Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shrinivas's Wedding

There is one less bachelor in the India compact modeling team, and Donna and I have now attended two Indian weddings. This wedding was in Pune, a city in the state of Maharashtra south- east of Mumbai. Here you see the bride and groom dressed and adorned for the ceremony.

Dave Harame, who is an IBM fellow and the "godfather" of the IBM operation in India of which I am a part, happened to be visiting India the week before and after the wedding, so I invited him to come with Donna and I to the wedding. Dave was a little hesitant to come because he did not really know Shrinivas. I had talked to Shrinivas, who was delighted to have Dave attend and had met Dave when he interviewed in the US. (Donna says she's been told it's good luck to have perfect strangers attend your wedding.) When we arrived for the wedding the bride and groom were both out of sight, waiting for the time for their respective entrances. There were about 500 people in attendance and we found seats about halfway back. After we were seated Donna realized that everyone had a handful of rice, dyed red, so she went and picked some up for us.
Soon the groom came up the center aisle, accompanied by several members of his family. Two members of his party held up a curtain in front of him so he could not see the bride come in. The curtain has a red swastika, which is an ancient symbol widely used through out India both as a religious symbol and as a secular symbol of good luck. The backdrop for the wedding is decorated with flowers, including a large image of the Hindu god Ganesh, who has the head of an elephant. The on either side of Ganesh are the names of the bride (Vishakha) and groom (Shrinivas) written in Hindi.

After the curtain was in place the bride entered down a stairway to the right of the stage and came to stand facing the groom, but separated from him by the curtain. (It is a little ironic in this case that the bride and groom are hidden from on another since this couple choose each other rather than being selected for each other by their parents, as more often is the case in India.) Next a priest began to chant. I could not understand any of it, and a woman seated in front of us told us that it was in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is not in use as an everyday language anywhere, so I don't know how many of the people there could actually understand what was said. But somehow everyone seemed to know at what particular points in the liturgy to throw rice toward the couple. Since there were a lot of people there, most of us were not close enough to actually throw rice on the bride and groom so we threw it in that general direction and it landed on the people a few rows in front of us.
After the Sanskrit liturgy the curtain was removed. It was hard to see what was happening because the wedding party was standing all round the stage. However, there was not actually very much more to the ceremony. The bride and groom exchanged places, and he knelt down in, front of her to put on the toe rings which Indian women wear to symbolize that they are married.
Then everyone came up on the stage to congratulate the newlyweds and be photographed with them. In this picture, from left to right, are Joe, Shrinivas's mother, Shrinivas(the groom), Vishakha(the bride), Donna and Dave.

And of course a wedding includes a feast. After we had congratulated the wedding couple we wandered into an adjoining hall where lunch was being served. Tables were arranged in long rows with chairs on one side. This arrangement is easier for the people serving and for the family members to move about and visit with the guests.

When we first came into the room we thought the tables were full of people who had already finished eating. But one of Shrinivas' uncles guided us to three empty seats and we realized that the people sitting at the table were waiting for the next seating and the plates were left from the previous seating. Very soon a series of waiters and waitress came along the tables, each picking up a particular thing (plates, cups, etc.) They were followed by two people wiping the tables clean, and finally another uncle making sure that the final table washer got everything very clean.

Then the same people came around placing large metal plates, cups, small bowls on in front of each person. On their next trip they placed various foods on our plates. Each person had a large tray or bowl of a particular food and placed a serving at a specific location on your plate. Much of the food, of course, we couldn't identify since it was northern Indian food. At one point Dave pointed to small pile of something green on Donna's plate to ask what it was. The person who had just placed it there, reached back before Dave could get a word out and added another serving on top of the first one, then quickly moved on. As we ate they came by again and again offering you more food.

This was our second wedding in India; they were as different from one another as they were each different from a wedding in the U.S.--not surprising since India is an extremely diverse place and the two couples came from different parts of the country with different languages (at least as their first language). And yet all weddings have this in common, they draw on rituals and symbols from the past to create a timeless foundation on which the young couple can build something for the future. As Shrinivas and Vishakha embark on their adventure together Donna and Joe wish for them health, happiness and most of all the joy of "You" and "I" becoming "We".

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