In Which Our Protagonists Become Involved in an Indian Wedding

Everything I know about Indian weddings, I learnt from Bollywood. Bollywod has instilled vague expectations of wildly energetic, highly choreographed dance numbers, decorated elephants, and tense, emotional scenes involving past love interests, and until yesterday, my main concerns were that I’m not up to date with my Bolly-style dance moves, and that one of my kids might break the emotional tension by getting themselves trampled under the feet of an elephant.

Then A got asked to play celebrant for the happy couple.

Yes! Yes, I know. Yes. That’s what I said. But let me explain.

I say “play”, because he’s not actually a celebrant at all, nor is he a religious minister, the Justice of any kind of Peace, or in any other way qualified to legally marry two people together. But that’s okay, because his intended role has nothing to do with the legalities of marriage – the legal marriage will take place quietly, in a registry office, before the Big Event. The Big Event is- well I won’t say “just for show”, because it’s not actually Bollywood, is it? The Big Event is for Everything Else. It’s the ritual, the presentation to the world of this legal contract, this momentous change in life; the start of all the emotional, practical and physical entanglements which will ensue, and the binding of two families – two families, from utterly different religious backgrounds – together for all time.

Apparently, it’s been a minefield. In fact, for all I know, it may still be, and the bride and groom have decided that A should be the one to stride in to the middle of that minefield in some neutral and above all foreign capacity, so that if anything metaphorically explodes it can be the fault of Western civilisation, and not either of their two wonderful religions or, indeed, anything remotely Indian.

To this proposition, A said sure! and they promptly shared their google docs wedding spreadsheet with him, so I guess it’s official, and I even suppose it’s alright; that they know what they’re doing, and that they’ve diplomatically sanded off all the sticking points and built the perfect, modern, secular Indian wedding that even Grandma will enjoy.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as an expat, it’s that once you get involved in a foreign culture the little things can bring you unstuck. It’s never the big things; never the obvious ones. Everybody knows that people in Japan take their shoes off at the door but Australians don’t, so failing on that front is just forgiveably ignorant. They will see your shoes and correct you, and everyone will look embarrassed and apologise and waffle on about the quirky little ways in which things differ from place to place and move on.

But outside your home culture, not everyone realises that your understatement was supposed to be taken seriously, or not seriously; that your laughter was supposed to be warm, or embarrassed; that your reticence was supposed to be polite, or cutting; that your sarcasm was supposed to be friendly, or pointed; that your touch was supposed to be disarming, or controlling. Half the time, they’re processing these signals so unconsciously that no-one’s even sure what’s gone wrong.

“You’ve been to Indian weddings before, though, haven’t you?” the bride asked.

“…” A replied, then he added, “I’ve seen a couple in movies…” Imagine my frantic googling.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Indian Weddings are pretty. Check it out. But please come back. (Don’t worry – I won’t expect you any time soon.)
  • They are ceremonially complicated. There is even such a thing as an engagement ceremony, whereas we just about managed to have a few drinks with friends. Luckily, A is involved in only one part, and presumably won’t be called upon again for any sectioning of guests under any mental health acts.
  • I got some insight from Garima nag intoย appropriate reception behaviour. I may have to work on my bling, but I can run late with the best of them – although I’m not sure how well that goes down for those officiating.
  • Everyone is invited! I’ve been having a cup of tea over with Mrs B who celebrated with over six hundred guests. And the guest list can keep growing right up until the last minute in some cases – especially where you’re willing to add random strangers. Yay for that! Well, at least if anything goes wrong we will have a lot of commotion to escape into. (Although I am reliably informed that this will be “small by Indian standards” which probably means only four times as many guests as we had when we got married.)
  • Ashumi didn’t give me a lot of confidence with the words “stressful” and “painful” but I’m grateful for the pep talk about wedding game-faces.
  • I’m not even sure where to begin on specific rituals. There seem to be as many of them as there are brides and grooms. I do like a bit of the old pretend-cold-feet, though. And if all else fails, protect the shoes.
  • But for a really good up-close-and-personal series on weddings in India, trot over to the October monthly mag at The Bangalore Snob.

Clearly, we need your help! Not so much in terms of wedding customs (with so much variety, it seems unfair to ask you to do better than the couple’s spreadsheet, although go for it if you can tell me the universal essentials), but in guiding our sense of tone, mood, appropriateness, and ceremony, or at least our Bollywood movie viewings and web trawling. Is it usual to be solemn? theatrical? playful? relaxed? Has anyone produced the quintessential Indian marriage ceremony movie (and if so, what is it)? What is the most reliable Indian wedding resource on the internet? How can I stop both my children from getting trampled by elephants single-handedly?

And oh my goodness - outfits. Talk to me about clothing.

And oh my goodness – outfits. Talk to me about clothing.

Basically, I want to hear everything you know, and don’t be shy! Apart from anything else, they tell me shy is not the thing when it comes to Indian weddings.