As I am sure many of you know, I planned my return to India and APV around my good friend Christoph's wedding. And those that know this info must also know about the peculiarities surrounding the wedding; so peculiar in fact, that the story has become my most favorite to regale.
If you have not had the pleasure to indulge in my regalement of Christoph's wedding, I will catch you up with the alegrabic equation below:
Chad + Christoph + UW Hindi Program + AIIS Hindi Program = Deep Friendship
Christoph + Brilliant Mind + Hindi = Christoph's Hindi Institute in Delhi
Christoph + Settled + Biological Clock = Desire for Marriage
Christoph + Cute Indian Gal = Crush
Crush + Christoph's Colleagues' Connections = Arranged Marriage for Christoph
Crush Being Muslim = Christoph's Conversion to Islam + Certain Medical Procedures
Sum of All = Christoph's Muslim Wedding! = च्रिस्टोफ की पागलपण
Now, this equation might be a tad confusing, and I entirely don't know what to make of my friend's very important decision. But I do recognize his incredibly thoughtful nature, so I am certain that the beauties and sacrifices of this union have been carefully measured and the gravity weighed. I can also understand the difficulty in meeting women in India given that in my two years in this great country I have made eye contact with only a handful of women, most of those coming from a celibate ashram. So, in a country where the majority of marriages are a compromise of parents, going through the proper familial channels to find a partner is still the norm. In America it is crazy. I guess this makes Christoph half crazy, but I still love the guy and support him wholeheartedly.
So I left England cultivating images of a beautiful crossroad of cultural celebrations and quite excited to see my first Muslim wedding. In many ways, I should have tempered my imagination, for it still was an Indian wedding, and I still quite dislike Indian weddings apparently no matter how white or Muslim they can get.
I shouldn't get ahead of myself, though. Upon arrival to Delhi, I discovered Christoph's flat/Hindi Institute had been completely taken over by quite interesting and compassionate family members from America. I really enjoyed getting to know these people a be privy to their quite beautiful encounter with Rani's (Christoph's wife) family. I was especially impressed how Christoph's father (who is one of my favorite people even prior to the wedding) embraced every aspect of the wedding experience, from hand feeding sweets to Rani's father, to Bhangra dancing with the reception's Yar contingent, to getting henna tattoos on his hands.
BUT, the rest of the wedding was filled with waiting, confusion, standing, paying bribes, offensive Imam diatribes, and a whole lot of dysentery, a lot of dysentery.
So Christoph is white, this should by now be established. There is a tradition in India for workers in the wedding service sector to ask for tips for servicing such auspicious occasions. Unfortunately his white skin effectively amplified this effect, making seemingly every person trying to get at his pockets. Some of the most memorable instances were when the bus driver that took the groom's party to the wedding ceremony in Jaipur asked for 11,000 rupees for a tip and hijra's 20,000 rupee demand. Hijras for those not as familiar with Indian culture, are castrated men who dress in drag and have a interesting place in Indian society. I don't know the entire background but I do know they are considered very auspicious for joyous events, weddings, new houses, etc. They are quite deft in finding such events and demanding exorbitant rates for there blessings. If you don't agree you get a curse. Apparently, you don't want a curse. Christoph got the two hijras to leave with a 500 rupee bill and a promise for more to come later. No curse for now.
Another interesting part of the wedding was the Imam that was arranged to oversee the ceremony. I later learned from a Muslim friend that there is a tradition for the crowd to give the Imam a small donation after the wedding. We had the privilege of having a very entrepreneurial Imam who saw a western audience as a prospective cash cow His way to woo us in his mind was to give a fiery, quite conservative tirade on how the world is converting to Islam. While most of us foreigners couldn't understand his hour long Urdu speech (thank God/Allah/YHWH for this), he did save arguably his most offensive bits for English. "I have been to Canada and the US. I have seen that most children do not know there parents' names, am I right?" Wah. The only enjoyable part of his time on the wedding platform was a song that he preformed brilliantly that has been etched in my heads ever since. "Sweet Medina, sweet Medina, sweet Medina, sweet Medina, very lovely." That was the chorus, sung to hypnosis for about five minutes. Every once and a while he would throw in an awkward tangent, "Medina very nice place for you and me, Medina is nice place and very green." Seriously, I cannot get the song out of my head.
In any case his plan backfired, not only did the Americans not pay him, or know that they had too, but Muslims in the audience did not as well.
Aw yes and the dysentery. Wedding food is infamous for production of gut explosions. Blame this on unsanitary preparation, mass production, and the way it sits out unheated for hours. I knew from the onset that I probably would catch something, but hours of waiting and standing does wonders for one's appetite, so I went in swinging, devouring plate after plate of biryani, delicately served to me by my three personal assistants (white people get the red carpet treatment at many Indian weddings). I went down, actually most of us Americans went down, even the iron belly of friend Luther, who prior to the wedding had been traveling around the tribal regions of Madya Pradesh, drinking the water, eating the food. After two days of unhindered sleep, a terrible fever and headache, and many trips to the loo, I recovered. I view it as an opportunity to work in my stomach preventing such problems in the future, but it was no fun. Especially when I wanted to spend time with the newly weds.
But if I had to do it all over again, I would. Christoph is a special dude and this indeed was a special wedding. It was such a pleasure meeting both families and in the brief moments that I got to share with Rani, she seems like a real catch, Great sense of humor, quite humorous and self-assured. I think that this arranged marriage thing just might work out. Rad.