A Big Fat Indian Wedding

That’s the playful title the bride’s family has been using on all wedding related correspondence and notifications. It would be hard to think of a more apt description than that one!

S. and T.’s wedding was, and I say this with no embellishment whatsoever, the most extravagant, fabulous wedding I will attend in this lifetime, and quite possibly the next. I am hesitant to give too many personal details since there is always some degree of intimacy in a wedding, no matter how big, so I won’t be posting any photos here. Most of you have probably already seen the snaps I’ve posted on Facebook, so I’ll record a few thoughts here with the assumption that you have some idea of the nature of this amazing wedding.

Last Saturday morning, we miraculously flew into Mumbai from Jaipur in an extremely timely fashion on a local domestic carrier, IndiGoGo. Despite our 5 AM flight, we were eager to get on a ferry to Alibag, an island-esque offshoot of land just south of Mumbai with beach resorts and a small town. We stayed at a beautiful conference center compound that was lavishly decorated for each new wedding event.

The wedding was planned extremely well, mostly due to the bride’s mother’s knack for fabulous decor and creative elements. Since this was a real east-meets-west affair, each event of the wedding was designed to give a sense of a different part of Indian culture: one event to display the food, clothes, and traditions of a specific cultural and geographical region in India. This was a fantastic idea, and a great introduction to India for all of us ‘ugly Americans.’

There were multiple dance events, the traditional mehndi party, and a south Indian Hindu wedding ceremony. I’m not sure how to go into any detail about each event because they have all blended together and it would become a National Geographic essay.

Some observations: events of this scale, particularly in India, run entirely on the labor of an unseen, integral workforce. There were probably about 200-250 guests at this wedding. At one point, the bride’s father thanked all the workers who had made the wedding possible, mentioning that there were 250 of them. One laborer for every guest.

The work of these people ranged from managerial to menial, yet every person was essential to pulling off this incredible event. There were security personnel for the venue, wait staff and cooks (cooks who took great pains to ensure everything was clean for sensitive western stomachs — I want to be very clear that I became ill AFTER this magnificent wedding!), transportation organizers, and even older men who woke up with the sun to string flowers into welcome necklaces for guests and long decorative garlands to drape around the site.

Here’s the rub: I can’t, and won’t, make any further comment on this labor because I don’t rightly know its conditions or expectations. Anything else I might offer is speculation that easily elides into paternalistic concern. How much were these people paid? I don’t know. Where did they sleep? I don’t know. Presumably outside, as the weather was temperate. What did they eat? I don’t know. Maybe leftovers from the various feasts. I observed some wait staff eating from the buffets once the festivities ended.

I had an absolutely wonderful time at this wedding. Do I feel conflicted about that sentiment? No, it’s a fact that I had an amazing experience in Alibag. What I feel conflicted about are the small, discernable indicators of privilege that I can distinctly recognize.

It makes me uncomfortable to have a man in white gloves peel my hardboiled egg for me. It makes me uncomfortable to have another man spread butter and fruit preserves on my toast. This is not my world, and I am unsure how to cope with such actions.

But ultimately, in terms of experiencing this event, I do not know the circumstances of anyone’s life beyond my own. I could find out, sure, but I am not writing a journalistic exposé. I was here to celebrate a dear childhood friend’s marriage to a charming and generous woman, and I don’t think it’s right to deny myself the beauty and sweetness of that moment because of my internal conflict.

However, I also think it crucially important to ask questions — especially of myself and of my world — even if I am not prepared to answer them immediately. I find the more questions I have lingering at the back of my mind, the more I want to answer them as I move forward.

In that vein of posing questions and learning about many possible answers, I promise to tell you how my knowledge of the “Menstruation Man” came in handy at the penultimate wedding event, a rooftop party in South Mumbai. Until then.

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