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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wedding Plans and Preparations

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Our housekeeping has been set in motion, faithful Raghava and Pushpa at the ready, full and half time, respectively.  It's deceptively easy to slip into our daily routine, with them doing things we usually do for ourselves in the 'states: meal prep and cooking, serving tea (frequently throughout the day and when a visitor  drops in, which also takes place frequently), garbage and recycling, cleaning, laundry, transportation, and errands we don't even have to do at home, like taking washed and line-dried clothes to the iron g man, heating and filling a bucket of water for a bath, swabbing the floor daily with a disinfectant.

Sounds luxurious, right?  But it's common enough in middle class and/or joint families in India. Life can be hectic here too, but seems less so when there are at least pockets of leisure, with common tasks out of the way. More time is available for other things we have to do; we are able to make two village visits, the first week. (More in other blog posts to come.)

By the end of our first week of this year's winter stay in India, we have exchanged visits with five Gummadi siblings who are from the 'states, or live in town.  A sixth will arrive from the states next week. Lots of chattering and the opportunity to visit with a niece, still at home for the Christmas holidays with her fiancee' from the UK. But the focus soon turns toward the upcoming marriage of another niece. 'The girl,' as the bride is referred to here in India, lives in the U.S. but wants to have a 'traditional' wedding in the church she attended as a little girl.

The planning and preparation for our niece's wedding are elaborate, and need to be thoroughly vetted by various family members.  The stairs and elevator ("Please shut the door!" has toned down a bit since last year, but the mysterious voice inside the elevator still exhorts us, day and night, to be sure to leave the elevator available.) are busy as family members interact among the three apartments where most of the us are staying this year. The five Gummadi uncles in charge of the basic arrangements take to it with enthusiasm, conferring and shopping and vetting vendors and preferred procedures morning, noon and night.  Shopping is especially good because this is the season of a major winter festival (more of that in the next blog); stores are brimming with fresh stock and potential sales.

So what goes into this Indian wedding? The bride's and the groom's families each have their own idea. The groom's family comes from their town an hour away just to say hello.  Tea.  The bride's extended family goes to visit the groom's family. Lunch, along with a couple dozen of their relatives and friends. Protocols are fine tuned. What pre-nuptial rituals will be observed? Whose opinion or preference will prevail defaults to uncles and the couple's parents. When and where will the marriage occur? The couple being Christian, may ignore horoscope considerations, but family trees and customs are compared. The availability of church and reception venue are verified. Where will the bride and groom spend their first night?  The next several days before going on a short trip? Who will provide what? Each side prepares a list of don't miss items the other side should provide. Lists are exchanged. The bride professes no opinion on all of the above.  So far. Presumably, the groom, still at work in another state, does not weigh in, at least that we know .

Each side of the family designs and delivers (in most cases, by hand) a wedding invitation to family and friends on their side of the family. One of the men delivers our invitation to 'the boys' side.' They reciprocate.

I host an American type shower for the women of our side of the family to share the gift of memories and blessings on behalf of my Attamma (mother-in-law), the bride's grandmother, who was a remarkable woman, but no longer with us.  (MAJOR boo-boo.  I forget to invite Attamma's younger sister. I am ashamed of myself, but am counting on the sister to be more gracious than I. There will be other events)   We send the men off, and have a hilarious time playing shower games, then open our hearts to share fond memories of a Godly, and generous woman. Tea follows.

The same day happens to be the wedding anniversary of one of the uncles and aunties, as our generation is/ are known, so a cake is duly fetched from a bakery for an impromptu, obligatory 'cake-cutting.' For reasons of her own, Auntie disavows the celebration this year, so the joint family members all troop into her room to sing 'Happy Anniversary,' and share a cake and prayer anyway. Auntie is nonplussed.  Uncle is good sport about it all.

A sister-in law reminds her siblings to have a group photo, since one can never know when the seven will meet together again.  The siblings oblige.  Nieces and the sole nephew clamor and clamber over each other and the sofa opposite,  each seeking to take the best group photo. I lend extra led lighting to brighten the visage of  dark faces.  Hilarity crescendos, and the Anniversary Uncle suggests that we take it to the Sankranthi program being noisily conducted in the school grounds, a few doors down the street. There, costumed drummers play lively rhythms, welcoming and accompanying guests into the venue.

Wedding banns are announced in church on the first of two Sundays preceding the wedding. Then comes a lull of five days while conferring, shopping, and planning continue. Flower vendors are sampled. Decorators and designs are chosen for the reception venue: how to please and yet conserve. Dispense with carpeting over the grounds lest it wrinkle unsafely. Flower pillars to do double duty in church and at the reception. Caterers are interviewed; one is chosen and the menu agreed upon. Bargaining throughout, with an eye on the budget.  Everything seems to be more expensive than expected. But on one point, all the uncles and family are agreed: the meal has to be excellent.

A week before the wedding a niece and husband who live in the 'States host a rooftop barbecue for all of our side of the family. Strings of lights including several IKEA fixtures, (real) potted palms, and a boombox provide atmosphere, along with the evening breeze. (It was 90 degrees f, earlier today.) Dinner is served up from a buffet created upon the rooftop utility room stairs.

As we are getting ready to go up for the barbecue, the groom drops in to meet family who have not met him previously.  He seems open and down to earth. He and the bride-to-be have a brief opportunity to talk face to face for less than an hour.  Total time they've met in person thus far, a couple of hours. ("Introduced" by family contacts, betrothed in the presence of a few elders from both sides, they've been face-timing and phoning only for several months.) They go downstairs to wait for his car. After he leaves; we tease her for coming late to the barbecue. Her dad appears relieved that she has re-appeared.  "He's gone, for now anyway.  Good." We laugh. And the party continues with photo opps and Qubani ka meetha, a festive dessert of apricot sauce on ice cream, traditional in Hyderabad, the former state capital.

Later one of the uncles perceives an element of disrespect in that 'the boy' appeared. unannounced, however briefly, at 'the girl's' side's party before the marriage. I am taken aback. Was it disrespectful? With so much variation in expectation from country to country, family to family, and sub-culture to subculture, religion to religion, not to mention person to person, that I wonder whether it is ever possible to arrive at a common acceptability of manners. Times are changing, have changed since 'our day.' Our elders are gone.

Without them, we are new elders, brainstorming and comparing notes as we make our way through new times in old territories. A brief encounter at a party thrown by his age group peers (most of whom live in the U.S.) seems innocuous enough to me.  But I am the foreigner, the outsider, here; what do I know? 'The boy' lives and works in a more progressive Indian city.  'The girl' lives in America, but, being a dutiful Indian daughter, wants to have it 'the traditional way.'  But nothing is as it was, and, for sure, the Indian experience never turns out quite as one expects.

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