Saturday, September 5, 2009

All the women in saris, all the men in jeans

The bride had mehendi stained hands and sparkling bindi on her forehead - a pair of diamond eyebrows above her natural ones.

Inside the temple had been decorated with coloured balloons and the space was filled with the sound of bells and chanting.

Babies wailed and were shifted between shoulders and little girls tottered between seats in cheap plastic heels. A crowd gathered out front as the groom arrived in a jeep adorned with yellow flowers. All the women were in saris, all the men in jeans.

The ceremony was led by an old man dressed in white – he read from a book in Hindi and every so often would turn his face from the microphone and whisper instructions to the bride and groom.

There was much holy water dripped from the tip of a leaf dipped into a plastic cup. Drips on the floor of the altar, over an offering of flowers, banana and honey, and into the couple’s clasped hands.

A fire was lit in a small bowl and some of the holy water was drunk. Relatives sat behind the couple and fussed with the bride’s red sari or dabbed at her tear streaked cheeks with a bright yellow cloth.

Two pillows and a blanket were passed through the altar, from the bride’s family to the groom’s. The dowry: unwrapped gifts with the price still marked (sale items reduced by almost 1/3 of their original price).

Our workmates waved at us from the car park, beckoning to us to join the wedding feast in the laneway next door. So as the ceremony continued we sat at a long row of tables covered with the plastic of many milk arrowroot biscuit wrappers taped together. A line of men passed each plate to dole out portions of oily curries. We ate our fill of roti, rice, tomato chutney, jackfruit and other delights.

In the nearby makeshift kitchen, a scratchy broadcast of the rubgy was showing on TV. Inside the temple the bells and chanting continued. Back in the car park we found one of our friends who had not yet eaten; the wedding was so long he had gone to sleep in the van during the ceremony.

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