Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seeing a traditional Telugu engagement

 -----Click HERE to read part 1 ----

On the car ride over, all the girls had such a nervous, but excited energy. We all sang along to the Telugu hit songs on the radio, to release some of the anxiety. By the time we got there, Maya had fallen fast asleep on my shoulder and was drooling on my saree.


We waited at the function hall while all the 3 Chinnattha's ran around and got their display of offerings together. The groom's side started to arrive and the staring proceeded. They had a look of confusion, as if they had gone to the wrong room since there was a foreigner there. All of us girls sat around and chit-chatted as everyone piled in and looked at us like zoo animals. It was almost like a high society type of event, where everyone is looking at what everyone else was wearing. The groom and the bride didn't speak before the ceremony started.


The priest arrived and got the families to sit across from each other on the stage - the parents presenting their child to each other in front of God. By this point, Maya woke up and started running around, thinking that this was a big party for her!


The wedding "photographers" were just god-awful. They looked like ex-cons, foaming at the mouth for all the young women. They asked people to pose in certain awkward ways, like touching their hand to the chin like a Bollywood poster. It was so cheesy. They set up these big gigantic high-beam lights so that everyone's faces were blown out - husband-ji said it was to make everyone look fairer. 


Mid-way through, the groom's mother presented the bride with a saree and all of us sisters shuffled up to the hotel room upstairs as Chinnatha #2 draped her saree. There was still a nervous energy in the air, but by that time I was kind of over it and watched Maya jump on the bed as I ate one of the mandarin oranges which was given to the bride. The bride took one of my baby wipes (again) to make sure that there was no makeup left on her face "to scare the groom".


There was a lot of rituals involving the honoring of the parents - almost as if it was a marriage of the parents (in some ways it is). The priest wrote down the marriage details in his booklet to make it official.


Then the couple exchanged rings while the groom's family was getting very boisterous. They kept shouting and saying "Ohhhho!" in an embarrassing way. The groom decided to pull a prank and get down on one knee and ask the bride to marry him. But it was more of a demand, and less of a question. Not like how we do it in the West, where the girl can actually out-rightly refuse the guy. The groom was posing at the camera's flashing to get the moment of him bowing down on one knee, rather than looking up to her for her answer. If she answered, I didn't hear it.


Then, they cut the cake and had to feed each other a slice. It was a little sexualized, I thought. Whenever I think of a man and woman feeding each other, I picture I half-naked Cesar feeding grapes to Cleopatra! We did this at our own Hindu marriage and I didn't think so then. Apparently it is supposed to enhance intimacy between the couple.

After that was hours upon hours of group photos while all the guests ate from the buffet. The bride couldn't eat until everyone ate first. She was absolutely famished and she scolded her sisters when she saw them eating before her. During this time, my MIL and her sisters - "The Masala Spice Girls" took the mike and sang three beautiful songs.



Once they were finally off the stage, booming Telugu hits started playing and all the kids under 5 got up on the stage and danced their asses off. It was great entertainment! Of course, the adults didn't dance (conservative South Indian Brahmins don't dance, except to Bharat Natyam of course) but they all enjoyed watching the kids. Maya just loved the chance to show off her dance skills!



Then there was more chatting and sitting around with family - for so long that I nearly got hungry again for a second meal. A girl brushed past me and said "excuse me, Aunty"....am I really as old as an 'aunty'??? Behind me, cousin-brother's friends were marveling at how I looked just like a traditional Indian girl, dressed up with Jasmine in my hair. "Everything is Indian about her except her skin," they said. Quite funny to overhear these types of conversations when nobody thinks I'm listening!


I was sitting around with all of husband-ji's aunts when the function hall decided to turn off the lights as a notice that we should all vacate there. I joked that they could still clean the floors around us and we'd still be there chatting! The whole event felt like more of a gab-fest - or at least I know that's what I was doing!


We headed back to the Nagaram house after and by that time I was absolutely exhausted - it was over 8 hours since we left in the morning! I took a nap with Maya in one of the bedrooms for I don't know how long. The rest of the relatives in the house displayed a mix of emotions - some happy, some sad. The parents were really happy that the event was joyous. One of the younger cousin-sisters started sobbing.

Overall, it was really fascinating seeing this type of event from an arranged marriage perspective. All the other events I have seen 'til date have been love marriages (which are a radical minority in India). The presence of family involvement is heavy - it is fully engineered by the parents. The bride and the groom hardly know each other at all, but they are excited and nervous to. There is a sense of giving away one's daughter to the new family and a new life. The groom's side is joyous; the bride's side is melancholy. The bride and the groom are child-like in their personalities - they don't quite look grown up enough to fit into their clothes. They are not even called "the bride" and "the groom"; they are called "the girl" and "the boy". As with everything, traditions and rituals mark the transitions in one's life - guided by the elders.


Before we left for India, I was a bit apprehensive to attend such events. First of all, because I'm a foreigner I will be getting stared at extra-extra, which sometimes I'm not in the mood to deal with. Another reason is that it is just a crowded event that goes on for WAY too long. BUT...looking back, I really liked attending. It was nice to see all the relatives in one space. It was fun to get dressed up and contribute as a solid member of the family. And seeing all the rituals was really interesting for me. It was a sensory overload - so much to learn, watch and do. After it was over, I told husband-ji that we should try to come back for more events.


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18 comments

  1. Wow wow wow!! You are really so comfortable with your in laws. I'm so happy to see you getting along so well. Lol Maya running around so cute!! About the photographers I've seen my fair share of them when I attended weddings and quite a few match your description. :) Some were just decent but they too like the other photographers always asked the bride and groom to do these cheesy and awkward poses. The thing is in India good photography comes at a price. Candid photography too. Of course they do not ask them to pose and just go with the flow unlike these people who are armed with a DSLR and without a clue as to how to use them.
    Sarah

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    1. Thanks Sarah, OMG you will not believe what these photographers were charging - $2000 USD!!! My hubby flipped out and said to his cousin that he should have hired him and he would have done a better job for free!

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  2. Wow love all the details and the honesty. Funny about the one groom on the one knee. A demand not request lol. You and maya both looked stunning. Punjabi engagments are similar lots of symbolic gifts, dried fruit nuts. Great artcle loved reading it.

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    1. Ha ha ha.....ya exactly....if he was in the US then he would have got rejected LOL!

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  3. This is hilarious. I love your account.... "Masala spice girls"! aww :) So happy to read you had such a nice time and you look amazing!

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    1. Thank you :) It was a great memory and a lovely time..

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  4. @Alexandra

    I have not seen cake cutting in any Indian marriage. I assume that they are They song on which kids were dancing was from a hindi movie "Chennia Express" starring Sharukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. It was good to see Maya dancing. I have also not heard about wedding songs in south india. Your MIL and her sisters sing well.

    The bride and groom looks beautiful. They are indeed very young. In Indian marriages there is very little to do for the bride and the bridegroom. It is all about the rituals, jewelry, dowry and everything other than the two people who are marrying. When dust settles down, both of them have to figure out and find a comfort level almost immediately not just with each other but their respective families as well. There is not time for contemplation, you have to hit the road running.

    The girls are told that men are evil and then married off to one of them. Sex comes as a rude shock to them. Boys are ofcourse too eager for intimacy. The result is a disaster. The girl and the boy are still immature with little experience of the outside world and ofcourse relationships especially man women relationships. Financial and emotional issues left to be discussed later. The whole idea is, if you find a suitable match get hold of her/him before someone else snares them. Finding a perfect groom/bride through the arrange marriage system is a tedious job because the list of requirements is high. So, once a marriage takes place properly like in the above case, the parents of the girl are relieved as if they are attained salvation. Daughter's marriage is a momentous task for a parent, more like the single most important event in their lives.

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    1. My MIL did a wedding song for our marriage and my cousins have also done a wedding song at a recent Tamil housewarming, which I will write about soon. It seems to be a trend I am noticing.
      I was surprised about the dance songs as well, since our clan is so freakin' conservative most of the time...ha ha!
      I hope everything goes smoothly for them. They are getting married this month and cousin-sister has to move to a brand new city. But luckily she doesn't have to live with her inlaws!
      The bride's father (my husband's uncle) was definitely ecstatic during the ceremony. Too bad we can't attend the wedding, my husband has work commitments this month.

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  5. There is no engagement ceremony among bengalis but it is popular among punjabis and north indians. I never knew this happens among south indians. Two ceremonies would mean more expenditure for both the parties. These engagement ceremonies often cost as much as the marriage ceremony itself. At best a wasteful expenditure.

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    1. Yes, it is ALOT of expenditure. And to my knowledge, engagement parties are typical for South Indians as well.

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  6. Alex,
    Thanks for sharing this post, loved reading about the engagement process. Maya was so cute dancing to the music with her cousins. The bride was gorgeous and I loved her saree. Your magenta and blue saree is beautiful on you. The "Masala spice girls" sang very well, enjoyed their song. You just had a grand time, so happy for you. This was really nice to see everyone bonding and having a great time.

    Melissa

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    1. Thanks Melissa, I just love that video!

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  7. I love this post! You have become so close to your Hubby's cousin sisters. Boy even desi sisters in law do not have such a good rapport like you do now. Maya is adorable. Her dancing is so cute. Makes me want to squish her :) The venue is really nice and all the ladies look beautiful.
    Omg those photographers!! I seriously don't get why the parents do their best in arranging everything but scrimp when it comes to photography. Its better than having no photographer instead of these awful ones and simply get some of your pics taken by friends and family. I really don't get how most conservative Indians let these awful people near their precious daughters and family members so close by during their most important day!! Those idiots are probably having the time of their lives and a staring fest at all those gorgeous women with a camera as an excuse.
    Ayesha

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    1. Thanks Ayesha, yes we really got to have some good quality time this trip.
      OMG the photographers were so awful and gross and they costed $2000 USD!!!!!! BLEH!!!

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  8. Wow what a fascinating post ! I love the B&W photo in particular. What was your husband-ji doing during the event ? I got the impression you were staying with a girl only group ? (Padparadscha)

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    1. He was taking his own photos and had a rivalry going on with the photographers...ha ha! The photos above are his :) I think he def did a better job!

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  9. You look gorgeous!! so nice to hear about your experience. Love your saree.

    Deepa

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    1. Thank you! It was so comfortable! And I was thrilled to wear jasmine like a proper Indian girl :)

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