"I've never been to an Indian wedding," she said, "All the girl's at work say it's a fabulous affair." Laura is a grandmother, having been to her own wedding, and the weddings of her daughters and friends who are still married, she simply gushes at the romance and weddings in general. Divorced, I prefer weddings as a spectator event today.
It had been more than 25 years ago that I was in Bombay. I was visiting with a doctor who was on vacation from working with Mother Theresa and we'd made a friend who was home for his grandmother's wedding. I will forever be thankful to him for the memory of friends riding through the parks in Bombay singing "Hey Jude" together. He'd invite me to his wedding in Chicago and I'd enjoy being one of the men he'd gathered for this august affair.
At Peter and Sarika's wedding eating with Gopaul he'd ask me what I remembered about Bombay. When I told him, he laughed and said, "It's all changed now. It's grown immensely. India is the second largest market in the world after China."
"I really want to go back, " I said, "I'd just love to motorcycle across India."
"The traffic is horrible now. There's an overturned lorry every km or so as reminder of all the accidents they have." he cautioned.
"Ah, but then I'd know that God still loves me every km or so of travel," I laughed.
When this conversation occurred we were already at the South Hall, standing in socking feet in the temple waiting for the bride. We'd met a couple of nights before at Ganesh and Anita's where the hand painting party, the Mehndi Ceremony, had taken place.
"I asked my East Indian friend at the hospital about this. She told me it's usually just the bride and the women that meet for the Henna tattooing. When I told her the guys were invited, she told me that meant it was 'open'. " Laura told me this while she was fussing with her make up.
After a long day at the clinic I was more inclined to lie down on the sofa with Gilbert and the television but showered and spiffed up because Laura was excited. The family really are pillars of the community who deserve the respect of one's presence when invitations are given to their daughter's wedding. I so admired the bright and loving son and wise and beautiful older daughter. I actually looked forward to seeing the beautiful younger daughter so spoken of her resilence and good cheer.
Most of all I admired Ganesh who stood up to an international ring of gangsters who broke into his shop, beating him and threatening him with guns. Where a lesser man would have given up and backed down, he continued to work. The video tapes and information he gave to the RCMP lead to the arrest and conviction of these jet setter criminals that had been terrorizing businesses all across Canada.
Now here was Ganesh, a kind of man Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry would acknowledge, handsome in his traditional cream Nehru jacket suit standing serenely beside his glorious wife, Anita who looked absolutely spectacular in her buttery yellow sari.
The perfect gentleman, Ganesh immediately introduced me to Vancouver's reknowned cardiologist whose company I was humbled to share. Like great clinicians, he shared that weariness I've come to know, but his eyes sparkled with delight in the company of his friend Ganesh. His wife, a community nurse, would warm Laura's heart taking her off to where they'd have henna tattoos together.
Scotty and Michelle had arrived earlier and Michelle was delighted with her painted hands. All over the girls were holding them up trying to keep them from being smudged. The painting was so intricate, filligree and byzantine.
Scotty and I were indulged in East Indian delicacies as Ganesh and Anita kept sending servers over and over again to our table.
"This is just the hor d'oeves, " Scotty said smiling, "The dinner's not served until later." Already stuffed with food, I looked back and said, "You've got to be kidding!"
"Really," said Scotty nodding in amazement.
Laura returned with an intricate henna tattoo on her shoulder. "Because we were in the hospital, we didn't get our hands painted since with all the washing we do it would come off too soon." Laura was very happy with her tattoo, now joining all the other girls and women in oohing and ahhing at each other.
The dancing was something else.
"I just love the East Indian people, " Laura said, "The men are so refined and the women are so glamorous." Ganesh had us all up dancing and I enjoyed watching the Caucasian lawyer in her green sari circling with the lovely Chinese girl decked out in sari and bangles. The older women were especially resplendant in bright sparkling crafted gold earrings and necklaces and bracelets. The Indian men began to circle themselves and do intricate footsteps with deep bends and jumps while the women apart weaved among themselves like brightly plumed birds.
Then the ceremony of first gifts took place. One of many kindly 'interpreters' informed me , "The first gift is water of the wells. In old days the women carried water from the wells on their heads but today it's much more ornate." In all the dancing Anita was outstanding. Much to Scotty and my surprise Ganesh was a very fine dancer himself, light on his feet and looking like one of the leads from the Bollywood movie classic.
"They're so beautiful together," Sonya told me. "Everyone knows how much Ganesh and Anita still love each other. It's just so beautiful." She gushed.
Sonya I'd learn later was Ganesh neice. East Indian families are really big and with their long lasting marriages and love of children intertwined and interconnected.
Sarika was the most beautiful of all her hands ornately painted in black and gold with similiarly painted feet and legs. She literally glowed. No one at all would have to ask who the bride to be was because she shone out from all the most beautiful women around her. She was truly radiant and her parents, family and friends were together to celebrate her long life, love and happiness.
Dinner was a grand affair. "We have to dance so much at weddings because of all the food," the woman next to me in the buffet line said laughing over her shoulder.
And that was just the intro. Laura and I rose early Saturday morning to get dressed for the actual wedding.
At South Hall we gathered with all the people we'd met it seemed only the night before. The men were all in suits and the women again outdid the flowers and birds with the beauty of their colourful saris.
We all had to cover our heads to be in the temple, the men each having kerchief's that reminded me of my Harley Davidson head bandanas. The girls were more styllish with shawls and scarfs.
Michelle said, "Do you hear the bag pipes." Michelle has very good hearing or it's just her youth because it was sometime before Scotty and I heard what she was hearing and Scotty is as Scottish as they come. But sure enough there were bagpipes. And yes, the Bagpies originated in India but given my own Scottish heritage I'd argue with anyone that the Scots bagpipes were the most refined.
The pipers and drums appeared with lovely dancers following. I felt like I was at a biblical scene expecting King David next to appear. And sure enough there was Peter looking like a modern day prince resplendent in his white suit carrying his ceremonial sword.
Inside we all took off our shoes. First breakfast was served and I had the pleasure of sitting with a young fellow who was the husband of a bridesmaid. We talked ofboats and fast motorcycles while the girls talked of other things.
Then the actual wedding began with prayers and chanting and amazing tabla drumming. The Groom entered and then the Bride each passing solemnly under the decorated arbour. During the ceremony they walked about the shrine four times. With the last of these regal walks they were married. Wall to wall there were men on one side, women on the other, chairs around the back of the hall, with the rest sitting and kneeling on the floor around the families of bride and groom. Above was the chandelier with great white gossamer drapes going to the four corners of the room. The harmonium music and tablas coupled with the chanting brought a sacred peace to the ceremony.
"She bride was so beautiful. She looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor," Laura said.
I couldn't help but think of Plato and the idealism of forms because the couple really seemed to represent that. So beautifully attired, surrounded by their parents, this beautiful young couple were starting the journey of their lives.
Children and families uniting, communities growing.
More eating of course. Large buffets of scrumptuous cuisine awaited us. We were feasted. It was good to see Anil. Ganesh's close friend had been unable to attend the Mehndi Ceremony because of a death in his family. Ganesh was so happy to have him there on this most important day. All the older East Indian men help each other during these community events that are such extravaganzas with so many people. Ganesh and Anil were both so concerned that the needs of the elderly. The older men were seen throughout watching over and ensuring the younger men were seeing to the needs of the ancients. Ganesh son really was exemplary in this regard. The women mostly cared for the little ones who were a joy to see in their finest costumes. Later when no one was watching these little ones would group together and run about playing and sharing secrets while us older ones moved a whole lot slower.
It was a sunny day. Laura and I took our leave. What an honour and a joy to be part of such a remarkable celebration amidst so much love. Ganesh prays each day. I've seen him in his work stopping all else to be with God. And here there was so much goodness. Truly humbling to see such gifts and partake in the richness of community and the spirituality of the Indo Canadian wedding.
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