I have just returned from another extravagant trip, this time to New Delhi, for a friend's wedding. Given I have not even managed to write about my March/April trip to Australia on this blog yet, bar my lay-over in Singapore, this is going to disturb the chronology. But blogs are fluid instruments, the readership is no doubt intelligent, and I will get back to the Aus birds at some point, but the wedding was too good not to get up straight away. There were of course some birds, mainly Hoopoes.... but they can wait.
So, Andy marries Disha, Disha being the New Delhi connection. I received a phone call from Andy somewhat out of the blue, in mid Feb, saying that the family had finally relented (several years of pain and difficulty) and that it was game on. In April. No time like the present I suppose, and anyway best get it sealed before anyone has a change of heart. So would I like to be put up in five star hotel in New Delhi for three days? Yes, I rather think I would, despite the certain blow to the BP stash. A cheapo flight was procured, jabs were had, a Visa was granted, most critically a field guide to the Birds of Northern India was purchased, and I was on my way.
Monday Night - Engagement Party at Claridges
The swimming pool courtyard at the hotel was transformed over the course of the day by a small army. Serving staff recieved their orders, and at about 7pm the event kicked off with a ceremony which I do not confess to understanding. But whereas here getting engaged is a pretty casual affair between the happy couple, followed by phoning the families and then organising beers with your mates, for Hindus it is a larger and more formal event, with lots of exchanging of items, laying things on each others laps, and involving the whole family on both sides and several hundred guests.
As this was a formal occasion, the venue was fully decorated, and everyone dressed up, and the colours and patterns were simply stunning. There is no nice way to say it, but weddings in this country and incredibly dull and sterile in comparison.
This was followed by a Bollywood presentation performed by Disha's sister and cousins, which was a particular highlight, especially for the bachelors in the room. And for the married men actually... Again, none of the European contingent really understood the songs, but the storyline as I saw it, presented across several numbers presumably taken from incredibly well-known films, seemed to be "boy meets girl", "girl plays hard to get", "boy tries too hard and makes a prat of himself", "another boy comes along", "original boy becomes very sad", "girl takes pity on boy", "mother forbids daughter to see either boy", "daughter becomes very sad", "slightly illicit relationship starts to develop", "boy finally accepted by family", "they all live happily after (other than second boy presumably)". Possibly I read too much into it, or at least tried to draw too many parallels with Andy's particular journey, which thinking about it makes at least some of the themes slightly unlikely to get major focus at an engagement party, but it was great fun nonetheless, and got the crowd going. A quick bite to eat around the magnificently transformed courtyard, followed by a disco where I discovered that I cannot dance to Indian songs any more than I can to European ones.
Andy's Socks. What was he thinking?
Tuesday Night - Wedding at the Taj Palace
Andy and Disha's Engagement was very brief - about 15 hours in fact. The party ended at 3am and the wedding started at 8pm on the same day. When Andy moves, he moves fast! At 7pm we assembled for some special headgear, and a pre-wedding blessing by one of the priets (although I was unfortunately in the bar admiring my new look in the mirror when that happened). We then drove in convoy to the Taj Palace hotel, only to be waylaid by a party of drummers! Actually this is no surprise - throughout Hindu weddings a number of games take place, and this is the first - the Bride's family engage a troupe of drummers to drive the Groom and his party away. they get paid twice, as custom dictates that the Groom et al then pay the drummers to leave, which we did, but not before a lot of very loud drumming and dancing in the street. Once we dispensed with the drummers, the Bride's party then "realise" that nothing will stop us, so decide instead to welcome us, which they then do, with a lot of garlands and flowers that they have lying around just in case this eventually should occur. So we passed through a tunnel of cousins and friends and emerge into the most sumptuous place I have ever been in my life. Claridges down the road had previously held this honour, but the Taj Palace is on another level entirely.
Another small ceremony took place up the front, whilst dancers and a bangra band played in one corner. Then the bride and groom posed for endless photographs, and finally we could eat - it was about 11pm by now. No drink, but there you go. The wedding proper started at midnight, outside under an Mandap a kind of awning. There were four low couches arranged in a square around. On one side were the priests, opposite sat Andy (no Disha yet), his parents on the right, and Disha's parents on the left. A very complex ceremony then took place, involving lots of food items. Again, I don't pretend to understand what was happening, but there were many spices, some fruit, other food items, some money - all used as symbols around a sacred fire in the middle, and a lot of chanting of mantras from the Vedas. At certain points in the ceremony relatives stepped forward to perform various parts. I have to say it was fascinating, but given that it started at midnight and went on until 4am, it was pretty hard to follow. That wasn't a problem - you could engage as much or as little as you like - most people were chatting or wandering around, and some were actually asleep. The wedding ceremony in the Mandap is almost a peripheral event.
Anyway, a great night, and a real eye-opener. I'll show you a few of the birds later, they were pretty good too. Especially the Hoopoes.