Breakfast, lunch? Nobody knows. Structured eating patterns are non-existent. You eat when food is available, keep going until your full. You never know how long it might be before you get another opportunity to eat again. This was supposed to be my marker for when the festivities began. When we were called to eat, that’s it. The wedding is on. It turns out I was somewhat wrong on that count. Over the past few days the garden, or courtyard, of the house that we’d been staying in had slowly been transformed. Green, felt-like sheets had gone down to cover the dirt underfoot. White, marquee style walls had gone up to provide shelter from the wind. On the big day even the weather had turned up to celebrate. Above us was a huge ceiling of beautiful clear blue, sectioned by pink, purple and yellow ribbons all spilling out from the middle.
A few tables and chairs had been set out, a small portion of the supposed 1000, later rising to 2000 depending on who was counting, guests were waiting to meet us. Meet in this case is probably a strong word, it’s definitely the wrong word. I think they were waiting to see us. It was like feeding time at the zoo. The wedding videographer, the photographer, along with plenty of others with cameras must have a sensational selection of us all mid-mouthful, food pushed into our cheeks, running down our chins. Safe to say we’re all very much looking forward to being able to watch those moments back.
Between our feed and the ceremony itself there was much time to kill. It was in these hours that we began to embrace our roles as part of the main attraction, besides the wedding itself, obviously. Keeping mostly out of the way while on the roof of Jagdeep’s house, more children arrived, with them came their parents, with them, more photo requests. During this time it was, for the most part anyway, myself and Tamsin’s brother, Jackson, who were in plain view. The recent release of the Bollywood movie Action Jackson would land him with an obvious nickname. I can’t think of a time when one of the kids referred to him as just Jackson. My claim to fame was a little less immediately apparent. Ripples of laughter run through our small crowd. It’s not always easy to tell if we’re the butt of a joke. One of the women on the roof who’s English outshone most of the other people we’d encountered in the village and obviously had none of the same reservations about talking to strange men as some of the other women approached me. Ultimately, it was for another photo but she had the decency to inform me as to why I was so popular. I look like Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe’s worst ever look-a-like. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my terrible hair and glasses. I’d love to be a a fly on the wall 18 years from now when that photo does the rounds for a birthday or a wedding.
While all this was going on the ladies were busy getting made up and dressed. Before long, us gents decided it was about time that we did the same. Tamsin’s father, Gary, had arranged for what he thought would be a low-key, traditional suit. A sleek, shimmering, silver grey jacket with a beautiful sparkling embroidered collar on the cuffs and collar enhanced with a blue paisley tie made me just a tiny bit jealous. I wish I’d had the time to get something made as well. He was looking almost as good as his daughter. Once we’d all suited up, things were just getting started, again. Jagdeep was somewhere outside in a plain charcoal suit wearing a traditional wedding hat and a necklace of money before he may or may not have been paraded around the village on a table. I was busy being doorman at this stage to can neither confirm or deny these rumours.
He was off doing his own thing when we had our nod to leave. A wedding procession left from Jagdeep’s house to the garden-marquee where, if you care to believe it, we would have to wait some more. By now, we’d accepted our fate, embracing the best and worst of our curious crowd and their cameras. I think we did a good job of being friendly, courteous guests but our little circus act was starting to get a little tedious. I can’t speak for everyone but I had slowly fallen deep into my default position of thick sarcasm. Oh great, you’d like a photo. Hey, bring all your friends. Why stop at one, let’s have ten pictures. Please, please, another. It’s no trouble. No trouble at all. It’s quite a surreal experience to look up, seeing all these eager faces, each one hidden slightly behind a phone, tablet or camera. Eventually Jagdeep had finished whatever duties he had to perform and the first of several blessings was to begin.
I had a lot of questions. I too am guilty of being curious. Why are we doing this. What does this mean. What is that for. Nobody really seemed able to answer me. At first I could have happily put it down to the vast language barrier but even on asking Jagdeep, I’d find that he would have to ask somebody else and I’d still be none the wiser. The things are they way they are because that’s they way they’ve always been and always will be. This is a country very much wrapped up in it’s traditions.
Jagdeep, along with members of his family, was sitting on the floor as a man spoke at him, Gary and Jackson were with them to. There was rice being tossed, ribbons being tied on wrists, water dabbed here and there, and a few gifts looked to have been exchanged before everyone had turmeric and rice smeared across their forehead Lion King style. Once this was completed Jagdeep joined Tamsin on their thrones as the king and queen of the village or whatever they’re to be known as now. I figured this must be the time for them to be officially married but it turns out it was just another photo opportunity. It seems that photographs are as important as traditions in a Hindu wedding.
Family came first, blessing the couple, giving them money, taking a few photos. Soon enough Tasmin had a necklace of money of her own. Up we went, small groups, as a whole group. Smiling, not once all looking at the same camera at the same time. Down we went, up came more guests. There was a point where after they’d had a photo with the bride and groom, parents and children alike would come and get a photo with as many of us, the celebrity guests, that they could get the attention of.
It was quite good fun in a rather bizarre, sensationalist, I’m glad I’m not followed around daily by the paparazzi every day, kind of way. Once everyone had decided that enough photographs had been taken, there were more blessings to take place. I quickly stole a moment to ask Jagdeep if they were married yet, he told me no, not yet. This was just the engagement. There is no middle ground between single and married. You either are, or you’re not.
The next round of rituals included Tamsin, we were even invited to the front of the group to bare witness. Jagdeep passed me a bag of rose petals with the instructions to throw them when they began walking around the fire. We should have known based on our earlier education that they would be making seven turns around that fire. We waited, shoes off, and took maximum enjoyment from the small comedies that were to follow. The man who was doing the speaking was rattling off a few thousand words per minute, he sounded like a horse racing commentator or an auctioneer. On one pause the word on the street is that Gary was heard to mutter “sold!” just loud enough for his immediate audience to hear. Sian to my left, stretched out a leg, or did she. It might have just been as she sat down to begin with. All I know for sure is that moments later we heard her say “I think I’ve split my pants.” Good one, Sian. Then it was time for the flowers. We stood up, petals passed amongst us and emptied maybe half of the bag on our first throw. Those more familiar with what was meant to happen looked at us like we were stupid. The final turns around the fire had a very limited scattering of petals. As we sat back down, I was thinking to myself, was that seven? I’m sure it was only three. What if we have to go again. We all began quickly scraping petals off the floor. When Tamsin and Jagdeep stood up once more, so did we, only to find them sitting straight back down again. Feeling rather foolish and very confused, we joined them back on the floor.
There were no more turns around the fire so I don’t know for sure if Tamsin and Jagdeep are now officially man and wife. Apparently, for a wedding to be legal in India all you need to do is declare that somebody is your wife at your place of work and people accept it as truth so I can’t imagine it matters all that much. There’s no official certificate. Enough people have seen it happen or will hear of it to know it to be so. They then made their way outside to place handprints on the wall, one in what looked like yoghurt, another that looked distinctly less pleasant. Then it was back inside, a final few words, more photographs and somewhere amongst it all our friends were now happily married, I think.