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The unparalleled vibrancy of a Rajasthani wedding

Rajasthan. The mere mention of it evokes memories of music, heritage, colour, grandeur, tradition. All of these ingredients were brought together in the most elegant manner for us to experience at the wedding of a dear friend in Jaipur. As it happens often in India, friends turn into family effortlessly over time; we are fortunate to still preserve those elements of our culture that allow us to do so. Nirbhay, whose sister was the bride, is a dear friend and because he lovingly calls Rahul dada (older brother), we are knit into a successive web of relationships in a manner typical to Indian culture. And so, there we were- Aadyaa, Amma and me, imbibing the ambience of a traditional Rajput wedding in Jaipur.

Some of what I saw was familiar to me, being married into the same community in another part of Rajasthan. But this was the first time I was seeing a Jaipur wedding and I was happy to sit back (with my camera) and admire the jewellery and clothes, the refined mannerisms and confidence of those born into royalty, with myriad interpretations of what that means in modern times.

The traditionalism in a Rajput wedding is marker, with the men and the women socializing in separate areas and everyone turned out in traditional attire. Whereas in a wedding in Delhi or Mumbai, one would see several interpretations of Indian clothing, much of it influenced by Western styling, this wedding very much reflected the pride of the Rajput community in its own unalderated traditions. Women wore  heavily embroidered poshak (comprising of 4 parts-a lehenga, odhni, kurti and kachli), in colour combinations that were both the conventional bright as well as a more modern range of pastel colours. The jewellery also is distinct, with the typical round rakhdi worn on the forehead, the heavy aad on the neck, bajuband on the arms, bangdis (bangles) and gold pajeb (anklets) being typical to the Rajput community.   I thoroughly enjoyed taking portraits of some of the loveliest women I have ever seen (see if you agree!).

While the women outdo each other to wear the loveliest and most unique poshaks, the bride traditionally wears red (or yellow in some families). The bride, Shruti, wore a lovely red poshak with traditional embroidery on it (I hear her mother hand embroidered it for her and I cannot imagine the love and feeling that went into that, lucky girl!) with exquisite jewelry. The impact was intensified by the minimal make up and I loved the simplicity of her look. It also ensured she was very comfortable through the ceremony. In fact, when I met her moments before her wedding, she told me she was surprised about how light and easy to manage her attire was! A sign indeed of a happy carefree bride!

The bride, shortly before the ceremony begun

The bride, shortly before the ceremony begun

I could not take my eyes off her! Yuvragi, Nirbhay's wife is a dear friend and the loveliest girl I know. I watcher her all evening, doing her duties with elan and finesse, always in control and always elegant!

I could not take my eyes off her! Yuvragi, Nirbhay’s wife is a dear friend and the loveliest girl I know. I watcher her all evening, doing her duties with elan and finesse, always in control and always elegant! You can see the traditional jewelry items I mention clearly on her in the picture.

The bride's sister, in the most stunning combination of fuschia and orange. Gorgeous!

The bride’s sister, in the most stunning combination of fuschia and orange. Gorgeous!

I loved the detail in this child's attire, adorable!

I loved the detail in this child’s attire, adorable!

The men are dressed in bandhgalas (also called sherwanis), worn with trousers or breaches. Men also wear jewelry, especially on the neck and ear studs as well plus the distinctive saafa (headgear) that is actually several yards of cotton tied on the head. I was specially impressed by the bridegroom’s sartorial sense, his sherwani was made of a subtle brocade silk and so were his jootis (shoes), all matching matching! His kamarband that held the traditional sword (a mark of the warrior class) was also very subtle and elegant.

The safas as the groom and his companions enter the mandap area...texture, colour, motion....

The safas as the groom and his companions enter the mandap area…texture, colour, motion….

Nirbhay looks busy. The brother of the bride is one of the most important people in an Indian wedding :)

Nirbhay looks busy. The brother of the bride is one of the most important people in an Indian wedding 🙂

The bride and groom were so relaxed. Was fun to watch that as a contrast in the otherwise traditional setting. In the good old days, they would barely have known each other! Nowadays, the brides smile out at the world through the ghungat (veil) and I love it!

The bride and groom were so relaxed. Was fun to watch that as a contrast in the otherwise traditional setting. In the good old days, they would barely have known each other! Nowadays, the brides smile out at the world through the ghungat (veil) and I love it!

Rajput women wear their veil with immense pride. No symbol of oppression this, I can assure you!

Rajput women wear their veil with immense pride. No symbol of oppression this, I can assure you!

That's me, one of the few moments I let my camera go!

That’s me, one of the few moments I let my camera go!

Amma, my mother in law, wears the poshak with grace and sports a maang teeka, an item of jewelry prevalent through north India and very much in vogue at present! This piece was made for her wedding and I wore it at mine as well!

Amma, my mother in law, wears the poshak with grace and sports a maang teeka, an item of jewelry prevalent through north India and very much in vogue at present! This piece was made for her wedding and I wore it at mine as well!

Moments I love during family weddings!

Moments I love during family weddings!

Aadyaa was happy with pepsi and newly found friends!

Aadyaa was happy with pepsi and newly found friends!

Some asides and the general ambience of the wedding!

Some asides and the general ambience of the wedding!

Another spectacular woman with spectacular jewelry!

Another spectacular woman with spectacular jewelry!

Yuvragi again. Picture of grace, isn't she?

Yuvragi again. Picture of grace, isn’t she?

An elderly relative documenting the marriage with a phone camera. I love the way technology integrates into  tradition in our lives

An elderly relative documenting the marriage with a phone camera. I love the way technology integrates into tradition in our lives

Various rituals and ceremonies...

Various rituals and ceremonies…

Maang mein sindoor. Red vermilion being filled into the parting on the bride's head by the groom. Her veil is lifted by the ladies and no one misses the poignancy of the moment. Love this capture!

Maang mein sindoor. Red vermilion being filled into the parting on the bride’s head by the groom. Her veil is lifted by the ladies and no one misses the poignancy of the moment. Love this capture!

Much of the ambience was also created by the architecture around us. Dera Mandawa, the stunning boutique hotel that Nirbhay’s family runs (it is an extension of their own home), made the perfect setting for a traditional wedding. I admired, through the evening, the taste with which the decor had been chosen, the wonderful voices of the folk musicians that pervaded the air, the understated elegance of the ceremony. I could have expected nothing less from the family, especially the father of the bride, Thakur Durga Singh who is a true connoisseur of art and culture and responsible for quite a bit of the insights that I have about the state and its culture, especially the Shekawati region. All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable evenings I spent. I was so glad I took my camera along, so I could share some glimpses here with all of you.

The exquisite decor

The exquisite decor

The musicians who added to the magic. An indispensable element indeed

The musicians who added to the magic. An indispensable element indeed

The kids played 'India's Got Talent' in the front porch of Dera Mandawa. Was tickled by their choice of game!

The kids played ‘India’s Got Talent’ in the front porch of Dera Mandawa. Was tickled by their choice of game!

Dera Mandawa the next morning

Dera Mandawa the next morning

The main family home, still basking in the glory of the wedding decor

The main family home, still basking in the glory of the wedding decor

Nirbhay and amma saying goodbyes as we leave for Gurgaon again.

Nirbhay and amma saying goodbyes as we leave for Gurgaon again.

Sights, sounds, stories: In & around our stately old Kanpur home

Family weddings are to enjoy and the incredibly complex nature of Indian families makes them even more entertaining, if you are intent on taking each experience in the spirit of tolerance that is! Every wedding is remembered for various incidents, squabbles and comic antics alike and this one was no exception. But I’m not inclined to air my family’s dirty or not-so-dirty linen in public so I’ll refrain from sharing the juicy details!

As the bahu (daughter-in-law) of the family, I’ve received unconditional love from all of Rahul’s relatives and as a bit of an outsider (no longer now though!), I’ve also enjoyed exploring a new culture and context. Rahul’s maternal side are Rajputs, belonging originally to Bihar but having settled in the Lucknow-Kanpur area for a few generations now. This time, as in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the rambling ancient home in which the family lives right in the heart of Kanpur. The house, now over a century old, is located inside a sprawling complex that houses the Bishambhar Nath Sanatan Dharam (BNSD) College that was once surrounded by orchards and is now dotted with homes of the upper caste families that were originally associated with the Trust that owns the land. One enters this little development through Chunniganj, an old mohalla of the city with a dominant Muslim population. The contrast between one side of the home is fascinating. One side green, not so densely populated, occupied mostly by Brahmin families, sounds of cows, kids playing, pooja bells, family squabbles, parrots; and the other, dense, haphazard, Muslim, sounds of the azaan from two dofferent mosques punsture the air at regular intervals through the day, dawn to dusk! It is quite an experience!

Our home is an imposing structure, stately and colonial in bearing, but now a bit run over with the changes that have been made to it over time. The additions are a bit haphazard and make for an interesting study and many of the original adornment remain, looking askance but somehow hanging in there! Adding substantially to the character are the paraphernalia over generations that are lying around. A discarded table top here, old books there, an out-of-use VCR in a bag in tucked in a corner, construction debris of varying dates and so on. And of course the stories that accompany the objects, the buildings and the people around us….the stories that bring everything to life!

Entry from the gali! Check out how the sagging vault is propped up by a pillar! Jugaad!

Entry from the gali! Check out how the sagging vault is propped up by a pillar! Jugaad!

Facade

Facade

One of the porches that isn't built over

One of the smaller porches

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Incongrous details: Mooch waala lion, fortress like parapets and the shaadi ka tent!

Incongrous details: Mooch waala lion, fortress like parapets and the shaadi ka tent!

Early morning gup-shup! Multiple terraces being enjoyed

Early morning gup-shup! Multiple terraces being enjoyed

Another terrace being enjoyed and the old discarded table top!

Another terrace being enjoyed and the old discarded table top!

Stuff lying around on the terrace...old houses are fascinating collections of junk. Rahul even found books that he owned as a child somewhere!

Stuff lying around on the terrace…old houses are fascinating collections of junk. Rahul even found books that he owned as a child somewhere!

From a recent spurt of additions to the house

From a recent spurt of additions to the house

Chunni ganj before us and Rahul's memories of the Shami Safi villa that added a room or a floor each time he visited in his childhood!

Chunni ganj before us and Rahul’s memories of the Shami Safi villa that added a room or a floor each time he visited in his childhood!

Navigating cities can be hard! A Delhi Metro story

I was returning from Delhi on the metro on Friday evening. It was only four but the metro was quite packed. I got into a general compartment being quite sick of the scenario on the ladies reserved one! And I was glad. For a few stops later, an entire wedding band trooped in. They were being ushered in by a man who seemed really confident. A savvy dilliwala, I thought.
I stood all the way, but many of the bandwalas squatted on the floor of the coach. They had no idea it was not permitted and no one said anything to them either. Rather sad looking men they were, in grubby white uniforms with bright red accents. The uniform of the bandwala, another strange legacy of the Raj here in north India. Sometimes they whispered amongst themselves. But mostly they just sat and stared. I wondered about their lives. Where did they come from? Who taught them to play all these unusual instruments, the saxophone, the large drums, etc.
Once we crossed the M G Road station and the train was rather empty, I noticed the man who seemed in charge of them get rather agitated. He pulled out a piece if paper from his shirt pocket and looked around hopefully. I offered to help. On the paper I could see “park hotel” written in devnagari. I asked them to get off at huda city centre and cross the road. But I had a moment of doubt and asked to see the paper again, only to realise they needed to get to the City Park Hotel that was near the toll on NH8!
This hotel is not here, it’s on the jaipur highway, I told the man. A completely bewildered look. But this is gurgaon isn’t it? This is where we were told to go!
In the nick of time, on my insistence, they got off at Iffco Chowk, me shouting instructions to get to the highway and figure out how to reach! Poor bandwalas shuffled out with heavy feet and long faces. Another evening of escorting some happy groom and his gleeful family and perhaps drunk brethren to his wedding. I doubt it touched them, the glitz of the Great Indian Wedding, to which their jazzy red cummerbunds and gilded headgear adds south sparkle. I hope they got to the wedding in time. I hope they got paid enough. This is, after all, their time to make their bucks before they go back to languishing wherever they do for the rest of the year when not many people get married in this part if the country!
And I thought about how difficult it is for even a reasonable confident dilliwala. A guy who runs a band business or at least works as the band owners manager; if he can’t get around, what hope is there for an illiterate person, an outsider, an under confident traveller? Maybe the Delhi government should have services at bus stands and stations to help people navigate this city better. I envisage touch screens that make this networks simple to comprehend and bring smiles to those confused faces. I imagine an accessible city, a friendly city, a better city. It’s not enough to put in the infrastructure; we got to go one step further to make it usable, comprehensible, navigable to all.

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Look, Camera, Pose!! The travails of a novice photographer at the Great Indian Wedding!- Feb 12, 2012

No one can resist the camera and least of all at weddings. At a friend’s wedding in Lucknow yesterday, I hoped to get some nice shots on my camera. There was an army of official wedding photographers doing their job, but the minute I took out my camera, someone would ask me to take their picture and pose! For about half an hour, I took random shots of relatives and guests, many of whom I didn’t even know. Nobody asked me what would happen to those images or who I was (I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like anyone from the photography studio); they simply put on the (sometimes fake) smiles and posed!

In a city like Lucknow, digital cameras are still a rarity, especially for older people and I suppose its exciting to be the object of someone’s attention for a few moments. Wedding albums are still a big thing for us Indians in general (people actually come and ask to see ours after nearly 11 years of being married!), so I suppose being photographed is all part of being on record as well.

At long last, I stowed the camera away. Only when the wedding was underway and people were distracted by the loveliness of the bride and the rituals, did I dare to shoot again!

Guds, Gops and Mel, we had a great time! Thanks a ton!

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