This month is earmarked for weddings. The groom and his gang will travel in buses and cars to bring home the bride. Every bus( new or rackety), every taxi ( small or big)will be booked and the local ferry taxis are conspicuous in their absence. This is a month when I play the role of The Good Samaritan and take people to the market or drive back a car stuffed with school kids. I love the conversations and the tid-bits of their lives which are shared in those 3 kms of winding road.
This month is for joyous parties at home and energetic dances on the road. The music producers have adapted to the hills. No big brass bands and trumpets here. A portable synthesizer and loud-speaker, a small drum—and everyone is ready to dance and jive up the mountain paths to the road.
Prior to the wedding, there is a “ladies sangeet” at the bride’s house. Another “ladies sangeet “ takes place at the groom’s residence, after the wedding. Everyone lets their hair down at these times, and I can hear Kumaoni songs intermingled with the latest Bollywood hits, waft up the hill slopes to my balcony. Not many temple bells or bhajans can be heard this month!
This month, the wedding of Gudiya was the highpoint of the festive season. Gudiya is the youngest knitter in our group. She is the second daughter of the family and the main housekeeper. After cooking meals for the 4 younger children and parents, cleaning and organizing the two rooms of their home, washing and ironing heaps of clothes and taking care of her ailing mother, Gudiya is an expert seamstress and knitter. She stitches clothes for the colony women, knits for the group, and takes on orders for sweaters. Pretty, pert and strong would be suitable adjectives for her.
The engagement happened in winter, and after that, a few more suitable adjectives would be blushing, shy, nervous and busy-on-the-phone! Ah well, impending marriage can turn strong lions into shy lassies! I was very keen to see the boy who had brought about such a change in our pretty strong Gudiya, so the invitation to attend the marriage was accepted with alacrity.
Dark thundery clouds forced me to miss the “ladies sangeet” the previous evening. On the wedding day, the bright sun and blue sky ensured a good turnout from the village. Like all Indian weddings, there was gold, glitter, glossy garments, shining faces and a palette of bright colors.
The traditional attire, donned by the wedded sisters and cousins of Gudiya.
Her mother, torn between the joy of her daughter’s marriage and the agony of her absence, is wearing the traditional “Pichoda”..a red and yellow veil which is worn by all married women.
Team that with the traditional gold jewellery and the nose-ring, and its hard to stop staring!
Its hard to stop staring at the young ones too….confident and attractive college girls encouraged by their mothers to take on life headlong, girls who are ready to go out and study, take up a career and postpone marriage. Uttarakhand has a very high literacy rate and it’s the girls who have made it happen.
Hema did not get a chance to study after school. Her parents arranged for an early marriage and the kids followed quickly. Sitting here with her mother and other village relatives, she introduced me to them all and I listened to the excited Kumaoni babble around me, enjoyed the smiling faces and the happy eyes.
I had to leave before the feasting began. The dogs would be waiting for their meal and they wouldn’t understand the issue of delayed meals at weddings/ delayed arrival of groom/ delayed vehicles at election time. A quick snack with my knitting friends and it was time to see the groom.
As I stared at the visibly uncomfortable and nervous groom, pimples and perspiration included, I recall how gaunt and stiff and unnatural most people look on this occasion. Without trained beauticians, wedding planners and all the paraphernalia which is taken for granted at city weddings, it is hard on the newly wedded couple. Tired with the noise and chaos, worried about the future, nervous about the partner…..the pictures are the ones which friends look at, years later, and exclaim, “is this really YOU?! You look so different now!”
Years later, when Gudiya and Harish have grown up together, faced the ups and downs of life, learnt to give and take, laughed and shouted and smiled, tended old parents and young babies, these pictures of their wedding will be taken out and others will exclaim “ are these two really YOU?!”.