E-mail From Indian
October 26, 2007
Last time you heard from me, I was in the Balkans. I actually failed to mention that I almost
couldn't leave the Balkans. When 'bus'ing and 'train'ing my way through those countries, I
learned that they were very lax when it came to stamping a person in and out of a country.
The only problem I found with this was that I didn't get my fun little 'souvenir' from certain
Apparently the police at the airport in Serbia had a bit more of a problem...
I was semi-detained in a room at the police station in the airport (okay...maybe a bit of an
exaggeration...but doesn't it add some fun flair to the story???) with just my airline worker
(who also served as a translator) and the head of the police station. I watched them go back
and forth. The police guy kept shaking his head. They looked at my sole Balkan stamp
when I entered Montenegro. Since that country only became independent from Serbia last
year, I thought that was why the police walked right past me on the train not even asking
for my passport when we entered Serbia. I was now finding this was not the case.
Apparently that stamp acts as my visa for Serbia. The police was acting as if I was illegally in
his country. Maybe in a way, I was? Every now and then the airline guy would ask me
questions just for me to give answers that were not what they were looking for. For
Airline Guy: Do you still have your train ticket?
(He would relay this to the policeman.)
Airline Guy: Where did you stay in Montenegro?
Me: Um. Some place with a sign outside that said 'Rooms'.
Once again, not an ideal answer for him. They went back and forth for 15-20 minutes. I just
stood there with a puppy-dog look on my face that said 'pretty please???'. Finally the
disgruntled policeman agreed to let me on the flight. With all of this action occurring at
5:30am, I was way too tired to even be concerned that I wasn't going to get on my flight.
Sometimes it pays to be extremely tired.
After arriving in Greece, I had a wonderful 3 days in Athens and on the island of Hydra. Do
most people stay in Greece for only 3 days? No. But I only went there since it was a leg of
my RTW ticket and I had to leave from Athens. And certain things would make me need to
arrive in India earlier than planned. Certain things like...
An Indian wedding!
I was invited to this wedding by a family that I met while traveling in India last year. His
sister and cousin were both getting married in Kashmir and he extended me an invitation. I
had met a girl who was also going to be around the India at the same time so she came
along with me. We met up in Delhi. We were only there for the day yet we couldn't get out
of there soon enough. I think that day probably made my lungs 10 times dirtier. We really
just devoted our day to finding a sari for the wedding. And I found one that I loved!
The next morning we arrived in Srinagar, Kashmir. Feroz (my friend) was putting us up in
one of his family's houseboats. We met his sister who was getting married. She was such a
sweetheart. He also gave us a tour of the area and we ate dinner with his family in their
home. We also got to hang out all day with his cousin who was also getting married. His
cousin was a total smart-a*s who has been living in Sydney for the past 12 years. He just
moved back to Delhi 6 months ago. Just a little bit of background.
Along the way we would learn more and more things regarding these weddings. We would
also run across our first cultural snafu.
This was going to be a Kashmiri Muslim wedding. And saris are for Hindu weddings. Feroz's
wife lent us each some traditional Kashmiri wedding attire - and I have to say that I liked it
much more than I thought I would! As for my sari that I took a strong liking to...Halloween
in 2008 will be seeing a 'Jen Nathan - Indian Princess' costume.
I wish I had time to write all of the different traditions and customs that we witnessed over
the next four days. It started with getting our hands hennaed the first day. For the next
couple hours, using my hands was off-limits (of course it is always then that you start
getting an itch on your face). A bit later we sat in a room of all females while Lateefa
(Feroz's sister and bride-to-be) sat in the middle and had her hair brushed and braided and
strings put in. She looked absolutely depressed and miserable - crazy since she was such a
smiley person earlier in the day. More traditions continued with Imy (Feroz's cousin who
was also getting married). He sat in the middle while his pinky got hennaed and money got
wrapped around. Kashmiri music was being played the whole time.
Day Number Two had us sitting in a hall (i.e. big room) in the house. We waited for Imy
and Lateefa to come in. They were followed by people carrying candles and a cake. Kashmiri
music was being played and a singer was singer. You might not believe me...but people
would probably start begging me to sing once they heard this singer. Seriously. And for
those who don't know about my singing...nobody wants to ever hear me sing. Anyway,
Imy's finger was onced again covered with more henna and more money. Then dancing
started. Only there were only the two professionals dancing. Feroz told me to get out there.
This was not going to happen at a dry wedding. Only wine would possess me to do such a
thing. But then the guy came up to me and he wouldn't accept my 'Maybe tomorrow'
response. He pulled me up and then I was pulled into this other world. I was going crazy
out there. And there wasn't one other person dancing. Just a room full of Muslims sitting
and watching the while girl in Muslim attire jumping and dancing and mimicking the
dancers and then doing one of those spinning things with the girl dancer (a la Kate and Leo
in Titanic while at the basement party). One thing was for sure...I couldn't blame alcohol for
this. And then it got worse. Christine ended up taking pictures of this. I looked at them.
EVERY one showed the same expression on my face and all I could think was "Oh my
God... My friends are soooo right. I DO have this 'look' on my face when I dance. I have
always denied it when they have made fun of me. But now I am forced to accept it. Not only
do I do crazy moves. I have a crazy look on my face while doing the crazy moves.
Day Number Three was a pretty packed day. Imy started off the day with getting his hair
trimmed and taking a long bath and then coming out donning one of his many outfits.
There was a 'men' tent and a 'women' tent. He sat in the middle of ours while gifts were
being given to him. We were also served a milky drink with lots of Kashmiri spices. We
pulled another 'rookie-at-an-Indian-wedding' move when we gave Imy his money earlier in
the morning instead of during this period when he is supposed to receive his money and
presents. Luckily, about an hour later when Lateefa was sitting in the middle of the same
room, we knew the protocol. We gave her the money then. And one thing was for sure - I
have NEVER seen a person so depressed to be receiving gifts and money! Truly miserable.
Oh. And there was a family member sitting right next to Lateefa and Imy recording the
amounts of money (similar to how it was done by my mom at our birthday parties when my
sister and I were kids). Later in the evening we all saw Imy off as he was going off in the
decorated car to go to his new wife's house to go fetch her and bring her back to his house.
After the car left, there was a fireworks display. When they got back about 4 or 5 hours
later, she came in wearing a veil over her head. More Kashmiri singing. A little while later
Imy's mom unveiled the bride as she sat there while people starting putting more and more
gold on her. They were kissing her, touching her face and she was looking miserable the
whole time. And so was Imy! What happened to the guy we knew oozing with
personality??? They sat side-by-side never looking at each other. Eventually they left - she
was led out of the room with his aunt holding her arm - which was a good thing as it looked
like she could have collapsed at any moment. We were then led downstairs to another hall -
with festive dancing and music. There was Feroz's wife, Lateefa, other family
members...and Imy all whooping it up having a great time with huge smiles on their faces
and dancing. Where was Imy's wife? In some other room in the house. Just plain weird to
me. But then again, maybe they think our culture of actually hanging out with your
husband at your own wedding is weird? A bit later Imy and Lateefa sat next to each other
again with a couple of cakes while feeding pieces of it to others.
Day Number Four was mostly a nighttime thing. It started with upbeat music while we
waited for Nasir (Lateefa's husband) to arrive. Fireworks went off as his car pulled up. He
was wearing a head-dress and when he got out of the car, he looked a bit numb. People put
lei-like things around his neck. Then we headed into the 'women's' room. Lateefa and
Kulsum (Imy's wife) sat side-by-side in the hall. They both looked somber. People truly
look happier at funerals. At one point they exchanged some words and started smiling and
laughing. Laughing! I hadn't seen such a thing from Lateefa since I met her. Dinner was
served a bit later. We went to the men's room to see the groom. Imy was his old self that day
and told me to let him know who the better catch was. Imy was back! And then the great
thing - he told me he was 'very, very happy' with a big smile on his face. I loved hearing this
from him. And it was great to have become friends with the people getting married (though
we got to know Imy much better than Lateefa). Felt like we were at the marriage (they seem
to use this word instead of 'wedding' out here) of friends. While we were waiting for Lateefa
and her hubby to leave, we were sitting in the women's hall. This was where I made my new
9-year old and 5-year old friends Suriya and Saima. I must admit I was not the best
influence on them...but, hey, there was no doubt that they were having fun hanging out
with me! Haha. Then they asked me and Christine to sing a song. We picked 'You are my
sunshine'. We told them to sing a song. I started freaking out - they were singing a song
from my beloved soundtrack to the Bollywood movie I saw last year! Then I started singing
my fave song from that soundtrack 'Where's the Party Tonight' and the three of us were
singing together. Then we were talking about our fave Bollywood actors. Suriya favored
SRK. I told her I was an Abhishek fan. She gave me a sour-faced look. Then later she
admitted that Abhishek was okay. Once again...Jen Nathan - on the same level as 9-year
olds. Even in India. A little bit later we watched Lateefa get veiled and then saw her and
Nasir as they were ushered into the car and headed off to his house for the 'festivities' over
We also learned a few other things during the course of the days and even as of this
1. Both were arranged marriages.
2. Imy's marriage was to his actual cousin (not even by marriage- it was his dad's sister's
daughter). Because he lived in Sydney, he didn't know her.
3. Apparently the totally morbid and somber look is an act. Or at least part of it is. There is
much phone communication prior between the couple prior to this.
4. They become 'husband and wife' while consenting at their respective homes.
There is more that we learned. I can't think of it though. While we were in Kashmir, we
took advantage of our surroundings while there weren't wedding events taking place. We
took a 4:30am 'Indian gondola' ride in the lake to catch the vegetable market (where we
ended up buying some God-awful candy from somebody who coined himself 'The Delicious
Man'), we went hiking in the mountains where we had tea and chapati with a couple
different shepherd familys and saw beautiful leaves changing colors, we did a good amount
of shopping in town and we caught many lake views from the balcony of our houseboat.
Oh. I also think I am going fish-and-veg for a while. Another traumatic event. We came
back one day to find the plank leading to our houseboat doubling as a slaughterhouse. I
was about to get into specifics but I am going to hold back. I will just say that I had to
convince myself that some nice sheep were stuffed animals and that we were stepping over
red paint. And that wasn't even the worst of it. And then there was the chopping we could
hear from our room in the houseboat (as it was right next to the plank). We were just telling
ourselves people were 'building a house' or 'dribbling basketballs'. It was easier that way.
After Christine and I swore we would never go back to Delhi, our Varanasi flight got
cancelled and...we were stuck in Delhi due to all other flights for the day already having left.
We splashed out and are staying at the Hyatt for the night (where I stayed with points last
year) to just have some normalcy and peace and luxury for the next 24 hours.
And then it's off to our next 'culture shock'...
Once again, photos have been attached. I kept it down to three. In a few hours I will have
my Snapfish album and journals done and linked to my site. Until then...
1. I'm henna-fied!
2. Kasmiri Jen.
3. Being a 'good influence' on my new Kashmiri friends???
More tales from India to follow. This was just too much of an experience to try to explain it
in a paragraph!
Hope all is well!