Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Hostage Situation

One of the first things I said to Sankat when we decided to get married in India was that I wanted an elephant.   If I was going to go all the way to India to get married I wanted to ride in on an elephant (you can't do that in the states no can ya).  I thought that this request would be so outlandish that there was no way that it could be granted.   Little did I know that I would be taken seriously and the quest to find a elephant would be become a major conquest for the Patel family over the next year.

When I arrived at the Garba Sankat's family had a elegantly decorated elephant waiting for me.  This gorgeous elephant came complete with a headdress, and elephant trainer and of course an umbrella guy (because what elephant would be complete without an umbrella guy).    Alright the umbrella guy wasn't really a guy but a small child but hey no ones to young to work in India, plus weddings are a family business.  Also it was pitch black outside so one did not need an umbrella in theory but hey no elephant is complete without and umbrella boy!

While we were waiting to head to the Garba everyone was taking pictures with the elephant and the elephant would do this neat trick of grabbing money with his nose and giving it to the trainer.  Once everyone took pictures with the elephant, and the elephant had made more money than a stripper in a frat house it was time for me to get on top and ride into the event.  I had created such a big deal about riding in on an elephant that I had to get up there without hesitation!!!  Now came the problem of how I was going to get on the elephant.  The elephant was kind enough to kneel down for me but he of course was still about six feet taller than me!!!  There was no ladder to be found so I grabbed his tail and Sankat shoved me up there Indian Choli wearing and all!!!

I paraded down the street the elephant, trainer, umbrella boy and all.  We arrived at the Garba and I waited a while up top for all to see.  Then I said time to get down, but the elephant would not kneel.  Sankat's uncles were all huddled below yelling up at the trainer the trainer kept shaking his head.  Then the trainer pulled out a cell phone.  My mom asked "why is Selina not getting down."  Sankat replyed, "oh she's just enjoying the view."  I began to realize that I was not going to get down without the trainer making more tip money.

The situtation began to get tense as the uncles got on their cell phones and the elephant trainer got on his to call his supervisor.  After much negotiation and not too many rupiah's later I was back on the ground.

All the Single Ladies

One of the many traditions surrounding an Indian Wedding is the Garba night which is the dance party the night before the wedding.  Typically both sides of the family would spend months preparing Bollywood style dance performances that would be performed at this event, but because Sankat's family alone was preparing both sides of the ceremonies they didn't have the time to prepare the dance moves.  So Sankat and I were asked to perform with our friends.  The closest I ever came to Bollywood dancing was knowing a friend who once took a class so I decided that we would entertain with good old American pop music!!!

Over Thanksgiving break I invited some of my friends over to my house to choreograph where we drank more bottles of wine than 8 counts planned so when we arrived in India, needless to say I had nothing planned.  After being delayed by Air India, measuring outfits and bangle shopping we had about two hours before the Garba before our dance practice to even begin.

I had to go to the salon to get my hair done for the Garba so I put Amethyst and Gina in charge of rounding up the girls and beginning dance practice.  Amethyst and Gina are my two friends who have watched a music video in the past five years and their moves really resemble a hip hop dancer!  Most of my other friends' dancing experience has occurred in bars at about two am after several cocktails or hippie dancing at a Rusted Root concert. 

When I arrive back at the Raj Path Club there are about 15 women dancing in the courtyard.  As Gina and Amethyst are calling out counts there is construction going on in the background.  Now construction in India is done completely by manual labor and is not gender biased.  As my friends are learning Beyonce's moves there are women barefoot in saris hauling buckets of sand on top of their heads.  As they are going back and forth to the dumping site of the dirt they are peering into the courtyard gaping at us dancing and as they are walking back and forth we are straining our necks to see them work, both of us fascinated by each others actions.  They were probably going to be much more successful at hauling dirt than we were going to be at this dance performance.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

20 Minutes in a Bangle Shop

As a gift to our wedding guests who traveled around the world my mother in-law bought traditional Indian wedding outfits for everyone to wear to the events.  Now in Indian nothing is off the rack, you go to the store and the salesman waits on you individually and brings out the fabric in the colors  you desire as you sip on a cold coffee or a Fanta.  Then after you make your selection the tailor takes your measurements and custom makes your outfit. Due to our late arrival the tailor is going to have to measure and make all of the outfits in less than 24 hours (taking sweat shops to a whole new level).

My mother in-law bought all the fabric in advance and the girls just had to choose their colors but this is very important because no Indian celebration outfit can be wore without bangles.  As everyone selected which colors they wanted (with very little bloodshed) Sankat had promised all the ladies they would get to go pick out and buy their own bangles to match, but since we were so far behind schedule I had to hurry off to the salon, Sankat had the pleasure of escorting 15 American women to the bangle shop.

Now for those of you who have never been to an Indian bangle shop or even know what a bangle is here's a brief Bangle 101.  Bangles are bracelets that are worn around your wrists, they are worn about 5-10 on each wrist.  They must be sparkly and coordinate with the colors in your outfit.  When you dance they knock together and make a pleasing sound.  Now in Indian or at least in Ahmadabad only men work in the shops.  The men in the bangle shops have long nails (much like a coke dealer) that are used to quickly move the bangles (another addiction) to put them onto metal rods in various color combos that are amazing and cost 1 million rupees:)  

Picture this 15 women in an Ahmadabad bangle shop the size of a large closet with two men behind the counter and Sankat's cousin's wife (Bhabhi) to translate.   So the translation occurs like this Girls tell Sankat (English), Sankat tells  Bhabhi (Gujarati), Bhabhi tells bangle guys (Gujarati).  Now you can imagine what gets lost in translation. . . and there's 20 minutes to make this happen.

There's nothing more shrew than a Bhabhi and Sankat in a bangle shop trying to haggle a deal with the bangle salesman.  "We buy all these bangles, see so many women, but you give us half free, ok."

My Bhabhi is a hero because she managed to get all of our friends (and their friends back in the States) outfitted in bangles, Sankat got a little taste of what it means to be an Indian woman, and the bangle shop guys will be able to buy that plasma TV they wanted!!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Getting there is half the battle

On December 26th Sankat and I and our 30 closest friends set out to attend our wedding in Ahmadabad India.  Getting married in India sounded like a great idea, I always wanted a destination wedding, Sankat always wanted his family to be able to attend the wedding.  Simple right have the wedding in India they've got beaches right??

No, not so simple. . . but to make the storytelling easier I'll divide the major events up into smaller pieces.
Most of us were flying from Chicago O'Hare to Delhi on a direct Air India flight.  The way we scheduled the flight we would arrive in Ahmadabad the night before the first event the Mendi program (henna painting).  (My mother in-law warned me this was cutting it too close because "there is so much fog in Delhi, flights never on time") But, I wanted everyone to enjoy the Christmas Holiday as asking people to fly halfway around the world for my wedding was already too much, so hence the departure date was set for Dec 26th.

We arrived at the airport 3 hours before our scheduled departure and get in line to check luggage.  On the monitor it shows that the flight is delayed 12 hrs.  Oh yea a half a day behind schedule.  Joy. I ask about the connecting flights to Ahmadabad and was assured that they would hold the planes as to all the passengers are on the flight we were getting on.  There will be an Air India representative to guide us when we get off the plane.  We take over the bar in the international departures and watch the Bears game.  Some people check into the hotel to sleep others travel back to the city for forgotten possessions.

We get ready to board the flight at 11pm and take off for Delhi.  A sigh of relief rushes over me we will get to India not the night before but at least the morning of the Mendi program. All is well.  
Twelve hours later we arrive in Delhi international airport.  As we disembark there is no Air Indian representative there to greet us.  Sankat, his brother (Shalin) and I huddle together to talk about the best plan of action to get us and all of our friends to the next plane.  Sankat is going to go ahead and talk to a airline personnel and Shalin and I are going to wait for all the luggage and then meet him.  Sankat goes ahead with half the group that has luggage Shalin and I stay behind.

Once the rest of the luggage arrives Shalin and I keep following signs to the airline checkin.  We go upstairs, around, downstairs, following the advice of signs and armed guards.  We end up outside the airport.  It's pitch dark as it is about 6 am in Delhi (and who the hell knows what time in my head).  Shalin and I walk up to the doors to get into the airport.  You can see the checkin counters through the glass.
A guard asks us for our itineraries (there are about 15 of us) we show him our paper print outs and tickets.
Guard- This flight yesterday
Selina- yea I know but our flight from Chicago was delayed
Guard- No enter without today's ticket
Shalin- I know but my brother and group is inside let us in.
Guard- No please step back
Shalin- No, let us talk to an airline representative
Where at this time the guard closes the glass doors and him and three other men get down in the attack position  aiming their semi automatic weapons at us.
Selina- Shalin stand next to me so my mom doesn't see the guns.  She'll freak out
Shalin- If I get F***in shot going to your wedding I'm never talking to you again
Selina- Fair point
We continue to stand till finally someone lets us in.  We walk up to the counter which is swarmed with 100s of angry Indians.  Our group being American with personal space appreciation gets shoved to the back.  Everyone is waving their passports, itinerary.  People are standing on top of the counters pushing and shoving.  Some how some way half of us get on a flight to Ahmadabad.  The other half must wait.
We clear security.  Get on the plane.  and of course we are the only people on the plane the rest is empty and the rest of our group sits in the airport.  Oh the joy.
 This is only the start of the Partel wedding adventure.