Wednesday, March 23

Pooja Marry

Arriving in Setrawa was overwhelming, but more because of my family than the culture. They have truly adopted me as one of their children which is splendidly heart warming but also severely debilitating for my independence. I enjoy being stepped through the culture, "sit here" "eat this" "eat more," but in the last five years I have forgotten how to be a good daughter and ask permission for every activity (not that I was ever particularly good at doing this). That is where my spies come in. Using Hindi numbers I have learnt to communicate how long I'll be at the Sambhali school, but if I venture anywhere during my breaks or on my way home, there always seems to be a child (usually one of my sisters accompanied by a friend) lurking in the doorway of my destination waiting to deliver me a message about when and where I am to go next (usually to eat, but once most enjoyably to see Rakhi, my 13 year old sister, try on her first sari).

This first week in Setrawa has been particularly scheduled because a neighbor, Pooja, is having her week long wedding celebrations and on my second night the world's most cooperative baby celebrated her first birthday. The birthday celebration was surprisingly western with a frosted cake and "happy birthday" sung in english (but to an unexpected tune).

Meanwhile 18 year old Pooja is swept in emotion as she prepares to leave everything she knows for a man who she knows through a photo-shopped picture she has framed in her house. Each night the community gathers at a different home for some ritual of marriage. This includes 11 girls sitting on the floor in a tight circle feeding Pooja and each other, but not themselves. The next night it was nine boys doing the same. Other traditions exist during the day, most of which I missed, because of my commitment to the Sambhali school, but I did catch the cocunut feeding. Women in sequence gave Pooja rice in place of a Bindi dot and then fed her pieces of coconut chased by sour coconut milk. She never failed to squirm from the milk. All in all, it seemed the wedding rituals were cohesive with the Indian objective to fatten young women. Pooja was a success. One man I spoke to at market told me that he approved of Pooja, because she was sturdy. I inferred that he considered her sufficiently fattened up, like a prized cow ready to be slaughtered at last. Of course they don't eat meat here and especially not cows, but it has occurred to me that their devout vegetarianism may be to lure us in and in reality they hope to fatten up young women whom they then devour.

Before evening celebrations I enjoy bonding with my sisters in international girl activities such as painting nails, selecting jewelry and French braiding their unlimited thick Indian hair. Additionally I was painted with henna and wrapped in a yellow sari for the final night. We also used this girl time to rehearse our dance moves. On one occasion I lightened the mood with some classic North American dance moves such as the shopping car and the funky chicken. Which they could not figure out. However, when bent over bringing my right arm to my left shoe and extending quickly in mimic of pulling the jump cord on a lawnmower, the girls squealed with delight and cried  "Taxi!"

Each night preceding the wedding included music and dancing that started with the mothers gathering on Pooja's yard, singing nasally Hindi wedding songs. At first I though they were replacing lyrics with Pooja's name, especially when they chanted "Pooja marry." I was delighted and confused until it was dramatically explained to me that "Pooja" is a popular lyric meaning prayer and "marry" has an entirely different meaning that cannot be explained by charades. The singing is followed by dancing. First young girls perform school-taught dances to Indian pop tunes blasted from an out-of-place indoor-made-outdoor state of the art sound system. This is followed by more traditional and intergenerational dances of both genders done to the catchy beat of a large drum that is brought over to the yard. The nights are long, but the climate is very favorable, the twirling colours are vibrant, and the food sits pleasantly in my expanding stomach. One time I found a place to escape for a nap.

I lay next to baby Kuishy as she slept motionless except for periodic involuntary swats at her face to scatter the flies. Occasionally the back lash of her swat would land her tiny ineffectual fist on my face. I fell asleep just the same and entered a deep slumber as the dancing continued outside. It was not a Kuishy fist in my face that eventually woke me, but en entire screaming Kuishy. She had deliberately climbed up on top of me in a desperate attempt to wake me. A delightfully cooperative baby, she is truly being raised by a village and saw me as she sees most people, as her playthings.

All of this celebrating led to the grand climax of the final wedding night. Rituals went on all day and night. The groom arrived, the wedding parade visited my house, food was served (in orderly Indian chaos), and after all that, finally at 11:30pm Pooja was fully decorated and brought to the party. Already finding rituals tedious, I found myself nestled up to some Indians moms watching ceremonies until past 2 am. Then one more parade and the ceremonies begun to repeat at a new location, at which point I snuck off to bed.

I expected to see my family exhausted the next day, but I was astounded by how sleepy a person can be. My little sister of 10 years, was shouted and dragged out of bed at a reasonable hour. I had been given my turn to wake her, but had not succeeded. Brought to the kitchen, she fell face forward from her sitting position on the floor and returned to sleep right there on the kitchen floor with her face down on the hard ground amongst the kitchen chaos that produces "very very tasty" meals. 

1 comment:

  1. Throwing colours! How fun! I remember seeing that ritual in the movie "Water". Can't believe that you are experiencing so much of the real India. I can see P IS FOR PEACOCK become the title of a book with illustrations of the classroom and kids and characters in the classroom...and the wedding...and the milking of the goat.... Go for it!
    Take care, stay safe and stay well! Love, C.B.