Indian Reservations

Last weekend saw myself, Chris, Emily and Robert at a wedding. This was not a really quick fruition of our plans to marry Emily off to some rich friends – Chris had known the groom’s parents for a long while through the jewellery trade. It was quite some time since my last appearance at a marital event, and was only my third since graduating in 1987. The previous one saw a former flatmate at university get hitched, up in Aberdeen and was a fully fledged Scottish ceremony, with kilts a-flying and much Eightsome Reeling being done.

This one could hardly have been more different, being not only in Pomona, California, but was for an Indian couple, with the son getting hitched to a woman who’d come over from India. We presume this was an arranged marriage, but were too polite to ask – this may seem like an anachronism as we head into the third millennium, but it can’t be argued that the divorce rate in India is a good bit lower than that for America. We weren’t quite sure what to expect: would we feel like the last remnants of the Raj? And would there be chicken tikka masala on the menu?

Such thoughts occupied our mind as we flew into a Los Angeles so heavily smog-bound you couldn’t even see the Hollywood sign, and made our way to the hotel – a little too close to South Central for my liking! Perhaps this explains why we had to ask for a telephone to be put in, ended up swapping a bulb from the refrigerator so we could have some light in the room, and – worst of all – there was no remote control for the television. “This is barbaric!”, shrieked Robert, deep in shock at the prospect of having to actually get up to change the channel.

We hit the freeways, admiring the beautiful complexity of the junctions, where lanes flew overhead like con-trails, without visible support, and applauding the relaxed nature of California drivers and their willingness to let uncertain tourists like ourselves cut them up without retaliation. On arrival at the reception venue, it was an unnerving experience; we arrived shortly before the doors opened, and were virtually the only white people in the car-park – you could sense them wondering if we were in the wrong place.

Strangers in a strange land, we were glad to sit down inside, where we were joined by other light-skins, just in time to stop us from circling the wagons. For sheer scale, this was jaw-dropping. We only went to the third day of festivities, and there were 650 people at that alone. The previous day, elsewhere in the state, the more religious/spiritual events had taken place (we were advised to skip this, and took heed), and even these paled into insignificance with the ceremony in India, where the attendance would have shamed many Scottish First Division football teams, at two thousand. No wonder there were three wedding cakes; if there’d been just one, it would have posed difficulties to local air-traffic.

We began to relax, realising that we were not being stared at and, in many ways, this was no different from a Western event. As well as the traditional cake, we had the best man making fun of things and acting as MC, the dresses worn by the bride and her maids of honour (or the Indian equivalent) were as stunning as any veil and gown, and there was a live band pumping out their versions of popular songs. Except, of course, these were popular Indian songs – except for one glorious moment, when I recognised the tune as Cliff Richard’s Congratulations, staple of all the weddings I went to as a kid, and shocked the hell out of Chris by singing along to the bhangra beat.

The differences were, however, striking. Firstly: this being a Hindu occasion, there was no alcohol. This was perhaps a shame, as given a couple of beers, I might have been up for the Indian dancing; as it was, powered by Diet Coke, it was all I could do to prevent myself from my usual caffeine-crazed trick of impersonating a dolphin. Equally, the menu was completely vegetarian, but even to this religious carnivore, not so bad, with enough spices to hide almost completely the taste of the actual vegetables.

Also had to be impressed with the entertainment, the highlight of which was a musical revue, in which the bride’s and groom’s friends acted out their lives before the wedding, by miming to sections from Indian pop tunes [cue obvious jokes about ‘Ndian-Sync]. This ended with the best man on his knees, surrounded by children clamouring for attention, with his wife out shopping with all her friends. Seeing this really brought home that there wasn’t any difference. Sure, the trappings may have changed, the scale might be different, and I might be bouncing off the ceiling after one two many caffeinated soda, but marriage is really marriage, no matter where you are.