Yesterday was Rita's farewell from her family. Hindu traditions never seem to end. Directly after the marriage (which happens in the husband's town or village) the bride goes back with her husband to her new home. But she will stay there just a few weeks or perhaps about a month, then she will return to her own family for some weeks again. It is when her husband's family comes to pick her up (without her husband who has to wait for her at home) and thus when they come to visit the bride's family for the first time after the wedding ceremony, that the real farewell will take place. I hadn't expected it. As usual with India, I don't ask anything and they don't explain anything to me before it actually happens. It is when the reality unfolds before my eyes that I see and understand how things work here.
So, two evenings ago, friends of the family came to help cook a massive amount of sweet pastries, made of gram flour and another four that I don't know. The women made crowns and designed plates and other beautiful shapes out of the freshly-made dough, to be deep fried later. Yesterday evening the women came again and set back to work. More fine pastries decorated with colourful patterns this time, and even one of them ornamented with one-rupee coins (and cooked)! All these gifts, for they would all be offered to the husband's family, were gathered into a huge basket of about one-meter diameter. They'd just wait for the two-kilogram bag of laddus (sweets) collected from the shop to seal the enormous gift with red fabric.
So much oil, so much sugar. The Hindu tradition is beautiful but to my religious-virgin mind and my dietary-concerned self, it is also a tradition of excess. And even for a family with financial difficulty it will be the rule and they cannot escape it. However much I love India these obligations are the very details that suffocate me. During the farewell-day all the women of both families were upstairs, while the men would stay downstairs sitting and talking. Because the women have to cover her heads in front of the respected men. Men and women eat separately. All day the women of the bride's family, helped by a couple of girlfriends, worked non-stop to serve and feed their venerated guests in the main room - feeding themselves later in the kitchen. Deep fried round breads replace the chapatis during festival or family occasions; deep fried and heavier food, which I have to accept with a sigh especially under the hammering heat.
In those traditional gatherings I do my best to follow the rules too and to appear as "local" as I can, but I am always concerned that I may do or say something wrong (although I know it would be OK). But the custom is heavy on me, and new people look and ask questions and I have to speak a lot of Hindi, and of course I hardly see Vijay so I haven't got much room for mental rest or questions. I am unmarried though so as such I have the right to go downstairs in the men's company. It is somehow easier in the men's company, yet I don't want to go downstairs too much to avoid questions and out of respect for my Indian sisters.
And then, early evening, the bride got ready to go. Decorated as heavily as a Christmas tree, in her shiny saree, hennaed hands, ornamented with heavy golden jewelry from head to toes, and with as many colourful bangles as to cover two third of both of forearms, jiggling whenever she moved and matching her saree. Married women have to wear a saree, and a red line (drawn in powder and/or lipstick) in their hair parting and a round bindi between their eyebrows, and anklets and toe rings, and bangles at all times. The jiggling bangles which I find beautiful when in a good mood, but which I come to loathe with feminist rebellion in Hindu-intensive situations, for then they sound like bells preventing animals to escape... It is extreme beauty violently stained by the inescapable obligation.
And once ready, which took some time, it was time for the young woman to leave her childhood's family for good. Sisters and mother cried like I had never seen them cry before. Hugs were shared, and the groom's mother is a good and understanding woman so there is no problem, but the married girl had lived here for twenty-three years and she was suddenly taken to a new home to live with complete strangers. Soon I couldn't help but join them in tears, although mine were of compassion and not of sadness. Slowly, the ornamented girl in her shiny blue saree, covering her head and hiding her tears, went downstairs. Notes (between 10 and 100 rupees) are always shared between hosts and guests at goodbye times. Although the money represents love, this is another rule-based tradition that can also exasperate me. And at parting time there is also colouring the women's feet in pink and sharing tika (marking the guests between their eyebrows with yellow and red powder), and then the members of the host family will do that beautiful hand-to-feet-to-heart bow which I have come to love.
And so yesterday I didn't do anything really, but by the end of it all I was completely exhausted. And I was told that at 2pm it was 50 degrees and I don't know how on earth my body copes but it does, and way better than last year...
A note on my three blogs
A note on my blogs
(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...
(2) sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!
(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.