Last weekend, a group of Chirag interns went to a wedding in a nearby village, Kasiyalekh. It was not only my first Indian wedding; it was my first wedding period.
On day one, we were greeted warmly. No matter where we walked, chairs seemed to appear out of thin air so that we did not have to stand. At one point we were beckoned into the house to take a photograph with the bride, and Aardra spent most of the day helping her put on her makeup. We were also repeatedly encouraged to eat. I was hesitant because the previous week I had briefly stopped by a wedding to eat and ended up vomiting that night. But after taking a delicious bite off my friend’s plate, I threw caution to the wind and ate a wonderful lunch. The young children adorably led us around to pick fruit, spoke to us in a mix of English and Hindi, and did some spectacularly ugly henna for Aardra and Caro.
There was a group of middle school-aged boys at the wedding whom I came to grow quite fond of. They offered us their seats at the outset of the wedding and huddled up to whisper as boys of that age do. Probably my favourite moment of this whole day was when I looked up to see Eileen surrounded by a swarm of them, urging her to sing the American national anthem or anything in Chinese. They did ask to take pictures with all of us, something I have grown weary of during my time in India. But they did so in a completely charming and genuine way, and I was happy to pose for a few photos.
Then came the dancing. I am not a dancer. I think it is the (visual) artist in me that makes me want to sit in the corner at events like these and just observe people—the way they act and converse and dress and, in this case, dance. The aforementioned group of boys were an absolute joy to watch. I have not seen that level of unbridled enthusiasm in quite some time. I smiled to myself as I watched Caro, Eileen, and Aardra on the dance floor. Finally, a French intern I have grown very close to turned to me and said, “I’ll dance if you do,” and I danced for the first time in years.
I have a harder time trying to remember the second day, most likely because I do not wish to remember it. On the way, a local dog named Devrani joined us, and a friendly boy from the day before led us down a shortcut. Everything seemed to be going well… up until Devrani vomited up an apricot in the middle of everything. We decided to head back to Devrani’s village to leave her and then head back to the wedding. My supervisor here at Chirag describes Devrani as a racist dog in that she only likes non-Indians, and the measures we had to take to get Devrani to stop following us validate this belief. She simply would not leave us alone. We finally, mercifully managed to lose her and returned to the wedding.
The bride and the ceremony were beautiful, but it was rather hot and rather crowded. I was feeling overwhelmed when a man I had briefly spoken to earlier tapped me on the shoulder, asking for a picture. He was friendly enough, so I ducked behind a curtain for a quick photo. Before I knew it, I was the star of a full-on photo shoot. This is my worst nightmare—I like being the photographer, not the one photographed. Men appeared out of nowhere to take pictures in groups, individually, and in every pose imaginable. I had a request to become friends with one of them on Facebook. Another man insisted on getting my email, going to great lengths to acquire a pen and paper, because he wanted advice regarding an upcoming visit to Canada (he did not seem to understand my explanation that Canada and the U.S. are different countries that just so happen to be on the same continent). I felt embarrassed to be sitting behind that curtain, surrounded by people, when a wedding ceremony was happening mere feet away. I finally managed to escape to the food area, where I huddled in a corner until they tracked me down again and insisted on more pictures. I was on the verge of tears when we left.
My first wedding had its positives and negatives. I know if I had the choice to do the whole thing over again I would absolutely go. These two days revealed to me a great deal about Indian culture. The music and the food and the clothes and the totally foreign customs were a feast for the senses. But why did the first day leave me happy as a clam and the second day make me want to get on the first plane out of here? Some of this was circumstantial (the dog vomiting was certainly not a highlight), but the people primarily shaped my perceptions.
The first day people made an effort to include us, showing us around their home, encouraging us to eat and dance, and—most importantly—talking to us. It felt nice to interact with villagers in a more casual, genuine way. The second day, we were clear outsiders, some sort of spectacle to be stared at. For me, this has been the most frustrating part of being in India. Full cultural immersion in a nine-week period is not possible, but I continually struggle to find a way to feel like a part of the community rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. My goal for the end of the summer is to find a place among these people.