To my delight and relief, I was able to check in to my new hotel at 11am on the morning of the wedding. They greeted me with a “Hello Ms Tina” as I walked in, so that was a much more promising start than the infamous Hotel Chicago.
I checked in quickly, and rushed back out to meet Palak’s Auntie, who came to collect me. We then embarked on a dash across town to collect Palak and head out to her salon appointment in a manner that can only be described as inducing multiple brown trouser moments. Palak’s Auntie had many words with the driver, but I wasn’t sure whether she was saying:
“What’s wrong with you, you crazy man? I have never experienced such insane driving in all my life, you’re going to kill THAT COW AND THOSE SCHOOL CHILDREN!!!
“What’s wrong with you, you stupid man? I have never driven slower in all my life!! MOW THAT COW DOWN, SC*^W THOSE SCHOOL CHILDREN!!
….both of which were indubitably possible in light of the driver’s desperate attempts to propel us forward at the speed of light.
The reason for said driving….Palak was to attend Ahmedabad’s most exclusive salon for brides, and we were late. The salon is so exclusive, that to get a booking, you need to give around 2 years notice. However, Palak’s mum had used them for her own wedding, and they accepted a ‘late’ booking because they wanted the generational promotion. Palak was packing to leave the next day for a trip to the South to have another wedding with Kieran’s family (I can assure you these Indians have some stamina!) and was thus slightly delayed.
We arrived and were given a very frosty reception by the staff, who pointed out we were 20 minutes late. I thought there was going to be a Soup Nazi situation (“No appointment for you!!!”), the result of which would be me doing Palak’s makeup with potential clownish outcomes. However they conceded to allow her the appointment.
I resisted the urge to slap them round the @#*^ for their shoddy attitude to my friend on her WEDDING DAY and perhaps they felt my hostility, because when I tried to go in to the room with Palak, they said no, only Palak was allowed through to ‘the other side’ and said that “She could go away and get dressed elsewhere and come back in an hour and a half.”
Palak insisted the “she” (that is me) was with her (quite bravely in my opinion!) and asked if I could sit in reception. They begrudgingly said yes, and I found a spot on the couch.
I should point out here, that Ahmedabad is not a city where one could simply say “Oh well, I will go shopping, or sit in a cafe.” ‘Malls’ don’t exist, and I didn’t see anything resembling a cafe my whole time there.
The salon also made it clear that there was nowhere for me to get changed, and the receptionist did her best to fob off my request for the wifi password by saying no-one knew what it was, and pretending twice to go ask someone for it (when politely followed up by me) rather than just say “NO WIFI FOR YOU GORA INTRUDER!”
So, no magazines and no wifi and no coffee…I stared around a bit wondering how I would fill in the time, until luckily I remembered I had downloaded Pride & Prejudice on my phone. I sat reading (occasionally throwing dirty looks at the receptionist) chatted a little to other outcasts, and then had quite a head bobbing snooze (which I am sure the salon found really annoying and which thusly substantially increased my enjoyment of it).
I awoke to what could only be a vision of an Indian goddess (hang on, no wait, that could potentially imply Ganesh) let’s go with Princess. Talk about take it up a notch! What a stunner! And my apologies for failing somewhat in my photographic duties here. Palak you’re an absolute spunk rat and going straight in to the pool room!
We arrived at the wedding grounds before Kieran’s family, (a major faux pas to be late I am told!) and while Palak went to get photos taken, I waited with our gear in a dressing room, and attempted to dress myself without help. (Without help! Even the notion!!!)
My dress for the wedding was a Ghaghara, which is traditionally worn in Gujarat (the state where the wedding was) and in Rajasthan. It consists of a very full, ankle length skirt, a chali– a tight fitting blouse (with a good gap to show off my moonishly glowing white stomach), and a dupatta, the ‘shawl’ that drapes over the shoulder and is elegantly arranged around the skirt.
I managed to put the skirt and blouse on, but both Vidya and I had a couple of fails with the dupatta. Palak eventually returned, laughed at our feeble attempts (wrong side Miss Jane!) and sorted us out.
The wedding was about to begin. We wound our way through beautifully decorated paths, toward the groom who was approaching in the opposite direction with his family, which is the first part of the ceremony. Drums beat, rose petals are thrown and suddenly the intendeds meet for the first time.
After this meeting, Palak went to a waiting place, while ceremonies involving the groom were performed and sent me to have a look at the pathway taken by Kieran’s family. The Sangeet grounds had been beautiful- this was something else.
About an hour later, Palak was taken in a palanquin carried by her male relatives, to a stage that was set up. Stunningly decorated, it was at the head of another huge outdoor garden setting.
I was a little confused, as was Scotty, as to where to sit, or what to do. We daringly took seats up the front, only to discover the the vast majority of guests didn’t watch the ceremony taking place on the stage. We soon worked out why: it takes around three hours! (Eat your heart out Roman Catholics!)
The couples start separated by a screen. Eventually, the screen is lowered and a major part of the ceremony revolves around the bride and groom holding hands for the first time. Blessings are received from the brides parents, marking her passage in to a new part of life and vows and promises are delivered by the priests. There is stealing of noses and shoes, and the couple went around the platform seven times, stopping to do what looked a bit like push ups, while they were showered over and over again with roses and marigolds. This represents seven blessings. Kieran added a certain modern touch to the ceremony by Goproing the wedding (camera in hand!)
If you would like better information than my hazy recollections, have a look here. Its a lovely overview of the ceremony, its origins and the story it is effectively telling.
You may struggle to believe me here, when I say there was quite a large emphasis on food at the wedding. A banquet of 40 dishes spread down the side and around the end of the venue. Large fires were lit (yes, it does get cold in India!) and guests sat around the fires after the food was done.
Rahgu and I discovered the Indian ice-cream was delicious, with the only draw back being it was served in very tiny (one scoop) portions, necessitating 3 returns for me, and 7 for Raghu. True story, and luckily perfectly acceptable at an Indian wedding where such behaviour is viewed a a compliment, and definitely not greedy and piggy.
And then….the end came. The last part of the evening saw Palak whisked away from her family in a chariot (and by chariot I mean a full size bus the groom’s family had chartered for everyone’s transport). We all cried a little (and shuffled away frantically as the bus driver attempted a three point turn in the middle of the crowd) and she was off. Vidya, Rahgu, their boys, Scotty and I all piled in to a cab (which of course in India is perfectly acceptable as only the driver gets a seatbelt) and headed to our respective hotels. The wedding was over.