HAPPENS IN INDIA !!
The cheap, glossy wedding invitation arrived, packed with Hindi script, presumably the
details of the marriage, but unfortunately unintelligible to me. The only part I could
understand was along a dotted line, where several stabs had been made at spelling my name.
The scribe had tried various spellings that had obviously been systematically rejected,
and the final solution was in the form of my two initials. A desperate attempt to disguise
the previous spellings had resulted in these initials being very large and very bold,
& almost etched into the card.
There was something rather heartrending about this. Had the card been expensive &
utterly professionally written in copperplate script, it wouldn't have touched me the way
it did. I would then have assumed it was to one of those enormous weddings where the main
objective is to show off to a capacity crowd how much the groom's family can afford to
fritter away, and where guests are just numbers. Guests at that type of wedding are often
merely there for a good night out, or perhaps from a sense of obligation. I have
frequently heard of invitations going to people actually heartily disliked by the hosts,
but nevertheless invited due to business or family connections.
I was informed by a friend at one such wedding I attended fairly recently, that certain
members of the hosts extended family were to be invited, despite the fact that they were
likely to be of a malign nature. It was likely that these characters would attend the
wedding in the hope of seeing something go wrong. Charming, I thought!
This cheap card said something different to me. I knew that it was from a rather poor
village family and, astonishingly, the groom was a small 15 year old. His job was
washing-up in the kitchen of a friend's hotel, and my view of him had previously been of
just a pleasant child. His voice had only recently broken and he had just the faintest
hint of a moustache. He was still only a kid! I mused on how old the bride might be; would
she be 11 or 12? Generally an Indian bride is a few years younger than her groom, but I
guessed that on her wedding day, she would spend several hours in the experienced hands of
a bridal beautician, and that the application of bridal make-up & body décor would
add a few years to her appearance.
It was a wedding that I really wanted to attend, partly because it would be a long time
until I would have the chance to see a couple of children getting wed, and partly because
I knew that for a village family, the attendance of a Westerner would be a source of great
pride to them. This pride is of a very innocent sort, and seems to generate from the
innate respect and fascination that villagers have for visiting foreigners. I'm not
flattering myself; maybe any Westerner would serve the purpose, but I was the one invited
for this occasion, and I felt honoured.
I decided to have a pair of shirts made with which to present the groom. The reason for
this was because I knew him only, but also because in most Indian weddings the bride is
heaped with clothes and jewellery, whereas the groom doesn't seem to receive any gifts at
all. At the same time I had a new shirt made for myself, and I was really looking forward
to the big day. The boy's employer was going to come with me so I had no worries about
transport, for the village, I was told, was deep in "the Interior".
This factor enhanced it as far as I was concerned. Me, going off into the unknown; an
intrepid explorer like Dr. Livingstone discovering virgin territory! There is no doubt
something thrilling about visiting a place previously unseen by Western eyes. Well,
needless to say, it all went pear-shaped; I was told rather late-in-the-day that my
co-visitor was delayed somewhere beyond Udaipur and couldn't get back in time to take me.
The very remoteness of the village was my undoing. Hardly anybody had heard of it and even
then there was only the vaguest idea as to its location. I thought about asking someone
with a vehicle to do me a favour by taking me there but discarded the idea, largely
because very few of my close mates possess cars here.
I toyed with the idea of taking a taxi, but decided against it because it would be a lot
to expect a driver to wait for the duration of the ceremony. I enquired about buses but
apparently there was no direct bus route, then, in a flash of inspiration, I called up my
friend Nikhil & almost persuaded him to take me on his motorbike. Nikhil was quite
prepared to go and so I dashed off to take a shower and dress, but the phone rang whilst I
was washing; it was Nikhil's father who had a notion where this village lay, but he said
the road was very isolated and of a poor standard. Furthermore, he prophesised that we
would either, a) run into obstreperous traffic police who would hassle us, b) lose our way
as it was by that time rather late, with only two hours of sunlight left or c) run into
highwaymen! I was defeated. Neither a), b) or c) held any charms for me and I couldn't
risk dragging Nikhil into unnecessary peril.
The whole idea was blown apart and I ended up spending the evening in a semi-sulk on the
balcony, with only a peg of rum for consolation. Oh well, this is India, as they say. Back
in Britain, many a plan was ruined by the weather. Here in India, the weather is more or
less dependable but just about anything else imaginable or unimaginable can happen!