amazing. What was even more incredible about it all was how up close, personal and welcoming it all was. During the Bidai, one of the groom’s sisters turned to me and asked me if I was half Indian. Even though I said I wasn’t, I can now truthfully say that I kind of wish I was.