Friday, November 21, 2008

I Do

I was sitting in my room Tuesday night when I saw two figures approach my door. It was two men, one of which I knew better (and took care of the speaking) and the other I had seen around CMS. The former informed me that the latter was getting married on Thursday at the CSI Cathedral in Kottayam and wanted me to be at the wedding. “Of course,” I immediately replied. It didn’t hurt that they also mentioned that biriyani (a kind of glorified fried rice) would be served at the reception.

I was so excited to have finally been invited to and Indian wedding that I called another volunteer as soon as they left. While I was on the phone with her, two other men approached my door. I quickly got off the phone, walked over, and saw that one of them was a PG hostel guy and the other I didn’t know. My friend proceeds to inform me that the latter is getting married during the weekend that I’ll be on retreat with the other YAVs; I explained and declined feeling quite disappointed.

I know, I know. I had just been invited to another wedding, but the second was going to be quite the affair. Not only was it a Hindu wedding, meaning another level of opportunity for cultural and religious observation, but it was going to involve traveling with the guys and to another part of Kerala. But I love weddings, so I was still excited to go to the Christian one on Thursday. And of course, Becca had been invited too (her Malayalam tutor is the groom’s grandfather); the Christian community in Kerala is quite the network.

So after teaching a class on Thursday morning, I made the fifteen minute walk (yes, uphill) to the CSI Cathedral, where I’d attended a worship service previously, to wait for Becca. She was being brought from Mandirim by a Malayali, so they were naturally late, culturally on time. I took a seat by myself and soon found that I didn’t have the best view. Frankly I’m not sure what went on for the next forty-five minutes because of my vantage point and the language barrier. But of course, I do have a few observations:

One of the most astounding moments was when the wedding march began (same “Here Comes the Bride” that we have) and the bride was proceeded by twenty Achens (Pastors). No exaggeration, I counted. The aforementioned grandfather to the groom explained that the family was basically well connected. Normally, he said, only three Achens are necessary. And don’t you worry, the Bishop was also present.

A general cultural observation is the clothing worn by the guests. Although the groom wore a suit and the bride a white wedding sari, guests wore what they would to go out for tea in. Kerala just doesn’t have the same concept of levels of dress that we have. It was incredibly nice to know that I could wear the same thing to teach and then to the wedding. I didn’t have to worry about being over or under-dressed for either.

We go as far as to tell our guests what to wear on the invitation. Why!? Where does our concept of dressing “up” come from? It doesn’t change who the person is. Why try to alter the perception? And because Malayalis don’t dress up for events doesn’t mean they take them any less seriously. They just have other, less material ways of making events special. After being here, it just seems strange to me how much importance we place on a person’s clothing.

The reception was fairly similar to American weddings. The couple sat up front and the guests at tables to eat the delicious biriyani (I consumed more in one sitting than I have since coming). However, it was only an hour long and didn’t involve dancing. What it did involve was a soundtrack of American 90’s boybands; spectacular!

One last similarity and difference. Similarity: the wedding photographers (film and still) were all over the place just like ours. And I’ve found that Malayali wedding albums are quite the sight and are shown enthusiastically to guests in homes. Difference: the time and day of the wedding (11:30 AM on a Thursday) was quite different from your typical Saturday evening American wedding. I’m not sure when most Indian wedding are, but this one was a little different than what I’m used to.

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