Monday, 14 December 2009

On Weddings and Dances

Well the Bengali wedding was a pretty epic affair. I did manage to get my legs waxed (not that anyone but me was seeing them; this is India, after all) and fitted my trousers with a safety pin and some elastic (first scrubbed in Vanish and hung out to dry. It’s a mystery to me how so much filth can get into an over-priced tailor’s on a Calcutta street). I looked respectable enough and spent most of the actual wedding studying the beautiful silks of the saris. As all conversations not directed at me were in Bengali, this was just as well.

Here is a modern Bengali bride with mobile phone:

And here I am with Anurekha, the bride:

In some ways, it wasn’t so unlike weddings I’ve been to in the UK: lots of people milling around chatting while nibbles were served. In other ways, it was very different. No alcohol for a start (not that I’ve drunk any since I’ve been here, if you discount the two sips of Chang I sampled in Ladakh - a cross between paint thinner and vinegar). First of all, the bride sat on what I can only call a throne upstairs while guests came to greet her and chat. Later the groom arrived with his escort for more greeting and chatting, and he had a throne downstairs (with a water fountain at its back). I didn’t see him actually sit on his throne, but here is a young lad who thought he’d rehearse for his own wedding a decade or two in advance:

Weirdest to me was that as soon as the bride was brought downstairs, walked a few times round the groom, hidden from sight by a banana leaf, I was told: “This bit is really long. Come and eat now.” And so all the guests trooped out to dinner while the bride and groom actually got married! I rather wanted to stay and watch that bit but didn’t really feel I could while everyone else went for dinner. So here’s a moment of what I did see:

When the evening was over, I was invited back to the bride’s family’s house, where about a dozen family and friends (bride and groom included) sang songs until the morning. I’m very fond of a sing-along, but sing-alongs in Bengali are a bit beyond my capabilities. However, when my turn came, I felt it would be more embarrassing to refuse than to oblige, and so sang a song (in English) I dredged up from somewhere. At three in the morning, it wouldn’t have got me my grade 3 merit, but at least it was polite. Everyone did a turn, be it Bengali singing or poetry, and it felt rude to sit there and not join in. Then we all had a lie-down and I supplied dinner to a hungry mosquito. At around six, tea was served and shortly after that, company dispersed.

I was back in the early afternoon for lunch, more singing and the ceremony of the bride leaving her home with her groom:

It was a bit of a shock when I was called on to bless them as everyone else had done (in order of seniority, I believe) and I felt very inadequate and probably went very pink, not being much in the habit of blessing anyone. Nonetheless, everyone survived my clumsiness and here they are, leaving the family home:

The following evening, the groom’s parents hosted another event, this time to welcome the bride into their family. Here are Anurekha and Subroto, on remarkably good form after days and days with very little sleep:

It was a real privilege to be included in all the festivities and I was very grateful for it. However, I have nowhere near the stamina of a Bengali bride. The upshot was that between organising myself and the wedding, I caught a cold and did no sight-seeing in Calcutta at all, not even the Kali temple, which had been the only must-see on my list. Still, as I said to Paul, my librarian-friend in Ladakh, it’s good to have a reason to come back.

The next night, I was embarking on yet another 34 hour journey across India, heading south to Bangalore. My carriage-companions were rather more civilized this time round: no belching or spitting in the compartment, though an unfortunate habit in one of them of chucking his rubbish behind my bag (no wonder there are cockroaches – though at least no large mouse/small rat this time round. The peace of my slumber was rather disturbed after I saw one scuttling past the old lady opposite me and over my bag, too close to my head for comfort, on the second night of the journey to Calcutta – but amazing what you can ignore when you have to).

It was a real treat to have my friend Abhilash and his spare room waiting for me in his flat when I arrived in busy busy Bangalore. Abhilash was a big shock. When I first met him, he was a shy twenty-three year-old who spoke nearly no English and had just started dancing. Eight years later, he is as loquacious as you please (though has difficulty with my accent at times) and regularly jets about Europe in dancer-about-town mode. After ten days or so enjoying his flat and occasionally zipping about town on the back of his bike (which requires a certain sang-froid in the traffic here, even if it’s nearer what I’m used to than what I experienced in north India) I am now room-hunting to make way for his sister’s imminent arrival.

It seems I am to stay in Bangalore longer than I’d anticipated. After two months of wandering, it’s been a bit of a shock (not to mention a bit sore) to turn into a dancer all over again. I have been doing some teaching at Attakkalari, the local dance company, teaching some wonderfully polite if slightly doubtful diploma students. When one said to me about improvisation, “We’ve learnt that already,” I had to laugh (they’ve been studying dance for about three months). Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Let’s see if I’m up to it!

What will hold me here though is a rather surprising opportunity that has come up at the Alliance Fran├žaise. It seems I will be making and performing two pieces there at the end of January: a solo I’ve been mulling over for a while and a group piece with some local dancers. It feels slightly daunting, not knowing the ropes or the city or the people, and I can’t quite believe all will go according to plan. But as I argue with the rickshaw drivers doing their best to overcharge me, I am grateful, grateful, grateful for the opportunities here, while acknowledging that fulfilling them here in Bangalore will be a challenge.

Oh, and did I say that my computer is finally working again? After going round in circles asking bemused people on the street for what felt like an hour, I finally found the Acer service centre. They completely wiped and reformatted my computer ("Ma'am, you have a dangerous virus," I was informed), which in itself has involved more juggling to restore, but hurray, it is working once more!

So please wish me luck in the smog and the traffic and as I lose myself in roads that all look identical!

From Lucy, with love x


  1. Dear Lucy,

    Nice to hear from you again. Your 'marriage encounter' in Kolkotta seems to have given you few laughing moments... Most of the Indian brides have to go through this looong rigmarole. In fact, it gets tiring for the groom too... no wonder this looong encounter between the groom & bride does not leave any energy for the good things to come later!! lololololololool... Looks like in your b'lore sojurn you are going to playact a 'disco dancer' ......hahahahhahaha. Do post photos of you in different dance poses. hahahahahah. I agree on the identical roads & disorganized traffic in b'lore. So don't be lost!!

  2. Quite a journey, Lucy!

    I'd loved to hear more about your dance classes and performances in Bangalore.


  3. Hi Lucy! I am going to subscribe to your blog, everythig sounds amazing, including the rat near your bag on the train!
    That is a fantastic journey. Dance lessons and a performance with local dancers...what a great experience!.

    Lots of love and look after yourself.

    Big kiss,