The Big Fat Indian Wedding in Ahmedabad

After absolute relaxation in the Himalayas for 4 days at the Ananda Spa, we arrived in Ahmedabad to a rocking thumping party with around 70 friends and family. As we pulled in to our driveway of our house in the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the party was in full swing. It was a precursor to Sanjana-Abhay’s wedding celebration. Small groups of youngsters (Abhay’s friends and family and Sanjana’s friends and family) were practicing their dance moves as the smell of street-food wafted through the air. The party was still going strong when we went to bed after 1:30AM. Going to bed after midnight would become the norm for the next few days.

For those of you who know me and my family, you already know that Sanjana is my niece (my older sister Sheelben’s daughter). She got married to an old family friend’s son, Abhay. We have known his family for at least a few generations. He grew up in the same neighborhood that I grew up in. It would be a bid wedding. You could hashtag it #MyBigFatIndianWedding. Lots and lots of my family and old friends were at the various events planned over 4 days.

There was a calendar floating around for the high society women (and some men) to plan their outfits and jewelry for each event. This wedding would mark the commencement of the “wedding season” in India. Over the next 3 months, plenty of people would crisscross the country to attend various weddings. It would be scandalous for them to repeat an outfit (humor and sarcasm intended). This is Ahmedabad high-society. We are big city where everyone knows everyone. We are small-minded, scandalous and gossipy; yet we know how to forgive and move on. Ahmedabad is considered a progressive city with broad roads and excellent restaurants and hotels. Ahmedabad is polluted, even filthy. It takes a long while for an outsider to fit in. To me, it is home. It always will be.

My first order of business was to find outfits for all the events. I’m hardly fashion-conscious but it was important for me to look presentable. This meant I had to be clean-shaven with combed hair (again, humor intended) and had to wear something fashionable and traditional. Off we went to Fab India to pick up a couple of outfits. Fab India is hardly a boutique store but it is right up my alley. It took me all of 10 minutes to select a couple of outfits. I already had borrowed a few from my brother-in-law in Delhi. I also had a suit I could wear for one of the less formal occasions (no humor intended).

The Mosalu

On the first day was Mosalu (aka Mameru) where the tradition is for the maternal uncle(s) to help establish the new couple’s household and gift the wedding dresses for the bride and her family. Of course, these days, it is a celebration where a procession of family members goes from the uncle’s house to the bride’s house with pomp and circumstance. This was my main affair. We had invited around a hundred people (a little more than half showed up). Most of the people were my uncles and aunts and first cousins. There were a few exceptions. We all gathered at my mom’s house at 9AM. Both Naman and I were wearing a maroon kurta (a traditional Indian long flowing tunic) with a black koti (a traditional Indian sleeveless vest). Binita was wearing a lovely orange outfit with dangling earrings. The diamond show had begun. As the days would progress, the size of diamonds would grow larger and larger!!

As a dholi (a traditional Indian drummer) played the dhol, we all drove to Sanjana’s house. All Indian events are chaotic. Things are planned to the nth degree but nothing ever goes as per plan. As we gathered outside my sister’s house, the chaos ensued. Somehow, in about ten minutes everyone showed up at the right place (albeit a few minutes late) and a few of us had baskets full of gifts adorned with orange and yellow flowers in our hands. There were 3 drummers festively drumming Indian rhythms as our procession of 60-odd people entered Sanjana’s soon-to-be old home. We were greeted by Sheelben and Devan and a party of 60-odd people as we mingled into the crowd. Appetizers and juices were served. I saw old friends and family. I grew up with Devan and his immediate family. They all have grown kids now. Time flies! My last big fat Indian wedding in Ahmedabad was Sheelben’s own wedding in the mid-1980s. That was 30 years ago. It seems like yesterday…

Mosalu – waiting for family to arrive
Mosalu – chocolates waiting to be distributed
Mosalu – a lonely centipede seems at home on a leaf

The Sangeet

Some weddings have dance (either Indian or Western), some are simpler affairs and some invite performers to perform a night of Sangeet (song or concert). There was fusion music arranged at this one. L. Subramaniam, a violin maestro renowned for his compositions performed with a string of Western and Indian artists. His son accompanied him on the violin. 800-odd invited guests in their wedding best showed up. As expected, I got a chance to catch up with old friends including my old swimming gang; and long-lost cousins from all over India.

Following the Sangeet was food and more food, socializing and more socializing, partying and more partying!

Sangeet – our job was to greet arriving guests
Sangeet – Maithili and Binita look dazzling
Sangeet – Naman and Binita at the entrance
Sangeet – Jia, Binita and Maisha before the start of the show

The Menhdi

Menhdi means Henna. The Menhdi party is for creating henna designs on hands (and feet) to beautify the entire wedding party. Henna artists (mostly Muslim women who have mastered the trade) are invited to create intricate designs. It’s an open forum for anyone to select a design; mostly traditional geometric designs with intricate peacocks, flowers, mangoes, stars and crisscrosses. Most men refrain from henna but I set a trend by asking for a simple henna wristband on my right wrist. Naman soon followed by asking for an elaborate dragon design that he found on the Internet. Soon after, a host of boys followed.

As the intoxicating smell of henna wafted through the air, food was served. Yep, more food and more socializing and this time, dance! Abhay’s family performed followed by my family. Good friends got into the act. Thankfully, I was spared the embarrassment. As always, the evening concluded with a rocking party!

Menhdi – Sanjana’s lovely menhdi design
Menhdi – Naman, Binita (R), Binita (L), me
Menhdi – Naman’s dragon stole the show
Menhdi – Binita, me – I decided not to wear traditional Indian
Menhdi – preparing the decor – Anisha, Sheelben, Shefali, Mana
Menhdi – Maisha and Jia looking pretty
Menhdi – Naman, Tara, Gaurav, Samjana, Abhay, Shimauli, Jia, Rishabh, Maithili, me, Binita

The Wedding

I have been to some high-profile weddings but I have never seen so many cameras. The preparations were finalized (as usual) at the last minute. Lovely red and white flowers adorned the mandap (wedding stage) in a chandelier of color. The entrance was decorated with a red awning and another smaller chandelier of red and white flowers. A portrait of Shreenathji (an avatar of Krishna) stood guard to fend of evil omens.

The baraat (wedding procession) arrived with a dozen drummers, festive dancing and a blast of orange head turbans. Abhay was all smiles. Sanjana was all smiles. Brilliant reds and yellow and green and peacock blue garments flowed with a dazzle of diamond jewelry. Everyone wore their wedding best. There is so much tradition and pomp and circumstance. I love Indian weddings. Old Gujarati customs like stealing the groom’s shoes and pinching his nose are just some examples of Indian weddings.

The stage was set. The ceremony began without much fuss. At Indian weddings, the ceremony is somewhat detached from the audience. The priest and immediate family, friends and a few onlookers are entrenched in the ceremony while the guests socialize, gossip and eat kulfi (a creamy ice cream). That’s just the way it is at Indian weddings. Things are chaotic and casual. Things are fun and festive.

In Gujarati wedding tradition, the maternal uncles (Naman and I) walk the bride up to the stage. Once again, it is casual and fun. The florists had created a canopy of flowers for Sanjana to walk under. I held her hand and walked under the canopy which was held up by 4 bearers (including Naman). In a few minutes, our job was done! The wedding was on. It lasted a couple of hours before it was time for the viday (goodbye). This is where the bride and groom drive off into the sunset after a few tears are shed. It’s an emotional time for the immediate family.

Here are some pictures from all the festivities.

Wedding – Abjay and Sanjana under the chandelier of flowers
Wedding – Abhay and Sanjana in traditional Indian wedding garb
Wedding – Devan and Sheelben awaiting the baraat
Wedding – Chandelier at the entrance
Wedding – me, Binita all smiles
Wedding – Sheelben, Binita looking lovely
Wedding – Sheelben, me
Wedding – Sheelben, mummy
Wedding – Jia is curious about the wedding ceremony
Wedding – Maisha and Prachi watching the ceremony
Wedding – Jia, Tara, Sanjana just before the wedding

Returning Home

We flew back the next day. With the Lufthansa pilot strike, our plane was rerouted. Our flight took a crazy route >> Ahmedabad – Delhi – Frankfurt – Houston – LA – Phoenix. We’re back home for Thanksgiving. The Big Fat Indian Wedding will be fondly remembered.

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