Archive for Travel

Anatomy of an Indian Wedding: Part I

One of my better summers in life was spent at an all-girls finishing school in Montreux, Switzerland, about 3 years ago. I was there for a month, but the friends I made there have since lasted and still going strong. A few months ago, my house mate invited me to her wedding in Delhi, India. Our rooms were adjoining, and we had a lot of laughs during my stay, and I really wanted to go to her wedding, for two reasons: first, she was a good friend and I loved her, but more because, well, it was an Indian wedding. So my father, my fiancee and I packed our best evening attire, hopped on a plane and went to India.

After receiving a glamorous invitation as big as a coffee table book in the mail (which included two rows of chocolate, delicately adorned with the same design as the invitation itself), we knew for a fact that we were in for an extravagant affair. The invitation was for four nights, and that made me feel really bad for the bride, and for the amount of make up and hair dressing it was going to take. But it made us feel pretty excited.

The first night was hosted by the bride’s parents (apparently these things are important) and it was called Musical Evening. It was held at what I can only call “wedding venue”, which I guess was a tent, though I’m not sure about the details. The whole place was made up in a night club atmosphere with a huge stage, a huge bar which proudly displayed Black Labels of as many years as I, and extravagant flower arrangements. My own engagement party had been held only two weeks prior, so I had an eye for that kind of detail, and I was like a hawk looking around the table settings. The musical entertainment was in three parts (or at least we left during the third one) and the first one was “India’s answer to Shakira”, whose name was Sophie Choudry. She spoke flawless English, but we found later that this was not extraordinary in the least, or the fact that she spoke only in English. Her show was a huge affair with many  male dancers in the background, lights and special effects, and it was amazing. After her, there was a less famous person who sang, and afterwards, a couple of what I only can describe as “rappers” came on the stage, and they were also really, really good. By then, our jet lag was making itself known, and we had fed ourselves from the amazing buffet. It was all vegetarian, but still, pretty delicious and with a huge range that can’t be described but felt.

The next morning was the Mehendi Celebration (mehendi basically means henna). It was held at the bride’s house, and included a nice breakfast buffet. We have the same thing here, though apparently the customs and the reasons for it are different. I believe theirs have something to do with an official invitation to the wedding, for the bride’s side. Anyway. Professional mehendi artists were employed, and I got to have these intricate designs on my palms, and they had this huge assortment of bangles as party favors. There was also live music of more traditional nature. Then there was the whole ritual, and the bride crying, which are similar to our traditions as well. A tradition they have here is that the bride gets the groom’s name written somewhere in the mehendi, and he’s supposed to find it – this shows that he has a sharp eye and an active brain. I had my fiancee’s name written as well, but mine looked bad since I kept accidentally closing my palm. You’re not supposed to touch anywhere for two hours so the material dries up and falls apart itself. It’s been almost a month since I got it done, and it just came off a few days ago. The decoration was also reds, oranges with lots and lots of flowers and flowing materials, which was again wonderful.

According to Indian tradition, the henna motif symbolizes the transformation of the bride from a young virgin girl to “a temptress for her husband”. Also according to Kama Sutra, henna is one of the sixty four arts of women (now this got me curious about the other sixty three, but I’ll think about that later). It is also said that the more the henna stains, the more the bride will be loved by her in-laws.

In the Turkish tradition, the henna tradition is a bit different. We only put a blob of henna on our palm, keep it there for about half an hour, and that’s about it. The henna itself is placed on the palm of the bride by her mother-in-law, and she also places a golden coin in her palm. The rest is similar, though in Turkey more people are prone to dancing than Indians, which is a surprising fact I have observed, but will address later.

I guess the Indian weddings are more of an elaborate affair than I thought, since I have two more nights to go and I’m running out of time. I’ll write the rest later. Stay tuned.

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I Do Love Beirut

I’ve recently been to Beirut. Beirut is not one of those places I wanted to go to, but an opportunity presented itself, and I said “why not”. I really didn’t know what to expect, because you hear all these stories about the Middle East, but hey, it’s only an hour and a half by plane. So I went there, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s so amazing. The new Downtown district has been completely rebuilt, and looks as posh (or even posher) as any European city. The restaurants are top notch, the food is better than anything I’ve tasted. The nightlife is enough to satisfy anyone. The people are actually nice, as far from snobbery as can be. All of them speak English (and usually French, too) so communicating is never a problem. I would recommend it to anyone.

Since I have to go to a bookstore in each country I go to and browse every English title, it’s no surprise that I loaded up on books. I read in Time Out Beirut about this book called Beirut, I Love You: A Memoir by Zana El Khalil and I had to give it a read. I finished it yesterday, and I really can’t decide if I like it or not. The writer, Zana El Khalil, is an artist. She lived in Nigeria and USA. She moved to Beirut for college, after the war, as the city was just getting used to peace. It’s sex, party and rock’n roll for the people. How nightlife was a must for everyone, because that’s how people forgot. She talks about September 11, when she actually watched the towers go down in New York, and she actually had to move back after people began to give her the evil eye. She makes some good points, on how American TV series gives us the feeling that our lives are just not cool enough, how everyone has a better living experience in New York etc. How NYC gives people freedom, one that is difficult to find in the Middle East. She talks about the war, of course, and how people began to “get used to it”. It’s heartbreaking.

Since it’s a memoir, she mostly talks about the people in her life. Many, many men in her life, and how dysfunctional each one of them was. Her best friend, Maya, who helped her stick to Beirut in times of difficulty. But mostly, this is a love letter to Beirut. She identifies herself with Beirut on every level. When Beirut is drowning, so is she. She stays in Beirut through thick and thin, though she has a foreign passport, she just can’t bring herself to live.

She uses brilliant imagery, though sometimes it’s disturbing. Mostly it’s describing things. Short dialogues and strange events. But you really get a vivid picture of what’s going on, both in the author’s mind and in Beirut at that time. It helped me get a better insight into what’s happened, though that shouldn’t be the reason you read it, since it won’t be enough on that front. It’s just a different read, something fresh and original.

This is her artwork, and this was her blog during the last war in Beirut.

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