India: A Whole Lotta Culture

By Tuesday morning it was time to wrap up our sightseeing, say goodbye to Anil, and head south to Pune for Chinmay's wedding before ultimately making it to Mumbai.  Candidly, I was also ready to stop feeling like a chauffeured tourist and wanted to blur into the background (as best one can when still clearly a foreigner).  Heading out of Jaipur airport gave us the first opportunity of the trip to just run with things.

No need to fully retell the domestic flying experience but I will say that the security process did not fail to baffle us.  Thank goodness we had a three hour layover in Ahmedabad because you must fully exit the airport, walk outside, come back inside, go through security, and then come back upstairs only to return to the gate that you literally just walked out of from the incoming plane.  No joke.  Oh, and remember my amusement at Indigo's in-flight magazine?  I have been vindicated, friends, because as soon as the flight attendant announced its name on the PA system, Matt turned to me and said, "Wait, what's the name?  'Hello 6E'?  Like, 'Hello, sexy?'"  Bwahahahahahaha!  Yes!  I'm not the only one who cracks up at this!

Amusement aside, we arrived in Pune exactly on time and all checked baggage was in tact.  Serious victory!  A car from the hotel picked us up and off we went.  I had never been to Pune before and it's not exactly a touristy town, lovely as it may be.  Before dinner, Matt and I went out wandering around and completely stuck out from the crowd.  Whereas in Mumbai and Delhi you get a fair amount of Westerners roaming about for work or holiday, that didn't appear to be the case in Pune.  We had a great time partaking in one of my favorite games in India: let's see if we can get lost.  After an hour or so of wandering aimlessly we hailed a tuk-tuk for the short ride back to the hotel.

Kids, these things are total deathtraps and yet so much fun.  Remember all the very cool things we had just seen in the North?  Well, that's all fine and good but Matt's ongoing requests to commandeer a tuk-tuk for future transportation needs clearly exposed this as the highlight of his trip so far.

Wednesday morning we awoke to Pune commuters racing to the trains.  A Central Railway station was directly across from our hotel and provided an active play outside our window.

Following breakfast, it was time to assemble ourselves for the wedding.  And I do mean "assemble."  Matt had a kurta, pyjamas, and scarf to don while I had a sari that needed professional draping.  No amount of YouTubing was going to get all that fabric where it needed to be so I enlisted the help of a duty manager named Elizabeth.  Twenty minutes and four discreetly placed safety pins later, we were ready to roll.  Ta da!

As soon as we arrived at the wedding Chinmay's dad greeted us at the front of the wedding hall and pulled us inside.  Within moments, Matt was in a corner of the room having his head wrapped up in a traditional hat (if you call it that?) that all the men on the groom's side wore.  The bride's side wore a similar confection but in different colors and one of Chinmay's uncles explained to us that the hats were analogous to wearing boutonnieres in Western weddings.  Do I need to declare that Matt loved his hat or does the huge grin give it away?

As for the wedding itself, it was a spectacle.  Stimulation overload, like India in general.  Music's blaring non-stop, flowers are hanging throughout the space, spices from lunch are wafting through the air, color is exploding on the floor in sand art and in the hundreds of saris swishing about.

I wish I could tell you about everything that was happening and what it all meant but Matt and I were generally lost on that front.  Another uncle graciously explained the rituals and the traditions as they took place but there was so much happening at once and so many people buzzing about we only captured about a quarter of what he told us.  But here again, even though we stuck out wildly (as demonstrated by the handfuls of other guests covertly or not-so-covertly taking pictures of us), we also felt warmly welcomed and wholly included in the day's events.  

While Kirti and Chinmay participated in the rituals, guests hovered around the altar/stage and snapped endless photos while talking and laughing.  People were dressed in their finery or in jeans - it didn't seem to matter!  Later on I decided that in the US, we seem to convey a wedding's importance through its formality: processionals with classical (and sometimes somber sounding) music, no talking or moving around during the ceremony,  everyone in their fancy clothes, prescribed seating arrangements at dinner, and on and on.  Throw all that out the window in India but don't let the revelry fool you into thinking this isn't a serious affair.

The wedding and receiving line/picture taking extravaganza concluded in the early afternoon and shortly thereafter, Matt and I hopped in a car and embarked on the four hour drive to Mumbai.  Along the way we talked about all that we had just seen and experienced, marveling at marriage in India.  Chinmay and Kirti had a love marriage as opposed to the more common, but dwindling, arranged marriage.  I always feel strange labeling one person's marriage as "love" versus "arranged," as if to say the latter is void of the former's emotions, but this is common parlance here.  Anil talked to us about marriage after he learned we were attending a wedding.  To him, arranged marriages are a lottery and if you win, it's okay.  But if you don't win, it's also okay.  Matt politely chuckled at this statement and while I also smiled, I was more taken by the idea that in India, you are encouraged to apply this line of thinking to pretty much everything: either way, in the end, it's okay.

By the way, Anil never told us if he had won the lottery in his arranged marriage and we weren't about to ask.

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