India has a lot to show and a lot to say as well! Besides messages like “No guns allowed”, “No smoking, smoking here is an offense” in all public areas and “Think of those who wait for you” or “Do not pee” on the street, you see things like below:
When I received the invitation to India, I was not sure what to expect. My knowledge about this part of the world was based on information I got from other people who already went there and a few TV documentaries. I did not research and I did not plan like I usually would do before any trip. I just went “with the flow”.
I had preconceived ideas of how things would be. Like everyone else, I was influenced by my environment and my upbringing. But as soon as I got out of that plane, everything changed. This not only made me learn and realize many things but also ask myself many questions too:
I’m definitely never going to take anything for granted anymore. It was one unforgettable experience!
More pictures from my India collection can be found on Flickr!
Below, a few consolidated tweets about India during my visit from 5 till 15 May, 2011 under the hashtag #rkindia.
Weddings says a lot about one’s culture and Punjabis have a unique way to prepare for the big day.
There are a LOT of rituals that are performed in both families of the to-be-wed couple. Every single one of them is done for a purpose and means something.
The Roka Ceremony
The roka or saith ceremony, is an announcement that the boy and girl have found their soulmates and will look no further for a life partner. The girl’s mama (mother’s brother) gives her the nath (nose ring) which she will wear on her wedding. The origin of this ceremony lies in the arranged marriage norm where the parents would let out the world that they are looking for a suitable match for their son or daughter. And once they had found that match, their search had come to an end. Though rings are not exchanged, the couple stand unofficially engaged after this ceremony.
The Sagan and Engagement Ceremonies
A pandit performs ‘havan’.
Then all the relatives and friends of the girl’s side come forward to bless the prospective groom, offer sweets to him and give him cash/gifts. In return, the girl’s family receives baskets of seven dried fruits: almonds, cashewnuts, chuahara, coconut pieces, raisins, khurman (dried apricots). The girl is draped with a chunni by the sister’s boy as a token of acceptance of the girl in their family.
She is also presented with jewellery, which her mother and sister-in-law help her wear. A tiny dot of mehendi is applied to her palm for good luck, and the function is sealed with the exchange of rings. Everyone present congratulates the couple by feeding them sweet.
Mehendi and Sangeet Celebrations
Mehendi takes place in the atmosphere of a party. The bride and other ladies get mehend done, on their hands and feet. Ladies get it done only on their hands but the bride gets it done on both hands and feet. For the bride the mehendi is sent by the future Mother in Law.
Sangeet is a musical program. Wedding folk songs are sung and all the relatives and friends dance to the tunes of the music. This ceremony is considered auspicious as the wedding songs are said to be full of blessings for the prospective couple. Also, this ceremony becomes amusing with interesting songs with teasing punches for the prospective couple and dance performances by every younger and elder member of the family.
The Wedding Ceremony
A havan is conducted by the pandit.
The bridegroom is applied a paste of turmeric and mustard oil and is bathed by water brought from the temple.
His maternal uncle presents his attire. After he has bathed and changed into his new clothes, puja is performed. The boy’s father or an elderly relative is given the honour of tying the “sehra” on his head. A pink colour turban is first touched by all the relatives present before it is tied on the boy’s head. The Ghori Chadna is the final ceremony at the groom’s place. The boy’s eyes are lined with surma to ward off the evil eye. He is then seated on a female horse and his sisters tie a mauli (sacred thread) on the reins of his horse. They also detain the horse in the tradition known as baagpakdai, saying that they won’t leave it’s reins unless their brother bribes them. Once they are satisfied with the cash or jewellery bribe, they release the reins so the groom can gallop off to the venue.
The father, brother, uncles and grandfathers of the groom embrace the corresponding members of the bride’s family.
When they enter the venue the bride is brought out and the couple exchange garlands. The bride and the groom accept each other and will love and live together with one and other.
At the time of muhurat, the purohit conducts a puja for the groom, in which the groom is asked to chant the first few mantras. It is during this time, when the bride’s sisters indulge in stealing of shoes. It is a fun tradition, in which the girls charge a fee for agreeing to return the shoes.
The wedding concludes with the seven pheras round, where the couple exchange vows in front of the sacred fire. The groom applies vermilion to the girl’s hair partition and ties a beaded necklace to the girl’s neck. When all these rituals are over, the couple gets up to touch the feet of all the elder members in the family and seek their blessings for a happily married life.
Congratulations to Nishank & Kanika!
PS: If you think there is something missing or needs correction do not hesitate to send an e-mail.
There I was: waiting for boarding time while reading an issue from Chasseur D’Images, a French photography magazine. It wasn’t too long before a man sitting next to me engaged conversation: “Are you a make up artist?”
The page I was reading was about beauty and fashion photography, so, obviously it caught his eye. “No, but I’m interested in photography”, I replied. Next thing you know, he’s a jewelry designer who traveled a lot. “Are you going on vacation?”, I asked. “Yes, I am! To Fuket island. Do you know Fuket island?”. Well, I knew Phuket. Could it be that’s what he meant? (Why do we, Lebanese, need to be so original?) As he was tailing his adventures in Brasil, I went on asking him what place was the best so far. “Tripoli! Tripoli is the best place to be! I’m a like a fish out of the water when away from Tripoli. I’m from Tripoli by the way.” That’s cute, I thought. So many aspired to leave the country while this man feels there is no place like home. I wish there were more people like that.
On Qatar airline’s plane, I sat next to the window, a man sat on the end of the row leaving the middle seat empty. “Hello! Where are you from?” he asked with a smile. With my own big smile I replied with pride: “Lebanon! I’m Lebanese!”. He thought I was German. “You’re not the first one to get lost”, I reassured him. And the investigation went on about my destination, my reasons for traveling, what I did in life. This man turned to be a shoe retailer on his way to China for business. A few hours later, a complaint was raised by the man sitting behind me. We were arriving to destination and he was insisting on getting something alcoholic to drink. He made it clear that it wasn’t the first time he few this airline yet it was the first time that a drink was refused to him. The hostess had to explain the regulations and that there was nothing she could do at this time. “The bar has to be closed 30 minutes before arriving to Qatar. It’s an Islamic country with strict regulations concerning alcohol. But you may file a complaint, if you wish”… which he did. “I feel really sorry for the hostesses, said the man next to me, You have no idea about the amount of crap they have to put up with during long flights.”
Unfortunately for me, the food served on the plane was spicy. Why didn’t the agency ask me if I had food preferences? A question to be asked on the way back, that’s for sure.
The small positive encounters make time go faster. Two hours and a half later I met with the soon-to-be-old airport as a new one was under construction. Good thing the experience was going to temporary. The plane to New Delhi was huge and full. I got seated in a place I did not like. (Why didn’t the agency ask me if I had a seating preference again?) This flight was long and difficult for me. Turbulences were announced and more spicy food! On this flight, though the treatment was even friendlier. A staff member ensured I get something to eat. “It’s a long flight. It’s better if you ate something.” Suddenly, some men stood up and started praying next to the exit door. The multitude of cultures one could meet on a plain is fantastic.
I did not sleep much. When we arrived and stood up to leave the aircraft. The man who was sitting next to me and who happened to be a Sikh asked me what business I had in India and where I came from. “I’m from Lebanon and I came to attend a friend’s wedding.” He looked at me for minute and said: “He must be a very special friend for you to fly all this way.”
Indeed he was, we had met at university in Nice, France back in 2005. I didn’t see him since but we kept contact. Now that I think of it, this was a memorable trip. I made friends from all around the world and I’m still in contact with many of them. Enriching at all levels, to say the least.
My Indian friend picked me up at the airport. I went to the wrong side of the car. “We drive on the other way”, he reminded me. I laughed. It was so good to see him after all this time! At home, he introduced me to the family and showed the room I going to occupy. “Feel at home”, everyone said. I was offered chocolates as a welcome gift.
I was a bit shy and intimidated at first, ignorant of their customs ans manners, I was afraid to do or something wrong that might upset someone. I was given to eat and drink. I rested a bit before a driver came to pick me up and show me around a bit. We toured the main government buildings, pass next to many temples and churches and drove around. Noted the 3 -wheeled taxis, the overcharged bicycles, the motorcycle drivers wearing helmets, (Unlike Lebanon…), the life! It was hotter than I expected, I felt like my jeans were melting. 3 hours later I asked to be dropped back home. I was really tired and sleepy, the weather was not helping either. I had a snack and went to sleep. 3 hours of good sleep before 7 pm. My friend woke me up. “Get ready, we are going to attend 2 of my friends’ weddings. They are both getting married on the same day and both would be upset if I don’t show up.”
For the first wedding, we went to the groom’s house. It was decorated and there was a tent outside. Live music was playing. A ceremony was taking place indoors. I was invited to get in. Welcomed with smiles, I needed a moment to adapt. My eyes were bombarded with colors, such a pleasant sight. Later, the sister of the groom shows up. She takes me by the hand, and gives me money. “Make a circle above the head of the groom and give it to the priest”, explained his brother who was standing close. It was to wish him luck and prosperity. I then had to bow to get the priest’s blessing. A sort of red powder and rice on it went to my forehead. This, for me, was surreal! My friend took a few minutes to explain the proceedings of the ceremony. “He will visit the temple after that to pray and continue to the venue”. Soon, there were too many people top fit in the room. I had to go out for some air. A white decorated horse was there. A female white horse that would take the groom to the temple and to the venue.
“Now, it’s time go to the second wedding!”, said my friend as he was rushing in the car. Traffic was terrible! “There is around 20,000 weddings today. The bad season ended. An astrological thing.” he said with a smile. For the second wedding, we arrived to the venue. A HUUUUUGGGGGEEEEE set! People everywhere! Music and so much food! And I thought Lebanese weddings were lavish! Ha! In my face!
Finding something not spicy to eat was difficult. Good thing there was bread and fruits! But I had my share of spice while tasting things that were said not to be spicy. Fortunately for me, also, the family I was staying with did not cook spicy meals.
India was going to be exciting and that was only the start!