Last Thursday I accompanied the teachers to what was initially described as ‘a function’, but turned out to be a wedding. I did not have the faintest idea who the bride or groom were, but as I thought that the best way to integrate was to indeed take all opportunities that come my way, I accepted the kind invitation.
However, this clearly brought on an immediate wardrobe crisis. Although I had some churidars for school, cheap and cheerful, they were not exactly suitable for such a solemn occasion. And the more expensive ones I bought in England were still without sleeves and therefore a definite no-no unless I wanted to send gossiping tongues in overdrive…. With just one day’s notice, drastic action was called for and compromises were to be made. My most expensive churidar in tow (the one I was never to put sleeves in), I set off on a mission to source suitable fabric. Still having some communication difficulties and not always correctly interpreting the Indian head shake, it took a little time for the first shopkeeper to show me some colours that vaguely matched the dress. No close (let alone exact) match to be found, so I tried my luck in the next shop. As time was marching on and I still needed to have the sleeves made, I had to settle for a greenish black piece of material that would have to do. Let’s face it, with some creativity with a shawl draped over my shoulder, who would notice anyway! And at 6.30 in the evening, I found a very kind tailor who cut and made the sleeves, gave me the right colour cotton and a needle to stitch in the sleeves by hand so as not to damage the dress, and he did not want me to pay for it. Human kindness often comes at surprising times and from unexpected corners.
So I wore my best churidar at school as the function was in the evening and I had no time to go home. We did not exactly attend the wedding ceremony, that happened earlier, but in good tradition, we went there for the food and to present a gift and have our photograph taken for posterity. Being the token white person at the wedding and a somewhat ‘guest of honour’ (thank goodness for towing the line and wearing a decent churidar WITH sleeves!), I was positioned on a chair next to the Principal of the school and as near to the stage as possible to be close to the bride and groom and in full view of all the other guests who were allowed to mingle freely. According to Sylvia – the English woman I met in Kovalam – I better get used to this, as this also happened to her on the occasions when she went to weddings.. Indian people like to show that they have white friends… At least it did not take long for a table to be freed up so we could eat and I could blend into the background… Food was very nice and I am beginning to get to grips with only using one hand to tear bits of a chapatti – or so I thought until I looked at this photograph…
Now the drive there and back was another story altogether and the traffic generated by wedding guests manoeuvring through the narrowest of back lanes gave another dimension to traffic jam, even to India standards. Well, some people had no choice but to use the ditch and cars and motorbikes took respite in driveways on both sides of the lane. What should have been a 2-minute journey took almost half an hour. I take my hat off to our bus driver: we got out unscathed with all wing mirrors still attached and not a single new scratch!