It was not a big fat Indian wedding in terms of the money and jewellery invested in it, nor the elite guest list. You would call it a big fat Indian wedding in terms of the involvement and inclusiveness of the extended family and friends who assisted, attended and participated in all the details that served to make the occasion as memorable as one could wish for.
My nephew in Spain was getting married and it was going to be the first wedding in our children’s generation. The bride was Spanish, pretty and shy; I recall her being rather overwhelmed by the clutch of her fiance’s relatives, uncles and aunts and cousins, who had turned up for Christmas and New Year in 2008. This time there were going to be twice as many: friendly, noisy, bossy, excited and enthused, arriving from practically every continent, at this little town, some 90 kilometres south of Madrid. Excitement hung in the air, hectic planning was done for travel and shopping, programmes worked out for the Indian celebrations: the sangeet and the dancing, the mehndi and the shringar, the rangoli and the torans, the Indian costumes for the dances and of course the cuisine that would be a tempting combination of Indian and Spanish finger foods.
It was to have been a low key affair. After all, the young couple were going to defray the cost of the wedding themselves so there had necessarily to be a cap on the number of guests who could be invited. Apart from the considerable numbers that constituted family, these would in the main be the couple’s friends. This did not go down well with my sister, the boy’s mother; how could such an event be held, unseen by her friends (which meant most of the village), especially now that the bride and groom had agreed to actively participate in the sangeet that was slotted for the day before the church wedding. She decided she would host this event, then she could invite whom she wished. Promptly she set about cooking in advance the Indian portion of the spread, hired an unused godown for the venue since the guest list had gone up from forty to eighty, and used her artistic skills to make beautiful garlands for the couple and for anyone else around whose neck one could be thrown.
Her sister-in-law in the Hague had spent months weaving miles of white and orange flowers (replicating the jasmine and kanakambaram), which we draped over windows and doors, and around pillars the day before the function, while some we retained for pinning to our hair. A large panel embroidered by my sister, depicting a wedding procession, was fixed on one wall; below it another large panel with “shubh vivaah” in Devanagri painted by her Spanish artist friend, and sheet after colourful Indian motifed sheet and counterpane hung down every wall.
I had brought along rangoli moulds and coloured powders but had drawn the line at carrying any kind of white powder that could get me hauled in by the customs. The matter was resolved with rice powder that said sister had tons of. An urn of water and another filled with rice symbolizing prosperity and fertility flanked the doorway. The thresh holds and steps decorated with rangoli designs so entranced the elderly owner of the hired venue that he insisted they not be erased after the function. Several passers-by stopped and asked to be invited to the function.
I was appointed planner, advisor and choreographer for the sangeet. Not having had any sangeet function at my own wedding but having seen many on celluloid, the programme became a mix of solemn customs of the south and fun-filled dancing of the north. It included events that normally take place before the wedding, during the wedding and after the wedding, like the jaymala or exchange of garlands between the couple, or the grabbing of the ring in the pot of water to see who would be the boss in the house. After all, how many among the guests or even family knew what came when! And every family member had a role: the aarti or traditional welcome by the eldest maternal aunt, the breaking of the coconut at the threshold by the maternal uncle, slipping the bangles on the bride by another uncle, cousins and aunts dressing the bride in Indian garb (typically, the bridal sari had been left behind in the house and had to be rushed in), other sundry relatives sprinkling rose water on the guests and offering bindis (in place of kumkum), laying out the food, alternating the music between shehnai and bollywood and introducing the different families on the Indian side to the audience.
The locals had never seen anything like this before and they lapped it up with all the enthusiasm and relish the Indians could have wanted. To begin with, there had been no practice of the dancing till the very last morning simply because flights carrying the required quorum of dancers were yet to arrive. But there was no dearth of Spanish friends wanting to learn and take part. Needless to say, the evening was a riot with local friends of both sexes wearing Indian dress, and dancing to rollicking Indian folk and film music. Their enthusiasm and fervour even got some of our own younger men folk with two left feet to actually shake a leg.
And so it went on till late into the night. The Indian foods disappeared faster than the Spanish while the delicious, heady home-made Spanish wine- and- brandy fruit cocktail called ‘sangria’ played its role in keeping spirits high and soaring. As my nephew assured me, it was certainly going to be a night to remember for all who had been there and done that. And you can be sure that included the Indians at this Indo-Spanish joint venture.