"I Do"...Punjabi Style!

A wedding in a foreign country, especially in India and the Middle East, is the prime opportunity to see the local culture at its most colorful and loudest. In Jordan, weddings are the village women's chances to shed their scarves, eat cake, raise their vocal cords, and shake their voluptuous curves to a song on playback for 4 hours.
When I arrived in India, one of my main goals was to attend a local wedding...even to crash one if I had to. Hemant, a couchsurfer I'd met who shared my passion for mountains and exploring, invited me to his sister-in-law's wedding in Ludhiana. I immediately accepted - at its most academic, a study in cross-cultural celebrations and, at its most irresistible, a tempting offer of free Indian food.
Hemant's family had been preparing for this wedding for over 3 weeks, and I arrived just in time to see the festivities in full swing. The day of the wedding, I went with Taruna, Hemant's wife, to her mom's house, where her 2 sisters (one the bride), brother, and mom were all sitting on one queen-sized bed. I joined them, watching as they discussed sari details and packed suitcases. The realization that 20-plus years of sharing a home, a bed, and countless conversations with her youngest daughter would abruptly end in 8 hours hit Taruna's mom as she supervised the flurry of last-minute preparations. Reena, the bride, comforted her mom's tears with a soothing smile and double-armed hugs.
After the chaos of packing clothes had slightly subsided, lunch was announced. The simplicity of the pre-wedding meal was overshadowed by its amazing twist of flavors. The pumpkin melted in your mouth, and was coupled with wonderfully aromatic Indian spices and whole bay leaves swimming in a mustard-colored curry. Mmmm! If every Indian wedding were prefaced with this kind of lunch, I would be a constant face in these celebrations!
Several hours later, the women having separated to go off to their favorite hairdressers and don their best saris, I followed Taruna and her daughter Misha into a fancy salon where I felt like Ugly Betty.
A brief interruption to explain my fear of salons. In 3 years, I haven't applied a single brush of makeup to my face. The last time I had my hair cut professionally was at Supercuts 4 years ago. Since then, I've cut my own hair and my friends have trimmed the uneven ends. The closest I've come to "prettying myself" is cutting my fingernails and shaving my armpits.
So, upon entering that salon full of gorgeous Indian women with flowing waterfalls of black silky hair, I immediately grew conscious of my untweezed eyebrows and thick mass of hair tied messily into an unflattering ponytail.
As I stood behind Taruna and her daughter, I heard the receptionist say, "So, a tweezing, makeup, and hair appointment for you, Ma'am, and a makeup appointment for your daughter. And for her?" I looked up to see them eyeing me, and next thing I knew, I was sitting in a lazy-boy recliner, being pampered by soft hands. When I opened my eyes 20 minutes later, it was horrifying. It looked like someone had grabbed a black magic marker and traced my eyes with it.
"How is it?"
"Too much!"
"Can you erase, like, the black stuff?"
And so, I settled back into lazy boy bliss as she undid her previous artistry. I just wasn't used to staring at a painted face so I asked her 3 more times, and each time she successively erased a little more of the coal liner.
After my makeup session, it was time to wear my borrowed sari...but I didn't even know how to wrap that extensive fabric around me as elegantly as I'd seen Indian women wear it. So, like a princess, I stood with my arms outstretched in the salon while my makeup artist tucked and safety-pinned the sari around my waist and over my left shoulder.
After Taruna's and Misha's appointments had finished as well, all three of us headed to the wedding. I wasn't surprised that the next hour at the reception was spent taking pictures of the bride sitting, standing, smiling, and not smiling from every possible angle. Misha and I ran downstairs to look at the snacks being served.
"Do you want to eat now?"
"We can wait...no one else is eating yet."
"Why? It's all free. You don't have to pay any rupees. You can have as much as you want and it costs nothing."
And with that statement, I fell in love with Misha. We stood in line and sampled freshly made dosas, potato pancakes, mini pakoras, and fragrant pineapple and watermelon chunks.
Over the next hour and a half, I sat and stared at the other guests, laughed at the children dancing to (really bad) music, grabbed cups of lime soda whenever the waiters came around with their trays, and constantly adjusted my sari so that I wouldn't trip.
Finally, Hemant announced that the groom had arrived. I rushed outside with my camera to encounter a procession of dancing and singing Indians leading the groom through the parking lot. I couldn't gauge how tall or handsome he was because he was riding a horse and had 10-rupee notes taped all over his suit. To exaggerate his arrival, his horse stood gallantly in the parking lot for 10 minutes, while the groom's relatives danced around him. The bride's side was gathered at the entrance to the hotel, patiently waiting.
One by one, a relative of the groom's approached a relative of the bride's, exchanged handshakes, and received a gift of a garland of fragrant flowers and a comforter. After these formalities, the groom himself dismounted, was led to Reena's side, and together they walked to their queen-and-king throne on the stage in the wedding hall.
Fast forward through countless pictures, presenting jewelry to the bride, more garland-donning, and a final flurry of picture-taking...and the buffet was served. I helped myself to a sample of everything, and munched happily while watching the bride and groom pose for photos with relatives. Most of the guests magically disappeared once they had stuffed their stomachs, and it was finally the newly-weds' turn to share their first meal together. They fed each other their first bites, then finished the meal while their closest relatives stared smiling.
At about 11 pm, Hemant noticed that I was succumbing to sleepy eyes. I wanted to stay to watch the final official ceremony during which Reena and the groom were officially wed, but the day's events had worn me out. I'd seen enough to have a grasp of the customs of a Punjabi wedding, eaten enough food to satisfy me for the night, and danced in that gloriously pink sari to rhythmic Punjabi music. That was good enough for me, and my quest to attend an Indian wedding was checked off the to-do list.

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