Monday, February 8, 2010

Hindu high jinx

Having nearly perfected the art of sari-tying, Sarah and I dutifully made our way to the Bhubanaeswar Club for Poonam and Debabrata's wedding. Poonam is the daughter of the State Information Commissioner and it was, as expected, a rather flash do. We were told it wasn't an entirely traditional wedding and from what I can gather this meant it was shorter than usual and the main event took place at lunchtime rather than late in the evening. It was my first Hindu wedding and, traditional or not, it was very different from your average English affair. For starters, it's the bridegroom who arrives in a smart white car covered in flowers whilst the bride patiently waits out of sight. You couldn't miss Debabrata's arrival though - he was preceded by a group of conch-playing acrobats, a live band and most of his male friends and relatives. The first time we got to see Poonam was when the parents pledged themselves to each other in a joining of the families ceremony to compliment the joining of the happy couple … except the bride looked far from happy. On enquiry, I found out that unlike an English bride, who is encouraged to smile throughout the day however nervous or sick she feels, at Hindu weddings the bride is expected to look sad because she's about to leave her family and looking happy about it is definitely not the done thing. After the family-joining ceremony, we wandered across the lawn to the dais where the main event took place. Even though it was supposedly shorter, it did go on for quite a long time. Fortunately, you weren't expected to diligently sit through the whole thing and there was a kind of garden party feel to the proceedings. There were rows of chairs in front of the stage but they were also serving a buffet lunch – with the usual mountains of food - which you could eat at large round tables under a fancy awning or you could just stand around and chat whilst watching the conch-playing acrobats. There was the occasional flurry of activity when people thronged towards to the front but to be perfectly honest I had no idea why or what was going on and I certainly missed the "I do" bit if, in fact, there was one. Then, although the ceremony still seemed to be going on, we realised that people were starting to wander off so we went went back to Sarah's flat for the rest of the afternoon before donning our saris again to return for the evening party. Here the guests had quadrupled in number and there was another enormous buffet - more like a food fair to be honest. People seemed really pleased that Sarah and I were wearing saris and we were made to feel very welcome - in fact I was quite surprised at just how many of Bhubaneswar's great and good I actually knew. The only thing missing was the alcohol – it really did feel strange to be togged up in my finery at a really smart wedding but not to have that glass of champagne in my hand. It didn't in any way spoil the day though which was both fascinating and good fun and we managed to slip in a quick glass of wine back at Sarah's before retiring to bed.  To see more pictures click here

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sari struggles

I've always thought I would like to try wearing sari but the problem was finding the right occasion. However, I've been invited to a rather flash wedding in Bhubaneswar - so I'm on a roll. Hand-woven saris from Orissa are famous across India particularly Sambalpuri (a type of ikat weave) and Bomkai (that includes intricate embroidery) and after visiting numerous Orissa stalls at a textile fair, I eventually plumped for a dark red and gold Bomkai one. An essential part of the sari is the blouse (choli) that sits underneath it and you have this hand-made for you from a piece of fabric included with the sari you've bought. Unfortunately, the local tailor had a month-long waiting list and it took a lot of pleading using every word I know in Oriya before he agreed to make an exception for me and do it in five days. The major problem, however, was how on earth you put the thing on. Lesson 1: Dillip offered the services of his wife as a personal tutor. She speaks about as much English as I do Oriya but fortunately she turned out to be a really patient teacher. First she put one on herself – it took about 30 seconds. Next she put one on me – 45 seconds. I was then invited to try myself. Disaster! A sari is about 6 metres long and it's all too easy to get lost in amongst all that fabric – quite literally! To begin with you wrap it once around your waist and tuck it into the underskirt (saya). You then abandon yards of cloth on the floor and concentrate on the other end where you take over half your height in length and fold it into 3 or 4 even folds – try doing that with a metre wide strip of fabric that you're already half wearing. You then throw this over your shoulder to form the palu that trails down your back. Oh - and I forget this every time – you need to loosely wrap the sari round yourself again before you start folding or you have to abandon your carefully-crafted pleats and start again. You then tighten the loosely wrapped bit across you chest and under your arm before returning to the previously abandoned fabric. You fold this into 7 to 10 even pleats (depending on how fat you are) and tuck them into the saya and "hela" as you say in Oriya. Confused? I certainly was. After several attempts I thought I might have cracked it but practicing on my own left me randomly enveloped in fabric and looking more like a sack of potatoes than the elegant effigy I was hoping for. Lesson 2: Geeta offered her services but she tied it in a completely different way to Dillip's wife and brought the pleated palu from the back to the front rather than the front to the back. As I was discovering, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Lesson 3: Back chez-Dillip, I had another lesson this time with my own new sari when I was informed that it's always much easier – particularly with heavy saris such as mine - to rope in a friend to help with those pleats. Sarah, who's also coming to the wedding, doesn't know it yet but both my modesty and my glamour depend on her ability to fold yards of material into perfectly even folds. Roll on Saturday.  To see more pictures click here.