Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Other Wedding Crashers

I'm writing from the town of Almora, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. We're staying at the quirky Kailas Hotel, run by the quirky Mr. Shah, an 88 year-old man who sits in full lotus daily as he says his prayers, and says sentences like, "The municipal supply is suffering from a paucity of water." If you happen to have the 1947 copy of Who's Who in India, you'll find his picture.

One night we heard the familiar refrain of a disjointed marching band playing free-form cacophony, and we knew a wedding was at hand. My 4'9" travel partner from Colorado, Jennifer, (whom I affectionately call "The Tower of Love,") and I set out in search. I've had mixed results with wedding parties, so I was hanging back a little bit. At one of the first wedding processions I witnessed 10 years ago, a sweat-soaked and betelnet-dripping older man invited, nay, implored me to dance. When I declined, he insisted with some force. Once more I declined, and he said, at great volume, with temple veins bulging and red spittle flying, "YOU ARE MY GUEST!!!" As per usual in these parts, I didn't, and don't, know the rules, and being a guest apparently carries some responsibilities that are unclear to me.

At another wedding I attended, the only two foreigners, myself included, were plunked down in the center of the room to talk about our love for India, and then were asked to dance to some Bollywood songs. I was sweating like, well, like I'd been asked to dance to some Bollywood songs. So on this night with Jennifer, I was trying to see what was going on without getting too close. Thirty minutes later, as I was gyrating on the lighted disco floor with flailing 20-something males, inside the wedding tent, I thought, "How did it come to this?"

A cousin of the groom had struck up a conversation with us, and invited us in, and one thing led to another, which led to bad dancing. A great rainstorm came suddenly, and the giant tent was leaking like a sieve. It didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm, especially the young men who insisted on pulling me onto the dance floor every chance they got. No women danced, not even once, and as I looked back at the Tower of Love, she was absolutely surrounded by women, all chatting and cooing like old friends. We ended up being treated like honoured guests, given food, and introduced to the bride and groom and the family. Everyone cleared a path so we could see what was happening, and carefully explained the proceedings to us in English.

We hit a little hitch when we met the father of the bride. He had a regal bearing and a way about him that, although it wasn't intimidating, you knew you were dealing with someone important. He said, "How did you happen to come here?" Jennifer stalled and answered some questions he didn't ask, about how we came to India and where we'd been. He said, "No, I mean how did you come to the wedding?" Gulp. We lamely tried to invoke the name of the cousin, whose name we'd forgotten. Finally he put his hands together in the namaste greeting, and said, softly and elegantly, "So you have come uninvited?" Under my breath, I muttered to Jennifer, "Bust-ed..." It was the kindest dressing down I've ever had, and in spite of it, he asked if we'd eaten, and we were invited to attend the ceremony itself, which was loosely scheduled from midnight to 4 a.m. We politely declined, said our humble goodbyes, and swore we'd wouldn't follow any more weddings.

A few weeks later, at the next wedding that we followed, we were getting the little boys outside to teach us some Bollywood dance moves. Unbelievably, they came in handy, because not so many minutes later, I was dancing, AGAIN, with a bunch of testosterone-fueled 20-something males on the lighted disco floor. Am I just too far gone to learn from my mistakes?!

I haven't written a newsletter in almost two months, and this one covered several hours of that period. Maybe some more stories and photos are coming soon...

Too much love,

The Bride.

The Groom.

The Dad, who's not so sure, at this point, why I'm here.

Crazy dancing boys.

How did it come to this??

Jennifer and her new friends.

(The End)