Sunday, January 18, 2009

We Nearly Explode

Remember those old Timex torture test commercials?

You know, where they strap a cheap wristwatch onto some buff guy who then waterskis through a pool of piranha, only to smile soggily for the camera and proudly display his watch, which is still ticking, but always set to 10 minutes to 2? Well, if there was a torture test for stomachs, I think we've just been put through it. We survived. Barely.

Venu, along with four of his friends, came to pick us up in a spiffy hired SUV. We were supposed to leave around ten, but he arrived 15 minutes late. The boys and I were well tarted up in our brand new Indian dress clothes, so we headed downstairs from our room to meet the gang. The girls, dressed in their shiny new custom saris, were right behind us. Or so I thought. 5 minutes went by. Then 10. Venu began to nervously look at his watch and make that clicking sound, followed by a quick inhalation of air that is peculiar to South Indian men. He didn't want to miss his sister's wedding, and was starting to get stressed. We sent Miles back up to the room to fetch our recalcitrant duo, but he came back empty handed. More watch gazing and air sucking. Finally, our two lovelies made their appearance, looking resplendent in their perfectly turned out saris. They poured themselves into the SUV, and only after we had departed for the temple did the truth emerge.

Being a gentleman, I will leave it to my lovely wife to explain the sound reasoning for her tardiness. It is not for me to say. It was worth it though, because the girls looked really great.

After about a 40 minute drive, we arrived at the temple moments before the wedding was about to happen. I got some great shots as the priest worked his way through a somewhat abbreviated version of the Hindu ceremony, which normally can take in excess of 6 hours I am told. It was fun for us to watch the couple stumble over various points of protocol, as we remembered not having a clue what we were supposed to do when we got married in a similar ceremony 9 years ago. It was somewhat reassuring that it was difficult for these two! As I mentioned in my previous post, the bride's demeanor changed from the happy smiling girl of the previous evening to that of a ghost, and a somewhat nauseous ghost at that. At the end of the ceremony everyone was pleased it seemed, and many of the aunties we met at the party the previous day came by squeeze Laurel and Emma's hands to express their happy approval of their saris.

Next, we were all herded into a massive hall for lunch. Huzzah! Rows and rows of tables were laid out with newspaper. We were shown to our seats, where a big banana leaf was then placed before us. Men came by carrying little vats of pickle, rice, chutney, curd, and a few different curries, which were then piled onto our banana leaf plate. As with all South Indian rice meals, they only stopped serving food to you when you either fold over your banana leaf and concede defeat, or pass out face first into your food remnants. We opted for the former, though we came dangerously close to the latter. Then we were all herded outside for group photos. It seemed everyone wanted to get a picture with the Foreign Family That Wore Indian Clothes. Did I mention that there were a few hundred people there? "One more picture please, Mr. Robert". "Miss Emma, can we get some photos of you with my cousins?". We posed nonstop for about 40 minutes, and it really got to be a bit much. However, being Canadian, the last thing we wanted to do was be rude, so he happily complied with every request. Laurel and I were imagining the happy couple reminiscing over their wedding photos 20 years from now and thinking "Who the **** are these people, and why are they in all our photos?"

By now we were stuffed and tired, but we weren't' done yet. It was time to waddle to the groom's house for the traditional post wedding visit. The walk was only about 500 yards, but after a huge meal in the heat of the afternoon, it was a challenge to move at all. Some cool lime drinks were served at the house, and we politely said hello to some of the people we had met the day before. After hanging around for an hour exchanging pleasantries, it seemed that there a momentum to leave. We were stopped on the way out, and shown to a couple of tables. A kindly gentleman explained that "it is our custom that when a person visits a house for the first time, they cannot leave until they are served a meal". Laurel and I shot a look of panic at each other, but we knew that resistance was futile. We had to suck it up and take one for the team, which meant eating our second full meal within the hour. So down came the platefuls of chicken biryani, raita, and pappadam, and slowly but surely, the food disappeared from the plates. I caught the attention of the gent who explained this custom to me, and as he leaned over, I good-naturedly said "This isn't a custom, this is punishment!" He smiled, leaned a little closer and whispered conspiratorially in my ear. "Marriage is punishment". I laughed so hard that a chicken bone nearly shot out of my nose. "Don't tell the groom", I said.

Groaning under the extra load, and silently giving thanks for the miracle that is the draw string belt, we were ushered into the house for a quick tour, and... more photos! After finally exhausting all the combinatorial permutations of Foreigner and Family Members, we finally were able to express our thanks for being invited and oozed off into the sunset, narrowly avoiding leaving a trail like a slug. The boys slept most of the way home, while Laurel and I worked hard not to have our eyeballs roll back in their sockets.

Needless to say, we passed on dinner that night.

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