Indian weddings are widely reputed for their wildness and colourfulness. What I experienced in Mumbai did nothing to diminish that reputation!
After a somewhat chaotic late-night arrival, some hours of sleep and a bit of sightseeing, I was more than ready for the first of 4 receptions the engagement party.
At a place called the The Club, in Andheri, for which the cab driver had to stop and ask for the way about 10 times, som 300-400 guests were gathered for what alledgedly was only a warm-up. After a mandatory photo session on arrival, I entered the main hall, where Deepak and his fiancée were seated on a heavily lit, heart-shaped throne overlooking the dancefloor. Music was mostly 90ish techno, and some contemporary Indian music, with a light show going on and off in all different colours. In one corner, there was a bar with 2 hyperactive bartenders putting all their efforts into ensuring that noone in their vicinity was drinkless. Those further away from the bar would brought towards it by fellow guests should they end up drinkless for more than 60 seconds anyway!
Of my 2 workmates who were supposed to be there, my colleague Husam was unable to make it alltogether, and my boss, Hogne, wasnt arriving until 2 days later. As the only non-Indian, I certainly stood out. The attention I received was almost overwhelming, in a very positive way though. People actually seemed to compete to make sure I was enjoying myself! 😀
In the West, the dancefloor is mainly the playground of people aged 15-35. Not so in India! While the music was mostly dance and techno from the mid-90s, mixed with contemporary Indian music, all generations were present on the dancefloor at any time – from those who had barely learnt to walk, to those who struggled to stand on their feet because of their old age! People from most of those generations also kept pulling me to the dancefloor throughout the night, while feeding me with drinks!
Basically all the guests, except the one gora were wearing colourful traditional outfits, further adding to the colorfulness of the experience!
The event was rather informal, without much official ceremony, except some cake-cutting where friends and family of the bride and the groom fed them small pieces, and were fed small pieces back. That was all followed by some small dance-shows by young family members from both sides.
After that, it was just party on, with some food and snacks being served, and bartenders going belligerent.
“Open up your mouth!” a female voice commanded. The bartenders had started walking around with bottles, force-feeding guests deemed to drink too slowly. After some inital mouthfuls of whisky, the flaming drinks were on, with “victims” being held down on a seat while the deadly, flaming mixture were poured into their mouths. Again, age was the least of worries, from below 18 to probably above 80.
My resolve to stick to white wine and water whenever I was not being force fed, saved me from a deadly hangover the next day, and from the the discomfort of not remembering the way home. I even had the better part of the day after available for more sightseeing.
Friday morning at approx 9am. Still in bed, comfortably asleep as the first event didn’t start until 12. Or so I thought..
I woke up to the familiar sound of my phone: and Deepak wanting me to come early for the more traditional, family part of the wedding cermony. My boss Hogne, who had flown in during that night was staying at the same hotel. As we linked up in the lobby, it turned out we had interpreted the dress code slightly differently: I was wearing a suit and a tie, he had a t-shirt and jeans!
Some of those quick Indian breakfast bitings that I quickly learnt to appreciate, but whose names I can never remember, were being served as we arrived at the venue (thank God!). We were then taken upstairs, where Deepak was being prepared for the ceremony.
The dressing up of the groom for an Indian wedding is a rather complex procedure that could easily be mistaken for the warm-up to a king’s crowning. Both Hogne and I got some great pictures of the moments when we were wrapped in the same pink turbans as Deepak’s family. Hogne solemnly swore that any picture of him with that headwear would be untagged from Facebook faster than I could tag it, so I had to post here on my blog instead! 😉
The shoe-stealing tradition is a remarkable feature of Indian, and generally South Asian weddings: The young girls have to steal the groom’s shoes, and after the wedding ceremony, he is forced to bargain on a ransom to have them released again. I knew nothing about this tradition until I was asked to get up in the horse-pulled chariot where Deepak was sitting and given a speedy introduction. My role was to “guard” him against the shoe-stealing girls, and eventually fail my mission as they would steal the shoes anyway.
After the shoe-stealing, the wedding ceremony itself was far more quiet, mainly consisting of a Hindu priest performing rituals with the bride and the groom, followed long-lasting of bargaining before Deepak finally was able to buy his shoes back. After that, lunch!
“Be at the dinner at 10” was the instruction ahead of the dinner. In India, that would usually mean “show up some time after 11”, but this was allegedly THE exception. “Better show up 15 minutes early”. Interpreting that as “try to be there before 11”, Hogne and I actually met at the hotel bar a few minutes before 10 to have a quick beer before going.
Arriving at the venue at around 10:45, we were clearly the first to arrive. Fortunately, attentive waiters made sure we were fully supplied with drinks and bitings for the one hour or so before the other guests arrived.
The dinner reception was another show of colourfulness with everyone in a party mood. The waiters being outright pushy with the bitings, I had little appetite left for dinner, but that hardly mattered anyway! The dinner reception being a rather formal event, there was fortunately no force-feeding of drinks by the bartenders. That was not needed in any case, as most people around were more than helpful in ensuring that I at any time had at least one drink in my hand.
On the final event, a cocktail party, my plan was to take it rather easy as I was flying to Udaipur the next morning. Hogne was leaving on an even earlier morning flight, and had prepared himself to go straight from the party to the airport.
Having caught a quick beer in the hotel bar, Hogne and I started the daunting task of finding the venue. The tuktuk driver clearly had no clue, but was afraid to admit that. He therefore kept stopping every 5 minutes telling us “it’s here”. since we clearly didn’t believe anything he said, he immediately went on to ask someone for the road – again – after each attempt.
After approximately 20 attempts, he managed to drop us at the right place, and also to rip me off on the change! Who cares anyway? Hope the sucker choked on the money!
This time around, we had gotten the timing better. At least the other guests had started arriving! As usual, loads of fun and friendly people! Someone had decided though, that my self-proclaimed allergy against hard liquor would not go unchallenged. During the previous events, I had turned down most offers of whisky, vodka, tequilla or other beverages stronger than wine. Upon my refusal, I was physically held down on my seat, and force fed with shots the size of tea cups. Almost immediately after, the bartender returned with a big, evil smile: “Excuse me sir, someone told me you could take 2 more”.
Needless to say, sobriety was not a key charactheristic of the previous hours of that evening. The last round of force feeding sent me somewhat off balance, cutting the evening (and my memory) a bit short.
At 11:40 the next morning I found myself rushing in front of a long check-in queue in the hotel recepetion, explaining the lady there that I needed to complete the check-out on a rather short notice. “Sure, sir. Just give me 10 minutes” she replied. “I DON’T HAVE 10 MINUTES! MY FLIGHT IS LEAVING IN 50!” I shouted back at her.
Less than 30 minutes before departure to Udaipur, I rushed in at the last minute at Mumbai Domestic Airport, as the check-in for my flight was about to close. Udaipur, “India’s Venice” next. Updates will follow.