***Written by production manager, Jane Mellema***
Where I come from, the father of the bride walks his daughter down the aisle to meet the groom. In North India, there is a different practice! In a procession, the groom is seated on a white horse, flanked by dancing friends and relatives, and rides to the wedding location to meet the bride and family. Until recently, I had only known of this type of procession. However, I learned that some groom processions involve a little more adventure than a horse ride down the street.
One of our artisan's sons was getting married, and I was happy to attend the multi-day affair. We arrived in the groom's village the day before the wedding. I assumed that all the wedding events would take place at the groom’s family home in the village. I was wrong. We had to travel by jeep three hours farther to reach the bride’s village where the main wedding event would be held.
Against the family’s wishes, my friend and I had decided to stay at a hotel in town rather than the family’s village home. We were concerned that if we did not rest well with the fifty or so relatives in the home, we would find the wedding day unbearably long. It was decided that the procession of jeeps would stop and pick us up on the way to the bride’s village. We wondered how long it would take to get the whole family rounded up. The hotel clerk helped us figure that it would be at least 2 pm before they would come for us.
An uncle of the groom told us he would come take us to his home at noon to pass time until the wedding procession arrived. At 11 am, we heard a knock on the door. We were not ready! It was the uncle. He asked if we wanted to go sight seeing. The wedding was our priority, so to conserve energy, we declined. We reminded him of his plan to come get us at noon. When twelve o’clock rolled around, we were dolled up in our sparkly wedding suits and sitting in the lobby of the hotel. After waiting a half hour, we decided to go back to our room.
As time ticked on we thought, maybe the uncle really did not want to take us to his home? I began to fear, what if they forget us and just leave us at the hotel all day?
At 2 pm, the uncle came to the hotel to find us. When he arrived, he asked, “How would you like to get to my house?” I wondered, how do I answer that when I have no idea where you live? Shouldn’t you be the one to tell us?
He ran off and returned with an auto-rickshaw. We spent 45 minutes at his home eating snacks and talking with his wife. Soon we were back at the hotel and instructed to rest. The uncle figured the groom's family would not come until 4:30 or 5 pm.
We decided to change out of our fancy clothes to prevent wrinkling. We relaxed a bit. At 5 pm, I picked up the phone to a frantic voice that said “Hurry and be ready, somebody is on the way in a half hour.” We got dressed again. Time ticked by. 5:45. 6:00. Finally at 6:30, there was a pound on the door. The groom's mother rushed in in a panic. “It’s time to go! We need to hurry!” Here I was thinking, we’ve been waiting for you all day, and now we don’t have time to use the bathroom before we leave because you are in a hurry!?
After exiting the hotel, there was a dilemma. There was no car for us. After much drama, confusion and concern that there wasn’t room, they piled us into their jeep – we got to be with the groom’s parents! We began our journey around 7:30 pm, bouncing and jostling along the highway, packed into a jeep with the groom’s father sitting on the lap of another man in the front seat. After an hour and a half of driving, we suddenly pulled to the side of the road and parked in a line of ten jeeps that had stopped for a snack. We bumbled our way in the dark up multiple levels of stairs to the roof of a building. There were crowds of people dressed in their wedding finery eating grapes, apples, and bananas in complete darkness. Many pictures were taken at this mysterious roadside stop. After food and multiple short chats, we were herded back down the stairs and into our jeeps. We were almost to the wedding!
We reached the village at about 9:30 pm and were hustled to the rooftop where chow mein, chai and other snacks were being served. We were cornered multiple times by people who were curious about these random foreigners. After an hour of milling about on the rooftop in the crowds, we were led down the stairs onto the lawn and seated on two plastic chairs. Within minutes, 50 people had gathered in a semi circle around us and just stared. Some stared and laughed. A few were bold enough to ask questions. Some tried to sneak pictures. We were like nothing they had ever seen before.
The groom’s aunt came to find us and whisked us away from the crowd to a large meeting room. Mats and blankets were spread out, and people were sleeping. Some were sitting and talking. We were seated on plastic chairs. A group of girls gathered around us and stared.
Eventually, the groom’s mother found us. She could tell that I was frustrated with the crowds of people staring and watching, so she led us to a small closet room that was padlocked shut. She had the door unlocked and pushed us inside where there were more piles of mats and blankets. She admonished us to “rest” and shut and locked the door behind us. We were prisoners!
We lay down on the mats. Within minutes, five sets of eyes were staring at us through the barred windows. I got up and tried to tie a quilt up through the bars to block their vision. My attempt was foiled as they pulled the quilt out through the bars into the main hall. After propping a mat against the wall, I had successfully blocked the window. We had a few moments of peace.
After a half hour, the groom's mother returned and released us. It was 11:30 pm and time to eat. We sat at long tables. Though I had no appetite to eat so late at night, I struggled to get down some of the food. After a short time, we heard a commotion, and people began to run off. The groom had arrived on his horse. We joined the crowd to watch.
After dismounting, the groom was escorted to where the ceremony would be. The bride’s family dressed the bride in clothing and jewelry that the groom’s family had brought for her.
Once again, the waiting began. We were brought back to the large room with the mats, and many people were asleep. It was getting close to 2 am. My friend and I began to play games with some of the groom’s family – making little Origami type creations out of newspaper and laughing. We were waiting for the bride to get ready to leave her village.
Around 3 am, wailing was heard. The bride was crying in agony, and many others also cried. Her family had tied a red fabric over her head and picked her up to carry her out to the jeep. She would leave her family and join a new family.
We were all tired and ready to go. When the bride got in her jeep, we all began to make our way to different jeeps. Once again, we got the honor of driving with the groom’s parents. Everyone fell asleep in the jeep. We reached our hotel about 5 am and had to pound on the door to wake the hotel staff. We collapsed into our beds.
This day seemed to be removed from the normal realm of time. At times, it seemed to stretch on forever, and at other times, I could not believe it had passed so quickly. It caused me to think about weddings in my home country, and how people get frustrated if they are longer than one hour. I had to laugh as I imagined Americans taking a nap on the floor while waiting for the ceremony or waiting for the bride to leave. In a culture oriented towards efficiency and saving time, this kind of wedding would be crazy! Yet what a unique time it allowed us to have as we sat and waited with family.
Hurry up and wait. Never truer.
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Photo Credit: TimothyJ via Compfight cc</a