Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wedding Crashers, Part II

November 28, 2008

My friend Sue from England told about the culture phenomenon in her country dubbed by some author as social dis-ease. This condition is simply the characteristic of being perpetually ill-at-east in most – if not all – uncommon social situations or when confronted with atypical (to England) behavior. She gave the example of kissing cheeks repeatedly in France. Most English would be very embarrassed, she said, if the number of kisses they thought was appropriate in any situation differed from the French person they were bestowing them upon. Therefore, crashing weddings does not come naturally to Sue and Bill.
However, she is of an age and place similar to mine when you realize that: no one cares much about anything YOU do because they are much to concerned about what THEY are doing, you’ll never see these people again (unless you so choose), and if you want to do something (after considering any legal or life threatening consequences), do it. In the case of wedding crashing in Nepal, in my opinion, the only consequence is that you might get to enjoy a FEAST while participating in a real-life cultural event. (As opposed to going home and eating a huge plateful of sticky white rice with some watery dahl dumped on top of it accompanied by a spoonful of potatoes and cauliflower cooked into a – rather tasy – clump.)
So, although it had been less than a week since our first wedding crash, we could not resist the musical call from the garishly colorful tent a short distance down the road. (Wedding season in Nepal seems to be in full swing now and there are tents sprouting everywhere…. Over night, houses sprout gaudy architectural appendages, rooftops are adorned with dazzling red and yellow tophats, or – as in the case of this wedding – an enormous tent-house had sprung up in previously barren field dwarfing the house to which it was attached.)
I’ll blame in on Sue, she’ll probably blame it on me, and no one will blame it on Bill. But the fact of the matter was we had finished our daily beer, it was only 7:30 pm and we were all FAMISHED and dinner wasn’t due to be served for another hour. So we decided to take a stroll past the wedding tent just in case some nice Nepalese person would like to invite us in for a feast.
Good plan. However, the problem we discovered was that, unlike the previous wedding where the tent actually took up half the road, this tent was set out in the middle of a field. To get to the entrance, you had to walk up a small path for about 100 feet. No chance of “just happening by” and wanting “to peek in” out of curiosity! Also no chance of the host starting a conversation with us out on the road and inviting us in.
This is where the socially dis-eased Sue (obviously now completely cured) started to razz me for “losing my courage” or “backing out” etc, etc. Of course, fighting words in MY world. So she and I sauntered slowly down the path to the tent with Bill lagging well behind and another volunteer, Jade, opting out and heading into town. We picked up a pre-teen along the way who we chatted with until he FINALLY invited us into the tent. Once inside the tent, we had it made.
And what a tent it was!! Billowy red and yellow fabric breathed in the night air lit by “crystal” chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The “food room” was absolutely opulent (in an over-the-top Bollywood sort of way)! The buffet (half veg/half non-veg divided by a carved vegetable display that can only be appreciated in person or photographs but that featured a two-foot-tall statue of the Hindi elephant god Ganesh with a segmented cucumber trunk) stretched from end to end. By now the groom’s father (or uncle??) had taken us under his wing and was escorting us around the festivities. We were within a fork’s reach of the food when Sue asked if the bride was in residence and we were whisked out of the food tent, down a tent hall overflowing with women adorned in sparkling (mostly red) saris, and into another large tent room featuring two plush red velvet throne-like chairs. The bride was GORGEOUS – young, slim, beautiful, dressed in red gown sparkling with glitter and jewels. She did not look ONE BIT happy. (“An arranged marriage,” a drunk relative told me later. “Much more difficult than a ‘love marriage’.” – primarily because, he explained, you had to go through all the costly traditions when dealing with an arranged marriage, whereas couples involved in the slightly-taboo love marriages simply go down to the courthouse (of wherever) and seal the deal.)
The marital tent was packed with relatives in red and we were the honored foreign guests. The videographer – again with small video camera in one hand and blinding lights in the other – followed our every movement. Sue and Bill were caught in the dazzling lights for nearly the whole time we were in the tent (while I managed to slip away and take photos of the kids and the ceremony).
At some point, a large procession led by a young girl dressed in what we would consider a wedding gown – white with veil – entered the tent bearing gifts – fish encrusted with glitter (edible??), shocking pink noodles, breads, sweets, all kinds of fruits and vegetables as well as nail polish?? (including all the latest colors!) and hair and personal care products apparently essential to all newlywed couples.
By the time the food parade and celebrity interviews ended, I was really hungry! But when you crash a wedding, you have to wait to be escorted to the food, which eventually happened. As expected, it was a delicious feast! Mutton, chicken, all sorts of unidentifiable vegetable and rice dishes. I was surprised, however, that the only beverage was water from a jug (although it was clear that the men had been sneaking quite a few sips of alcohol somewhere). Desert was yogurt with a syrup-soaked doughnut ball in it (tasty!)
We were told that the groom would arrive in minutes (or maybe an hour) and that we really needed to stay. The groom’s procession starts in town. He rides in a nice new car festooned with marigold ropes. A band leads the procession and a dozen or so fellows with tall decorative lights precariously balanced on their heads follow. Bringing up the rear, of course, is a noisy generator on wheels being pushed by a bunch of guys (gotta get the power for the lights somewhere!)
We chatted with our escort and his brother (??), both or whom are bankers and quite proud of that fact. We have been invited to our escort’s home for dinner (which we intend to do and try to convince him to buy a nice mosaic for his bank’s lobby). Bill launched into a lengthy conversation about religion with one of the bankers (which I thought was quite ambitious) while Sue and I smiled at the sari-clad dinner guests and multitudes of children – for more than an hour!
By the time the groom arrived, we were ready to head home (although the wedding festivities last all night long and culminate in the couple walking to the temple to finalize the marriage). The promised musical car-and-light parade arrived amidst grand fanfare. Family members circled around and around the car throwing rice and then the groom – I now know why the bride was so unhappy! – emerged and headed inside to claim his prize!
We slipped away into the night, full of food and stories… another good wedding!

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