May 9, 2016
After a 17-hour journey from West-Orissa to Mid-Bihar, I reached the city of Patna. This is the place my classmate Vidisha calls home. It is also the location of her brother’s wedding. The wedding of Aman, and his fiancé, Sushmita. If you were wondering if I was incredibly excited for this event, I can say: hell f***ing yeah! Who wouldn’t be? Whether I was prepared for it? That would have been absolutely impossible.
I didn’t sleep much on the train from Bargarh to Patna. Even though I wasn’t that well rested, the adrenaline kept me going. We were too early to go straight to the hotel, so we were all invited to Vidisha’s home for breakfast first. And of course we also participated in applying the mehendi!
Mehendi, also known as henna, is when they apply the brown stuff to your hands and arms. Because I arrived first, I was the first one to try it out. The family had hired two henna artists. After about twenty minutes the front and back of my hands and lower arms were adorned with the strong-smelling (although not necessarily bad-smelling) brown stuff they use. This had to soak into my skin for about half an hour. Then I had to add lemon juice with a small sponge. The purpose is to create a darker color that stays longer, which are the two important aspects of good henna application. After another half hour I could start scraping of the crusts from my arms and hands. Not so easy and quite an uncomfortable experience!
The drawings were supposed to stay for about 1 to 2 weeks, depending on how thoroughly I was going to wash my hands (which, by the way, I was not allowed to do for the next hour or two).
After I was done with this and had helped my classmates doing the same, we left in groups of two for the dance studio where a choreographer was supposed to teach us an “easy” routine. I was soooo not up for this. I only went to do Vidisha a favor. I hate dancing. I’m no good at it. And of course, the rehearsal was terrible. For me. We had a dancer in the group, so my strategy was to just do whatever she does.
After the dance class, there was a lunch buffet in Vidisha’s garden. After that we could finally go to the hotel. Not to get the rest I needed so badly, but to get ready for the first big night of the wedding week!!!
Weddings in India usually last 3 to 5 days, because the whole family from both the groom and bride’s sides come from all over India. Weddings in India are such big celebrations because this is one of the only times many family members get to see each other. Besides that, it’s about two whole families joining. Therefore, there are lots of “networking” opportunities for unmarried bachelors and bachelorettes (if you know what I’m saying).
That night would be all about performances to entertain the bride and groom. Our performance would be one of many, so I hoped it would soon be forgotten! Frankly, I did get me some Dutch courage first… That was the best idea, too! Our performance was so messed up. So messed up… But the whole crowd thought it was so amazing to see foreigners perform at this wedding that they loved it anyway. Haha!
The rest of the night I was enjoying myself examining the traditional Indian outfits, stuffing myself with delicious snacks and finally snatching some drinkable wine.
The next morning I was the only one at breakfast. The buffet thing wasn’t great, but it was sufficient. I enjoyed myself sitting in the sofa, taking food from the buffet, seeing my batchmates come and go, one hangover worse than the other… Lucky me for rarely having hangovers! By the way, a hangover could never keep me from having breakfast.
Sitting there, I also got to know some of the other hotel guests. They shared their life stories for my India story. This way, the mornings passed relatively quickly. By noon, we went over the Vidisha’s house again for another lunch buffet.
In the afternoon, we started getting ready for our favorite day of the whole week: the official wedding ceremony. This meant we finally got to take out the sarees that we bought the month before. With the help of some professional dressers we succeeded in draping the sarees around us in an elegant way. It’s quite impossible to do by yourself, you see. There’s so much fabric! When you have it on, you just need to figure out how to walk in it. So we practised until the car came to pick us up: forward, up the stairs, down the stairs…
The best part, of course, was to admire each other’s looks. Coincidentally, every girl choose a different color and every one looked beautiful in their own choice. I, too, felt like a princess. A queen even! What a great feeling it was… even if it only lasted for one night. My saree was a dark orange, almost red, with a golden border. My ‘cropped top’ was made completely out of white and golden pearls. Very bling bling. But it worked, especially in this setting. The top was kinda itchy though. But that wasn’t stopping me from wearing it till the end of the night! No way was I taking that saree off.
First of all, we were taken to the starting point of the bharat. This is a parade that goes through the city. The family and friends, along with some ‘musicians’ lead the parade. The groom follows, in this case, in a horse carriage. He basically watches his family celebrating, singing, and dancing like crazy people. This is like the epitome of fun for Indians. They had so much fun!
Bharati symbolize the walk from the groom’s house to the bride’s home. He will pick her up and bring her to his home, her new home. Today, this is the way they do it, because families are spreading out all over India and obviously it is impossible to walk 1000kms both ways! So starting on a random point in the city, we walked to the hotel where the festivities and ceremony took place.
I didn’t see much of the ceremony itself though. Quite quickly, Vidisha guided our group to a separate room where the reception with alcohol was taking place. When I asked if they had wine also, they said no but that they’d get it for me. WTF?! I said that wasn’t necessary at all, but they insisted on it. That’s Indian hospitality for yah.
The food was amazing. I also had a lot of interesting talks with Vidisha’s friends. There were a lot of photo sessions in our sarees where we were all smiling like crazy. After the dinner I snuck into the “official ceremonial part” but, honestly, it was soooo long and boring. Everything is being said in a language that no one understands (maybe Sanskrit?). Only the priests who perform the ritual to seal the marriage may know. And no one could explain to me what the different steps were about. So, after a half hour or so I left and went home.
DAY 3 & 4
Day three was our day off. Most of my friends decided to already go home, because they had been traveling the first week of our off period and they really had to start on their homework (which I had already finished before I left for Bargarh). The four of us that were left in Patna were invited to Vidisha’s home for dinner. We had spent the day in the hotel because Patna is not really a safe city and there is not much to do either. We only visited a street food area in the afternoon.
The fourth day we didn’t do much either. We packed our stuff and prepared ourselves for our long 8-hour train journey to Kolkata that evening. In Kolkata we would be applying for our US visa.
Right before we headed over to the train station, we stopped by at the last wedding event: the reception. It was a humongous dinner buffet to celebrate the wedded couple one last time. This wedding was so big that even the mayor of Patna attended. We got to quickly take a pic with the new couple and devoured as much food as we could before we had to go. We half ran to the car and the driver took us to the train station as fast as he could. We really cut it close to be able to stay as long as possible at the reception, but we barely made the night train!
By then we were all super tired of all the parties, all the impressions… My dreams were very colorful during this week… Like you could expect anything else, right? My tummy was a little bit bigger from all the food.
I had never attended a wedding in Belgium before – or anywhere for that matter – but I can already say no wedding will be as breathtaking as an Indian one. I also learned that the arranged marriages system works quite well. India has a divorce rate of only 1%!
Sleeping on a train was no problem at all that night. Besides, I had something new to look forward to: we would be discovering a new city, and not just any city, but the former capital city of India!