Of course today was the day we were meant to depart the Punjab via train headed to Delhi. But late last night, at Rahul’s wedding function, we changed the plans (again) and cancelled the tickets. We were refunded 50% of the ticket money. Instead we would stay until the 20th of January, therefore attend the wedding on the 18th and stay in the Punjab for Ash and my birthday as well on the 19th.
We woke with the Indian beats and a little bit too much scotch from last night stinging the mind. We had been invited to numerous family functions earlier in the day, but thought the only way we could all stay up tonight for another late night function was to let everyone sleep in.
We dressed and had brunch. There really aren’t that many foodie places to go around here – well none that we could find. So for the last few days we had been eating from fast food outlets – KFC one day, Subway another. We ate lovely Indian delights at the wedding functions in the evenings, including lots of ice-cream (which made the girls happy). We watched the homeless congregate outside the fast food stores, waiting for people like us to enter and then exit just hoping for some rupee or food to be handed to them. They would follow us down the street, talking in Hindi or Punjabi and begging, and often they would tap on our leg or arm or pull at our clothes to get our attention asking for money. Many were very young kids. Many were young mothers holding a baby bundled up in a blanket in their arms. Others were sick, diseased, blind or missing limbs. It was awful having to ignore their pleas.
It’s a case of having to walk on, shaking the head saying no. But they persist. I have watched the young street kids around the taxi area near our hotel room, often seeing them begging to everyone even other Indians. I have watched some of the Indian people give them loose change. Just yesterday I saw a middle aged woman hand a foil package of homemade food to a young Indian girl who was begging, with what looked like her grandfather who was blind standing behind her with his hand on her shoulder. I had been seeing them around the streets, this girl and man, stand and wait outside the more popular stores begging. But they not asking or prodding or following people. They just stood out the front of the door looking. I had watched them day in day out. I couldn’t help myself and I handed her a 100 rupee note when I first saw her. The girls said, “mum haven’t you seen Slumdog Millionaire film – you’re not helping her.” It was agreed after the second day of me handing over another 100 rupee that I wouldn’t hand her any more money, but instead would buy her and her elderly companion food.
That day, she saw me walking towards her and smiled such a sweet and innocent smile, that it broke my heart. I walked away, not understanding how a young girl, the same age as my own daughter would never have the opportunities they have in their life. And I walked away not really knowing if the whole thing was a scam – maybe the old guy just bought booze or drugs on the money he was handed. But my heart felt broken and I sobbed all the way down the street. Steve gave me a hug, and we walked along in the midday sunshine with the street life happening all over again. I just kept thinking she didn’t ask for this life, how will she ever become anything more than a street beggar? Life just isn’t fair. She should be at school, playing in the park, dreaming up fairytales. But instead she was standing outside shops all day and pleaded with patience. I wiped away my tears, the girls each hugging me tightly too, and walked away glancing back and noticing her happy little face.
The Actual Wedding
We jumped into the same 6-seater tuk tuk (as last night) and were dropped off at the Model Town Market area where the groom’s family lived. We were now fully confident getting there, and knew which street to get dropped off at and walk up. This was it – the final wedding in the Punjab, and we would rebook train tickets for the 20th to Delhi. We had also talked at lunch time with the girls about what we should do on our birthdays the next day. Charlie came up with a great idea: visit the India-Pakistan border and watch the border closing ceremony. This ceremony occurred daily and attracted visitors from afar on both sides of the border. I had wanted to do this since we had been in the Punjab, but we just didn’t have enough time to get there and back with all the wedding functions we were attending. “Perfect” I shouted; Ash a little less enthusiastic.
We got ready for our last wedding, across the road again with the neighbour helping us into our saris. We walked back to the family home, and the groom was seated on a chair with necklaces of rupee cash placed over his neck. I think in total about 25 necklaces hanging around his neck. He wore a heavily jewelled white cap with tassels hanging from it and held a smile for the Bollywood camera and videographer. I got in amongst it as best I could to snap my own photos. Then the band standing outside the front door in the street played loud music with drums and trumpets. The room vacated to outside, and surrounded a white wedding horse standing there amongst the music waiting for the groom. Spanish Rahul got into the saddle, with more photos and video leads and movement of lights, and sister in laws getting up onto platform having photos with the groom sitting on the horse. It seems the lead up to the actual wedding is the most jovial part of the entire wedding! Then the groom on his white horse rode down the street (sounds like a fairy tale), with the female members of his family including his mum, sisters, sister in laws dancing in front of the horse (facing the camera) while traffic beeped and the rest of the crowd walking behind.
Someone found a taxi for us, and a few of the family’s kids jumped in and sat on our laps in the car. Steve had two young boys sit on his lap in the front seat of the car. We arrived at the function centre and fell out of the tightly packed car.
The wedding function centre called FS Farms was set on huge acreage with a palatial function centre room. Food stalls were set up on the outer perimeter with chairs and tables in the centre – some with fires lit to keep guests warm. There was also coffee stand, drinks (this time there was whisky), and the largest array of authentic vegetarian dishes. It was also a cool 9 degrees Celsius with the fog set in. We shivered in our saris and wore our backpacking jumpers over the top, and although I’m not a fan of whiskey, I had a couple to just warm me up on the inside! The expected number of people attending this night was between 500-700. They are friends of friends of friends, often the bride and groom not knowing many people personally. But Indian weddings in the Punjab are all about family and their community – the more the merrier! The function just that night, I was told, cost about A$33,000…! These lovely people we have gotten to know are not super rich, but they save and save and save for their children’s wedding day (oops week) and it’s considered one of the biggest days, and biggest turnouts, of their life.
As we sat outside shivering at one of the tables and chairs, we could heard the marching band approaching along the long walkway, but couldn’t quite see them due to the now thick fog. Once close, it was an amazing demonstration of dancing family members (all women) and a groom on a decorated white horse. The two families would meet and exchange gifts – the gift of a warm blanket was the gift of choice at both weddings.
I’m glad we changed our plans and stayed to celebrate with Spanish Rahul. He is such a lovely man who lives about 100km outside of Barcelona and owns and operates a beach shop there.
We found a place to sit ourselves inside at a round table, and we enjoyed more food and drinks and dancing. The Indian beats were up and there were many people asking us up onto the dance floor. We learnt quickly that dancing was the quickest way to get warm and stay warm! We had a wonderful time. Then the bride walked in, ushered by the male members of her family who carried the rectangular length plant made netting over her head to the groom. Once the bride was on the stage, it was time to sit back down, and watch the procession of group family member photos taken up on the stage with the bridal couple.
And then, a cake was delivered to our table and placed between Ash and me. A happy birthday song and a cutting of the cake with the handle of the nearest piece of cutlery on the table – a spoon! The Indian custom is to pick a piece of the cake up with fingers and offer it to the birthday person. So we ate from their hands over and over. We did this, and then all of a sudden Ash had large dobs of cake placed on her cheeks and forehead. She was shocked and stood up. Ankit and company placed more cake on her face, pretty much wiping the cake all over her face until her whole face was caked with a mixed chocolate and cream colour mess. This is apparently a good luck custom at birthdays in Indian culture. By this time, she was standing up, just trying to get a breath in, and I was seated laughing so hard that I didn’t see the hand with the cake coming at me! Then they all had a go smearing chocolate and cream all over my face. I just sat there and let it happen! Lots of fun and very happy to be a part of a traditional Indian birthday custom at the stroke of midnight while attending a wedding function in a sari.
We cleaned the fake cream from our faces, and just continued on. The cake was a pile of a mess that sat on the table all night until we left at 2am.
We were invited up onto the stage for a family photo with the bridal couple (no cake to be seen) – we are now part of the Punjab family – and left the function centre with a happy yet sticky face into a cold and foggy night.
What a night! So glad we stayed with our Punjabi family. Thank you xx