Momin, one of the few Muslims working in the office, is a dear young man and it so happened that he invited me to his wedding in Shamsabad, UP . I had never been to a Muslim wedding and knew that this would be an opportunity to learn more about the world. I arrived early Sunday morning November 13 and was greeted by one of Momin’s friends at the Farukhadbad train station. We hopped onto his cycle and drove the 20 km to Shamsabd. From the moment we got out of the train station to the more rural areas the scenery shifted to the India that I love.
The simplicity of rural India, as I imagine other rural areas, in other parts of the world, is just beautiful. It is the way that it has been for so many years, oxen pulled carts, hand work as opposed to mechanization, and although it is changing, it is, in the very technologically driven world, something that I treasure.
As we entered the town of Shamsabad, a decent sized city, we came to Momin’s family’s home which was quite large, as his dad is a very well known doctor. The more than extended family was staying at Momin’s for the wedding and his bride to be lived about a five minute walk. This was a love marriage, something still unusual in India, but it would take place in the very traditional way.
People in Shamsabad were generally not that acquainted with westerners. I noticed this in the many children who would run away from the site of me. There was also the other side where others would just glom onto me. At times this became a bit much as when I was awoken early Monday after going to sleep into early Monday morning. All part of the experience though and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Arriving on Sunday morning I asked to take a shower or bucket bath. Because the power was off, the water had to be heated manually. The toilets are at the end of an indoor courtyard or kind of living room of which many people were sitting around talking, waiting. This is the ultimate idea that comes to mind when I think of a joined family as not even bathroom habits are kept private. The sink was out in the courtyard and even brushing my teeth was a family affair. I met a number of “grandmothers”, brothers, aunties, uncles, children all of whom played some role in Momin’s life. Fortunately some of the folks did speak English.
Momin and his friends were quite over protective of me, but considering that people just gathered at the site of an American, it did make some sense. I met so many people as we walked through the town. I taught songs and danced with the many children and they tried to teach me. One young girl, who I nicknamed Sheila, was an incredible dancer who I captured on a short video.
Some of Momin’s friends and I went on a little site seeing tour. We stopped at a friend’s house where people were making the very detailed sari’s. This was very interesting to me, the patience that has to go into putting all of the beads in the right place. We sat outside his house and a crowd gathered just to look. We got back onto the scooters and the friends took me to a mosque and a little hill where one child was following us. I asked to take his picture and he looked at me as if I was from outer space. Finally a group of his friends came over and they all took a photo. One has to wonder how many photos these children have taken.
On Sunday night the ceremony began at Momin’s with him being given a number of outfits to try on. (Before this I went with Momin and another friend to a mosque across the street from his home where he prayed). Everyone on Momin’s side gathered around a small stage on the first floor at his house while relative after relative gave him new clothes, which he proceeded to try on in front of all. (I’m sure a similar ceremony was going on at the bride to be’s home). Finally a rather large flower thing, the length of Momin was placed on his head. This must have weighed at minimum 10 kg. As he sat, rupees were given to him and placed on the money necklaces.
At around 10 PM(?) Momin and his friends and me got into the wedding car where we were transported to the wedding venue. Momin was brought to the stage where a number of Imam were sitting. There were a tremendous number of, mostly men, sitting in the audience, waiting for the food “stalls” on the inside perimeter of the tent to open.
As the ceremony started, I noticed that the bride-to-be was nowhere to be seen and was told that she was in the tent behind the stage. I walked over and saw many women in front of the tent hanging, just waiting. I later came to find out that the bride would not leave the tent, but that someone from Momin’s family, as part of the ceremony, would go and ask her to marry Momin.
Many of Momin’s female family members did come and observe Momin and they were all dressed so beautifully. I really enjoy the women in India, dressed in the more traditional sari’s. Wedding sari’s are a step beyond and are just beautiful to observe. The jewelry that is worn, especially the nose rings, are also something that I love to see and take photos of. I took a snap with a number of the women surrounding me and was in a bit of heaven.
Finally we got to the end of the ceremony and I went up on the stage, sat next to Momin and watched him, his father-in-law, and others sign some legal documents. During the entire 2+ hour ceremony everyone was enjoying a variety of foods. Unfortunately dust bins were not provided, or at least I didn’t see any and so the grounds of the wedding ceremony tent, became littered, something I haven’t quite gotten used to.
One of Momin’s friends brought me back to the house on his scooter. The next day’s reception would take place across the narrow street from Momin’s home and I decided to go over. A group of five men were preparing the food, including the carcass of a cow with his entrails sprawled and his head and eyes in a fixed gaze.
I walked into the house where more ceremony was taking place. Someone had something like silly string and was spraying it. This had also been used at the wedding ceremony venue. Finally Momin’s wife was brought in with her face shrouded. She was just lovely in the very heavy wedding dress, although we couldn’t really look upon her face yet. She was placed on the ground and all gathered around her. Momin sat next to her, the silly string spewing. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the bride, wearing so much wedding paraphernalia, having to change, the wedding night.
The ceremonies seemed to go on and on and I decided to try to sleep. There were people sleeping everywhere and there was at least one other person in “my” room, but at least I had my own bed.
Momin’s father had painted one of the bedrooms for the first night, but earlier in the day I had sat on the bed with some other friends and eaten our lunch. I wondered what it would be like, how Momin’s wife would even get out of her wedding clothes which she also had to put on the next day, somehow everyone takes it in stride. There was one point where I asked the bride how she was doing and put my hand on her shoulder, but was told don’t touch her. A modern couple steeped in tradition.
On Monday I walked into town with a couple of Momin’s friends. There was a great market and people generally allowed me to take their photos. There was a great deal of curiosity, but part of the experience is to just “touch” others by being in the same vicinity. I must look rather odd with my topis, considering that the circumstance of a westerner being in town were very remote. Finally we had to go back to Momin’s home for the reception.
Momin and his wife were sitting on his bed greeting people, having photos taken. The bride looked uncomfortable and so very tired, but she took it in good spirit. This is the way that it is and will continue to be. Momin explained to me that there would be many more days of ceremonies and celebrations.
Around 6 PM I got onto a scooter with two of Momin’s friends as they drove me to the train station. The magic of rural India was everywhere as we drove around dusk, making it all even more mystical.
As I think back on it all, it adds to my understanding and knowledge of the world. It tells me that people are people, some do hate, but mostly we just want what is best for ourselves and our families. A Muslim person may have different beliefs but mostly there is allowance and tolerance for all. As I continue to find out though, one has to experience diversity to really know, to be part of the world and break down person made barriers.
I’m looking forward to meeting up with Momin and his wife in Delhi, ready to assume a modern relationship, where both are working and loving based on what they both wanted. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the happiness and hopefully becoming an uncle to their children. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to be part of a very different culture enabling me to continue to learn about the world.