Jan 24, 2007

Still more India, and even more India

I assume you guy(s) are all still interested in this series of installations on India, so I will continue to expound.

We spent the next several days in Pune, then a short trip to the Buddhist and Hindu rock-cut caves at Ajanta and Ellora, and then back to Pune for a day or two. That first part was one type of experience where we actually spent quite a bit of time with some other delightful Americans (mostly Abby's family) that had come for the wedding as well. The second part of the trip was more about TJ and I traipsing around without the entourage and checking out the tourist sites of Goa and Kerala.

For those who don't know Indian geography (me before the trip), Maharashtra is the state where Bombay* (Mumbai) is located, about halfway down the western length of the country. Goa is immediately south of that on the coast - it's a small state that was until recently a Portuguese colony. Karnataka, where Bangalore is located, and Kerala are farther south still. Goa and Kerala in particular are stocked with European tourists, but one can avoid them if one wants to. When we crossed over eventually to Tamil Nadu to fly out of Madurai airport, east of Kerala, things were decidedly less touristy and I enjoyed the drive through the rural areas. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Back in Pune, preparations for the wedding involved Ashu and Abby going through grand efforts to secularize their Hindu ceremony and to write up the meaning of all the symbolism for the Americans. Little did Abby realize, but the wedding itself was so chaotic that we might not have been able to follow what was going on even with the translation... It seems that in a Hindu wedding, there aren't strict starting and ending times. People start filling in in the morning from 9 to 11:30, and maybe the bride is finished being professionally wrapped in a saree by then. Breakfast is served for those just milling about - ours was a yummy accumulation of some type of grain, tapioca, yogurt, coconut and something else and wasn't too savory for me to handle for the morning meal.

I got sareed as well! TJ is wearing a Kurta in this picture. Check out his Chappals.

After breakfast, the bride is eventually done preparing and the ceremony starts, but no one makes a grand proclamation and there is no ceremonial marching music. It just sort of starts... people are still coming in and out, kids are running around, and the ceremony carries on for a couple of hours whilst people are chatting and hanging out. At a certain point, the couple moves to the side and sits on the floor, where a fire is lit to symbolize something. The rooms fills up with smoke and the pregnant ladies take refuge outside for a while. Someone hands you a bunch of rice. Later, you will throw this rice, but not all at once like in the U.S. You throw bits at a time corresponding to things that are done during the ceremony, and then at the end you throw all the rest of it.

By now, it's time to eat again, and the hall eats in shifts. One group sits down at a set of long tables and is served an extensive lunch. While that's going on, people are still milling about socializing. Later on, the plates will be cleared and others will take a turn at eating. At the wedding in question, which was small by Indian standards, this only had to be done three times. I bet at 500-person weddings, there are like 8 shifts. It probably lasts all night!

Later in the evening, after things had finished up and we took a nap, there was a western-style reception for dinner (more food) with cocktails and music in an outdoor setting reminiscent of the Santa Monica Mountains in its geology, plantlife and overall je-ne-sais-quois.

More about Pune and the rest of our trip to follow, and then I'll eventually wrap it up and start talking about mundane things again like how sad it is that Carmen thinks she's being punished because we banished her from the bedroom due to my allergies. Sniff!

*Ever since independence in 1947, many locations in India have changed their names. Much of this resulted from the reorganization of the states on linguistic lines (as opposed to British colonial divisions). However, in the last six years, many major towns and cities have been renamed in ways that affect foreigners more. Among this flood of changes, three stand out. These are the former cities of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, which, together with Delhi, are considered the "mega cities" of India.1 They are the four most populous cities in India, and all but Madras are among the 15 most populous cities in the world.2 As a result, they are important commercial and transit hubs, and are well known outside India. Yet nearly six years later, most non-Indians still have no idea that they are now named Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. The preceding information was nicked off some UCBerkeley website.


Blogger Megan opined...

Expound! I like reading about your trip.

1:15 PM  

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