(Note: I’m now in fact in Japan, and have been in Indonesia for the past month… I will catch up on interesting, important, or otherwise relevant scenes as possible, while chronicling my time in Yamaguchi-ken and beyond. The hiatus is now over!)
The first time I wore a saree was at while my fellow volunteer at Pathashaala, Camille, and I were helping out in the school laundry. As usual, we were communication largely through sign language, with shared English and Tamil words where possible, when Leela Akka suggested swapping clothes with Camille. A great deal of fabric-winding and giggling ensued, until Leela was wearing an alien ensemble of t-shirt and trousers, and Camille was swathed in a beautiful purple and red saree. It struck me once again that western clothes can be stupendously unflattering, while a sarees look fantastic on anyone.
Since I was requested not to post photos of this particularly colourful occasion on the web, I leave this amicable scene to your imaginations. However, the same occasion led to an even more colourful set of pictures that I can share. Tucked safely in the rafters, Camille found a wedding invitation. One of Pathashaala’s employees was getting married on the 4th of March. Not long after the day at the laundry, Veera asked us to attend himself, and our friends from the kitchen and the laundry invited us to come over to their houses beforehand and wear sarees to the reception.
I am left with a blur of images and impressions from that evening: how Camille and I were taken from one house to the next in the village of Elumichampattu to experience the amazing sweet coffee hospitality of people who live in one or two rooms, how most of the men already smelt of liquor in the early evening, how Shakila’s daughter asked me to take her with me to Germany, the laughter and loud music of our drive to the wedding in Vallipuram.
The wedding reception was a blast of sound. A cover band was belting out Tamil hits to the detriment of our eardrums. They were followed by a magician with many mysterious umbrellas he pulled from every available surface. The wedding dinner was delicious, but because of the number of guests we were required to eat in shifts, and be chased out quite quickly for the next lot. One question remained throughout: where’s the couple?
It turns out that, at least in south India, begin one evening with the reception, go all night, and conclude with ceremonies the next morning. While we attended their reception until around 10 pm, the bride and groom were still making their way through the town on an elaborately decorated float. We were able to shout our good wishes as we drove past them in the centre of their very own bridal traffic jam on the way home.
Unlike some of my other posts, this one doesn’t actually have a moral or conclusion – it isn’t a recipe, or a particularly deep contemplation. I simply want to express how wonderful it is to get such a close glimpse into daily life for some of the people I worked alongside for six weeks. We may not have had a language or a culture in common, but we loved to sing for each other and exclaim over a lovely colour or fabric as we got dressed for a wedding.