Wedding season

January 30th, 20109:51 pm @

Getting a shot of the bride and groom

Our sometimes driver, Balbir, had been planning his niece’s wedding for weeks. On trips around the city he filled us in on the machinations involved as a suitable boy was found, relatives were invited and accommodation sought. As the day drew closer he became increasingly stressed as the needs of many and varied relatives were met and the numerous expenses paid for. We’d heard so much about it that it felt like we were part of the wedding. So when he asked us if we’d attend we jumped at the chance.

As we walked into the Gurdwara it was clear that until the arrival of the bride and groom, we were going to be the centre of attention for the guests. Pretty soon Balbir whisked us to an upstairs room where the young bride was having video and still cameras pointed at her. Decked out in a brilliant red sari and dripping in gold jewellery, she stood solemnly while the photographers and vieographers did their thing. Balbir told us to go stand with her. I really wasn’t sure about this. We had never met this young woman and yet here we were on her big day being photographed with her. “Congratulations. You look lovely,” I said as we smiled for the photographs. What else could I say? “So, how did you two meet? Any plans for the weekend?”

If you think the bride looks nervous, you should see the groom

With my own camera in hand we headed back to the reception where I was hoping to photograph the scene in front of me. It was pure gold in terms of photos and I was hoping for a lot of candid shots of people going about their business at the wedding. However, any attempt  at Cartier-Bresson-like stealth to photograph guests was scuppered by the fact that every move we made was being watched, either by a bunch of aunties gossiping in a corner or some uncles standing in a circle. Even the kids running about would stop and look as they ran past.

It was only with the arrival of the groom that we moved from being the centre of attention. Riding into the grounds on a horse, the young guy looked terrified. I know I was more nervous than I thought I’d be on my wedding day, but this guy looked like he’d signed up for a tour of duty in some far-flung war-ravaged corner of the planet. In fact, the look on his face suggested he might have been happier getting on a military plane.

When he entered, the crowd crushed around, eager to get a glimpse of the groom. For a long time various family members came up to present gifts, feed him sweets and be photographed with each other. Upstairs, the bride no doubt could hear the commotion and was waiting for her turn in the spotlight.

As we stood watching the commotion, one of Balbir’s daughters pondered how she should refer to us. My wife got “didi”, which means sister. I thought that was sweet and figured I’d get “bhaiyya”, meaning brother. “Oh no,” she said, a little horrified. “That’s not very respectful. You are ‘uncle’.” My wife laughed out loud. Uncle was for old farts with a glass of whisky in hand and a large moustache. Sensing my discomfort, his daughter came up with a different name, “jeeja”, meaning sister’s husband, which was a little better. Indian familial nomenclature is a long and complex affair, with words denoting the exact relationship of the person. The cousin of your maternal aunt’s husband will have have his or her own title. It’s quite possible to construct and Indian family tree just from the forms of address.

Eventually, Balbir’s daughters – who had clearly been given instructions to not leave us alone – took us over to the temple for the start of the ceremony. Not having been to many Sikh weddings, well, none, actually, I didn’t know to bring a head covering. When one of the daughters asked if I had a handkerchief and I said no, she knotted her brow and disappeared inside the temple, returning shortly after with a rather fetching bright orange piece of material with gold sequins on it. “Here,” she said, “I will put it on for you.”

If I stood out like a sore thumb earlier, I was now positively radiant in my headcovering, which had clearly been a sari in a previous incarnation. I figured it was some sort of penance for those who didn’t bring their own headcovering.

The drill was boys on one side of the hall, girls on the other and as were were there before anyone else I took up a spot on the far side of the hall away from my wife and Balbir’s daughter. Just me, on my own in my orange and gold headgear.

The ceremony was fairly simple and after a few prayers and circles around the Guru Granth Sāhib – the holy book of the Sikhs – it was all over and we were back in the tent for the next round of feasting. No Indian festival is complete without copious amounts of food and any leftovers here would be going to the local slum.

When the married couple arrived in the tent they were mobbed and paraded to a stage at the far end where it was their job to sit on a sofa and be photographed with each and every guest, including us. Again it was a touch odd. Shuffling in next to the groom, I smiled and said: “Congratulations, lovely ceremony.”

Looking up at me, he smiled wearliy and said “thanks”. We must have been the hundreth photo he’d posed for since arriving in the tent. As soon as the flashguns went off we were whisked away and the next couple planted beside the newlyweds.

For us, the day was over, for them it was just beginning.

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