29 April 2014

Spring Break India: The Wedding . . . #jeskaranhitched

I'm going to attempt to write one blog post about the entire 3 days of fabulous wedding festivities for Karan and Jes that I had the pleasure of attending two weeks ago in Delhi, India. 

I realize this may seem a bit crazy, as it's already taken me two days to whittle down the images and videos into the lot I'm sharing here. But maybe you will be as worn out by the end of this post as I was at the end of a three day wedding . . . Sans the drinks and dancing of course. Ha!

It's been slightly strange not blogging on the spot while I was in India. The internet was erratic where I was staying, which made it difficult. So I've been trying to post the whole Spring Break India series since returning to Singapore. I'm doing my best, but it's definitely hard with the end of the school year fast approaching and everything needing to be done right now. So I thank you kindly for your patience . . . I'll stop whining now and get on with it.

Day 1: The Play

The day started around 4pm, when I told Gajendar to pick me up. However, he didn't pick me up. He was sick. This was the day that we both realized we had gotten sick the day before on our fun outing. I had been awake all night, and apparently so had he. 

So a driver named Kadir picked me up. (He was nice and smile-y, but he wasn't Gajendar.) We went and gathered the items I had tailored to go with my sarees. Then we stopped by the Prime Minister's place and took some pictures. It was neat to walk around India Gate. There were a ton of people out, and with the sun going down, the images I captured were beautiful.

The first night of fun began with a play performed at the Defence Colony Club. Have you ever gotten a play as a wedding gift? How amazing is that? 

Kadir and I picked up Vanessa, Mia, and Kendra who were staying in Defence Colony. This was the first time I had seen them since coming to India, so I was excited to be around friends.

When we got to the club (which was literally around the block: we could have walked), we found Shikha Boom Boom who looked amazing in a beautiful canary yellow saree emblazoned with gold and pearl. She was moving around the grounds so quickly, chatting with everyone that this is the best image I got of her all night. But I love it . . . It's an action shot of Shikha completely in her element.

Drinks were served prior to the start of the play, dinner was post-play. The sets and costumes were incredible. And it was completely outside where the weather was dry and perfect. Just look at that set below, how it's lit . . . This is what it looked like as everyone was taking their seats!

The play was called Mehernama. From the Playbill: "Mehernama is the story of the legendary Empress Nur Jehan and the fabulous Emperor Jehangir. Covering three generations, from Akbar to Shah Jehan, this is a story of war and peace, of rebellion and reconciliation, of power and politics. Above all, it is an epic tale of love; undying, infinite love, a romance that transcends generations, surpasses diversity, to become one of the worlds most inspiring love stories. Nur Jehan remains the only Empress of India, whose name appears on the coinage and currency of Hindustan. For 18 years, she ruled this country without fear or favor, and became a model of powerful medieval Womanhood."

Shikha's husband (the father of the groom) was called on stage at the end of the play. He is an actor himself and has performed with this theatre troupe quite a bit.

We left around 11pm, to rest up for the next big day of fun.

Day 2: An Evening of Sangeet, Cocktails, and Dinner

Any event that starts with a Mehndi ceremony, I'm there. Gajendar (yay!) picked me up at 10:30am. We stopped by and picked up the ladies in Defence Colony before heading to the Taj Palace Hotel. From 11 - 1pm, all of the ladies on the groom's side took turns getting their arms and hands done. Even the littlest ladies.

This little lady was so cute. She was able to stay still and let her hands dry better than any of the adults. Take that!

And this is Stamford American International School's Elementary School Director, Tammi Shreve (my boss). She has been friends with Shikha for years. Her hands were absolutely gorgeous!

I couldn't do much with my hands, but I was able to snap this shot of the awesome peacock that was drawn on my right hand/arm. I requested a peacock. I'm now obsessed.

After the henna dried, we split for a bit. The ladies went shopping and I went back to pick up some more things for my sarees, including new nose decor. I wish I could've gotten a picture of the guy cutting the original sterling ring out of my nose and the other guys trying to put in my new diamond stud. It was me and 5 guys: 4 old jewelers and my driver. At one point, my driver was holding my face while the other guys were all trying to twist in the new stud. Long story short . . . We only got in half the stud. The backing is off and currently sitting near the soap on my sink.

Gajendar and I also stopped off to eat at a fabulous little bakery. It was really buzzing. Lots of amazing sweet treats and some really great food (see above).

After our little afternoon jaunt, I met up with Vanessa. We had our hair, nails, and toes done. We also got our sarees wrapped. Um we also happened to be running a bit late to pick up the other ladies. An hour late to be exact. Upon realizing we couldn't catch a quick tuk tuk back to the hotel, we jumped into some random guy's Lexus SUV. I realize this probably wasn't the smartest idea in the book, but we were in a hurry. And he offered his driver up to us after staring at us and saying: "You're not getting in a tuk tuk dressed like that". He was a completely nice guy who had gone to graduate school in Chicago. He didn't have an Indian accent, but sounded more like a New Yorker. We agreed that Delhi reminded us both of the pre-Giuliani NYC. Yay for nice randoms . . .

Once we got back to the Taj Palace Hotel (where we got the henna done), the night completely swept us away . . .

We found Shikha milling about in a beautiful floral saree. I took pictures of the ladies above and then we took a selfie together, later that evening.

After the bride and groom arrived, the dancing began. The first dance I kept calling the bride and groom huddle, because the family members all sort of embraced them and danced them into a huddle. It was really cool.

Then the show began. And boy was it a show!

Friends and family members who traveled from far away cities all put together dances to honor the bride and groom. It was the greatest community event I had ever witnessed. All ages participated and performed for the couple. I couldn't stop smiling, it was so wonderful.

We all talked about being disappointed that we didn't come up with a Stamford dance. We just didn't know the rules . . . Next time!! I promise!

The final performance I kept calling the pass the crown dance. But I'm not sure what they were passing was actually a crown or not, but maybe it was (see below). It looked to be all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins . . . The bride's family. The music--sangeet means music--to this dance was my favorite!

The best Indian food on the planet was served around 9pm. It was so very good. And while we were eating, I kept trying--and failing miserably--to get shots of the bride. She was wearing the most gorgeous colors. I managed to get a blurred out shot of she and Shikha Boom Boom hugging. You can see the colors Jes was wearing and why I might seriously fancy her outfit . . . Really I just wanted to make an installation out of it.

Hey look! It's Paola! I found this image when I got back to Singapore. I remember vaguely taking this picture with her when we were at dinner . . . Paola also teaches at Stamford. She is a member of the EAL team. Exciting to spend time with her in Delhi, if only at the events and for a short time!

The evening ended with even more dancing . . . Kendra and me with our Delhi bellies decided to leave a bit earlier than everyone else. But as we were walking out the door, the bride and groom were pretty much crowd surfing. I'd say it was a damn good party! I went to bed excited about what the last day would bring. What could be better than an Indian dance party?

Day 3: The Marriage Blessing

We picked up the lovely ladies at 5:15pm on the dot . . . I knew that the Barat was a huge deal and because I had heard that the groom was coming in on horseback, I wanted us to be on time. I couldn't miss this.

So I ask again: what could be better than an Indian dance party?

An Indian wedding parade!! That's what!! Just look at that sea of swirly, twirly turbans!

It literally took us 2 hours to walk about 100 ft. There was so much dancing and drumming! Fireworks were being shot up in the air every two seconds. Rose petals were being shot out of hand cannons. There was so much going on that I didn't know if I should be participating or taking pictures or trying to video things.

People were wearing the most gorgeous outfits. And I loved how all of the men looked in their fancy turbans. There was a turban wrapping ceremony an hour before the processional. So all of the men and boys looked so fancy!

We had so much fun marching down the road with cars gleefully honking in celebration as they passed. It reminded me so much of being in New Orleans and studying second line parades.

Look at that shot above! How awesome is that? Tourists were even stopping to take pictures.

And right as we turned into the driveway of the hotel where the marriage blessing was taking place, they lit up the "Karan and Jeshreen" sign in sparklers. I just love that image: the yellow of the sparklers, the band signage, the tippy-tops of people's heads, the sky a bright pink and blue . . . All framed by trees. Gorgeous!

When we got inside, Jes was waiting for Karan. They went through a bit of a family ceremony before finally placing themselves on the ground around a fire pit with the priest. They were under a giant canopy of marigolds, which looked amazing. Their family joined them with the priest for the blessing, along with about three camera crews.

The guests sat around and were encouraged to talk amongst themselves as the marriage blessing took place. It was about an hour and a half long. Sweets and drinks were passed during this time.

Towards the end of the marriage blessing, flower petals were given out.

And as the bride and groom walked past, the guests tossed the flower petals in their direction. Look at Jes's beautiful head covering . . . Again with the action shots: I couldn't capture these two still! (Thankfully you can see still images of the couple on Ms. Kelly Lemon's blog.)

After the marriage blessing, everyone went indoors for drinks, speeches, and eats. The couple got to sit on a stage blanketed in white while guests had their pictures taken with them. We went up for a Stamford/Singapore group shot. I'm sure we'll get to see the image soon, once Shikha gets all of the pictures back from the photographers.

And of course there was more dancing . . .

But honestly, we were all so tired that we ended up leaving around midnight. We took one last photo together, to capture the moment. Everyone looked so great that night except I looked like a Southeast Asian political figure. (Red and gold do not suit me . . . )

Next up? My last few days in India for a while, complete with several temple visits and a rooftop in Old Delhi!

24 April 2014

Spring Break India: Saree Shopping And Other Fun Things . . .

I hadn't had the chance to poke around my little AirBNB joint yet because when I arrived in Delhi, it was dark out. And when I left for Jaipur and arrived home from Jaipur, it was dark out . . . 

Finally a morning where I could sleep in and check out my space! Isn't it marvellous??

Look!! I can see Humayun's tomb from my doorway! It's the tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his first wife Bega Begum and built by a Persian architect. It's one of the first garden-based tomb's in India and is made almost entirely out of red sandstone. And it's right there! I can just make out the tip of it . . . 

And even though I was staying in the roof apartment, there was still one more roof to climb up to . . . The one above my bedroom. And that's where I found the most glorious blue wall in the whole of India. I took the above picture staring directly into the sunlight, so it was a struggle to keep my eyes open. But just look at that blue!

I just loved this little space so much! I sat on the black rocking couch under the bamboo cover almost every morning with my laptop. Every evening it sprinkled down rain and was a cool 68 degrees, while during the day it was about 90 degrees of dry heat. The weather was just about as amazing as it could get!

Looking down three floors to the gated entry, above. And looking up three floors to my little space, below.

After geeking out over all of the plants at my little apartment, Gajendar picked me up at 9:30am. It was time to go saree hunting with my friend, Himanshu

You might remember him as my cohort for when I got my nose pierced in Delhi, back in December. On this day, our goal was to find me two sarees for the wedding. One for the night of sangeet and one for the marriage blessing.

He fixed me a lovely breakfast and then wrapped me up in a saree for shopping. I didn't realize upon my arrival that I would be wearing a saree shopping, but I did. He said it would be good practice for me to walk around in one. I absolutely loved it . . . At first I thought I would get a lot of stares, because I felt like I looked like an uncomfortable Westerner. But once I relaxed a bit, I noticed that no one was looking at me. Everyone wears sarees in India. Everyone.

The first place we went to was Nature Bazaar. This is a cool little open-air market that changes up it's shows every season. I visited this market with my friend Vicki during my second weekend in India, back in December. But this time, it was devoted to summer weaves: lots and lots of sarees and fabric. Heaven, people!

I quite enjoyed looking at all of the surface decoration on the sarees, trying to figure out the process. The image above is made by bundling tiny bits of fabric with thread (below). Isn't it fab? It comes out all crinkly and has to be washed out or ironed.

This was my absolute favorite saree, the one above. It was block printed . . . And pink and grey and gold! But just as I was about to buy it, we noticed some sun damage right across the center of it. We wrapped it on me a couple of times to see if it would show, and it did. So I didn't get it. Boo. Looking at these pictures now makes me wish I had purchased it anyhow . . . Sad face clown.

Just look at all of these summer sarees!

I ended up purchasing the two sarees that I wore to the aforementioned events from Nalli's. This place had like 3 floors of sarees, all different kinds. (Images of my purchases forthcoming in future posts.) 

But it was kind of a bigger deal than I thought. I originally thought that I could purchase any fabric anywhere; and as long as it was long enough to wrap around me, it was good enough to be a saree. 

Um, no.

First you pick your saree. Then you have to pick out fabrics to have your tops and petticoats made. People who know me well, know that I hate shopping more than anything else in the world. But this was--thankfully--a bit different. It was like sifting through fabric bins or something. And items were being hand-tailored for me. It was weird and fancy and fabulous. I loved it. In fact, I had come to believe by the end of the evening that I could wear sarees every day of my life for the rest of my life. I was sure of it.

Where I had my petticoats and tops made was in a completely different area from where I bought the sarees. My petticoats and tops were made in an area of town called Connaught Place. The tailor was there, too. Check him out below, sketching out my tops . . . 

After all of the shopping and picking out and measuring and figuring, Himanshu took me out to a lovely dinner in Hauz Khas Village. This is also one of the places I visited back in December, with my friend Vicki. It was getting rather late, so we finished dinner with some coffee and then parted ways. 

One thing I should quickly mention before moving on is that Himanshu is organizing this amazing festival that happens next weekend in Delhi . . . It's The Saree Festival. How amazing is that? Can you imagine? I can . . . I think it sounds pretty incredible! 

So if you happen to be in Delhi next weekend, make sure to check it out . . . 

The next day I lazed about in the morning and Gajendar picked me up around noon. We went to the Lodhi Gardens and spent time just walking around looking at old things and flowers. I found it fascinating that in the middle of the craziness that is Delhi: the traffic, the dust, the noise . . . There is this quiet, contemplative space. It was beautiful.

Oh and remember that time when the Westerner stood on a billion year old tomb so that she could get a better picture of another building that was a bit further away, and then got yelled at in Hindi by the guard? 

Yep, that happened . . . Guilty. (She types shamefully.)

After that, Gajendar and I went for some eats at a local joint where I was definitely not surrounded by tourists. It was awesome. The food was so, so good . . . But it also made me sick, sick, sick. It made both me and Gajendar sick. (Only today, 8 days later and after visiting a doctor, am I feeling relatively better.) But man, it was good food. Totally worth it!!

I got back to my neck of the woods relatively early, around 6pm. I wanted to rest up before the big events began the next day. So we took a quick drive through Defence Colony and checked out a local art bookstore and reading room. This tiny store had an incredible collection. When I return to Delhi (in December: shhhhhh), I'm taking a small fortune with me to buy art books!

Next up? The big ol' wedding: three days are not nearly enough for all of the fun! Prepare yourselves, people!