Sadhana Forest’s (and my) great friend, Raja, whose family runs the local taxi business, came to visit one day and invited all of the long term volunteers as well as the founding family to his sister’s wedding. I noted to myself that his sister is in high school and wondered if that was a traditional time to get married. I asked him about it and he laughed at me and said, “Kate, all of my cousins are my brothers and sisters. My cousin is getting married and she’s 28.” Alright, I’m learning more about South Indian culture. Well a week later we attended the wedding and I’m going to do my best to describe it to you. First some background: It was an arranged marriage. The bride’s and groom’s families met one month earlier, then began planning the wedding. Then the bride and groom met. Please note when you see them in pictures that they have only known each other for a few weeks, and not well at all. (Marriages for love here are rare, but steadily growing).
About 12 of us filed into a van and Raja drove us to the wedding. Actually it was the party. The ceremony took place that morning at daybreak. The party lasted all day. We arrived at the hall in Pondicherry and could hear the music from across the 6-lane street. As soon as we got up the long staircase we could see a huge, colorful, adorned alter that was more like a Lady Gaga stage. Inside were the bride and groom, sitting on gold gilded thrones, and room for about 20 other people next to them. Directly in front of them were the photographer and videographer. Next to the stage was a live 6-piece band belting out traditional Tamil songs. The entire rest of the room was filled with slightly organized folding chairs all facing the stage. I could not figure out what was happening. And I was starving and didn’t see any food. Jayme, long term volunteer who’s been at Sadhana for 5 years, saw my befuddlement and began yelling over the music into my ear about what was going on. And here it is: You sit. You wait. You show respect. You line up. You stand next to the bride and groom on stage. The photographer takes a few pictures. The videographer films you standing there as your smile fades. You hand the groom an unmarked envelope, no card, and sit back down. Then you go upstairs to a room filled with narrow parallel tables the length of the room. You only sit on one side of the table so that all of the people sitting are facing the middle. Can you picture it? There are banana leaves set up with food (thali style- rice and a bunch of side dishes). There are men walking around with more food, serving as you eat. And there’s a vat the size of a small car filled with rice that an amma (mom) is stirring and using to refill the serving buckets.
The food was amazing! You sit wherever you’d like, as people are coming and going all day. Probably over 500, and that’s small. I sat right in the middle so I was the first row facing the other half of the room. A boy about 6 years old sat across from me and we played hide-and-seek with our food and banana leaves and the table as I stuffed my face. Then, in totally foreign, un-Indian style, we found a white walled corner and did our own little photo shoot. Enjoy!