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The Tragic Comedy In Bodhgaya, Bihar: Best Friend’s Wedding Part 1

Gaya Junction is a small station that is a part of Eastern Railway zone of India. Like any other railways platform in India, we envisaged it to be brimming with people, walking to and fro and waiting eagerly for their trains. The station was unexpectedly both clean and empty in the early morning hours when we arrived.

Know how to reach from Bangalore To Gaya, via the second largest city of India, Kolkata.

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Our friend’s brother had come to receive us at the station. Miss Annu, the bride and our best friend was at home, playing badminton and holding onto every opportunity to shed a few grams of fat before her wedding day.

Gaya reveals its deepest side in the narrowest lanes of the city. In quick successions of a few left and right turns, we crossed a market place that was just waking up from slumber and took a final left to enter into a lane. The houses hugged each other side to side—the road was empty yet carried a plethora of sounds coming from adjacent households. The three-storeyed house stood tall—the back of my head touched my neck as I stared at what we would be calling it for the coming days—home.

The Best Friend’s Wedding

Warm hugs and smiles welcomed us. It was a pleasure everyone in the family who had been expecting us since so many days—Aunty (our friend’s mother) called us for breakfast, something we had really been waiting for. We gorged on the food, satiated our hunger and went upstairs to our friend’s room for the ‘talk’.

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Trying our friend’s Jewelry – Things To Do At The Best Friend’s Wedding

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Me: “There is no stopping to the drama, Ok! ”       Shalvi: “This thing in not fitting in my nose”

Our best friend was getting married and like all girlfriends we were super excited to make the best out of these moments—we were the bridesmaids!

The Mehendi

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Henna design in the Making

Applying mehendi or henna on the hands and feet of the bride is not just a traditional embellishment to make the bride look more beautiful.  The lesser-known scientific reasons that back the practice are the cooling effect mehendi has on the skin. A wedding includes a series of customs that are performed one after the other. Mehendi provides a cooling sensation and releases the stress build from the whole day’s events.

 

 

We had to feed our friend, while her hands and feet were being dyed with the rich-smelling herb. It was a tedious 4-5 hour long process, which the aunty who had come to apply her mehandi completed without a sigh of exhaustion.

Our girl was ready, but we, her best friends made sure that her hena design was perfect and took the cone, much to the reluctance of the mehandi-wali-aunty, added a few streaks of wet mehandi giving it a final touch up.

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The Final Outcome

The act was completed after dabbing a solution of lemon and sugar on the dried mehandi to churn out the color.

The Sangeet

Adjacent to the Falgu river, on the Bakraur village road, almost 14 kilometres from Gaya, stood the famous Mahabodhi temple—the place known to have been an abode for Gautam Buddha, where he meditated for seven weeks at a stretch. Across the river, only 1.7 kilometers away stood the Mahamaya Palace Hotel, where the wedding was to take place.

In the late hours of the previous night, we had arrived with all our luggage at the majestic hotel in a slumber. With our eyes almost giving away to sleep, we made a way to our room and unloaded ourselves. The calm vicinity and light summer breeze of July allowed us to settle down with ease and brought the sleep quickly.

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The ceremonies had begun early the next morning when we were still snoring in sleep. The commotion in the room stirred us awake—we squinted, looking at our friend who was busy getting dressed up and ready for the occasion we had no clue about.

Our friend had to change about half a dozen saris for the ceremony.

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Our beautiful lady in Red – Hugs and Kisses

Rubbing our eyes, we saw the bride in a beautifully embroidered brilliant red sari. We were still in our bed in our nightwear, while a number of unfamiliar faces poured in the room much to our embarrassment. As girls in their mid-twenties among aunties clad in saris and traditionally intact, we got some sheer glances from top to bottom. We were being excused as friends from Bangalore by our friend who was by now completely transformed under the shades of makeup and traditional wear.

 

We witnessed a series of wedding rituals including the Haldi. Our friend had to change about half a dozen saris, one for each ceremony. We helped her get ready every time, to change the jewelry, sari, footwear and a touch of makeup.

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Our best friend and bride to be.

The whole scenario of the bride coming to the room and quickly changing into a new piece felt more like an Formula 1 race pit stop—where the car comes to a halt in between the race and gets a tire change, fuel refilling, mechanical adjustments and hurriedly speeds up to join the race once again.

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Please excuse the expressions – We were basking in the summer morning light.

Evening was as fantastic as it could be. We dressed up in ethnic wear and came down to the banquet hall that was equipped with a wide stage and speakers blazing with party soundtracks—our happiness had no bounds! We both were shy at first, but on repeated insisting we took to the dance floor and then there was no stopping.

Then, it was just two of us, the stage, the light and lots of vacant chairs to see us perform.

The Party

The songs auto-played dance numbers one after the other and we couldn’t hold ourselves shaking a leg to each of them. The guests started retreating to the dinner table but we were still dancing on the stage with a few other people.

Those people then got off and we were left to dance with small kids. Then, it was just two of us, the stage, the light and lots of vacant chairs to see us perform.

Our friend asked us to come down, but we were high on adrenaline and pulled her along.

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The Three Musketeers sharing the spotlight.

When only we two were left on the empty stage, the famous Indian number Kajra Re started playing, we couldn’t stop ourselves and kept performing the signature step until they put off the music.

“What do you think, we will back off if you put off the music?” We asked the cousins that sat cornered in their chairs at the far end of the banquet hall.

Undeterred, we started singing the lines of the song and finished the show.

The curtains fell with grace.

 

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District of DayDreams-The day before dawn-I

Did I tell you that the previous night, we, the innocent, diligent kids, went out, to stroll the streets of Ajmer well past midnight? No?!

Well, so it was, that few excited bunch of kids, really wanted to climb the mini-Everest, that stood high, not far from the house, but we just had a bad timing. After everyone was well snoring, under the deep sleep, brought by the bitter liquid, we kids ventured out for a small walk at around 2 am. It was the winter-cold, considering February was approaching to the spring of March, but had not ended yet. The brother-in-suffering dragged his fatigued self, against the road, to keep up with us. I could understand it would be tough for him, mountain-climbing at night.

On the lonely streets, in spine-chilling cold of a dark deserted night, when even the owls won’t hoot, few adrenaline pumped people, with chattering teeth, sought for adventure.

Well enough, said nature, and we heard a sound, of a vehicle fast approaching us, from an adjacent lane, we could hardly see. We thought maybe it was police on patrolling business. Everybody decided to stay still, girls got back, we stood like Prairie dogs on high alert. Until the light and the sound of vehicle made it clear to us that it was an auto rickshaw, we held our breaths only to release it, watching a rowdy playing undecipherable songs on high volume like a spoilt Delhi boy, showing off his new car and a blaring woofer. One of the Mister-still-keen-on-adventure, laughed and intended to call an Ola cab, to escort us to the mountain top or bottom, whichever was palpable. Not all were interested in the idea. The thing about that night was, one could have been murdered and done business with and no one would even get a hint. We decided on better options and instead headed our way back home amidst the constant persuasions. I am sure even Ola cab would have left it to rowdy auto-walas to carry folks like that at night.

 

Day 3:

Next morning, breakfast served us with mouth-watering Bedmii Poori and aloo ki sabzi  and alternatively with sandwiches and boiled eggs for typical angrezi Indians, along with tea and coffee. I knew I ate too much, when getting up and putting the plate in dustbin became an effort.  Meanwhile di and aunty were nowhere to be seen, yes probably having their share of quality time, before the bride to be was to leave for the new home.

Seemingly, lunch time came soon and we merrily headed for the venue. A mini cab drove us to the destination that was at a walking distance but hunger prompted us to make it faster. The lunch appeared more than welcoming and we pounced upon it greedily. For the first time ever in my life I had Bengali cuisine, this one, as I enquired, was called Maach Mudo, meaning the Fish head. It didn’t appear that appealing but the taste was good. I didn’t know whether I was eating the brain, the flesh or may be the eye or tongue for that matter. But it was all in the head you know.

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Another dish that took my notice was Doi Maach, a special kind of Fish curry. Although I really am not a fish fan, mostly because of the effort it takes to separate fish bones, I savored the taste of the newly tried dish. The deserts lured me and took me to a different world altogether. I am sure, I was high on food with Ghevar and I ate it until I thought I would vomit it out.

Try Ghevar at Home!

 

With happy tummies we slogged back to the house and I didn’t know when sleep started taking over. Though aunty had told me and my best to do some work for later, I couldn’t help but summon to sleep. As soon as, I kept my first foot on the stairs to sleep, I heard aunty call me.

NOOOOOooooooo….!

Thankfully I got quick work, which was to fold few dried clothes. I was doing it gladly and fast until I found few ladies and gents under-wears and bras to fold.

HUH! I AM NOT GOING TO TOUCH YOU!!

I said disgustingly to the inner-wears or may be just thought loud to myself, I can’t remember. I picked up the bundle, with the untouchables, sandwiched in between the clothes and went to ask aunty where to keep them. I kept the stack in the room and ran upstairs fearing if aunty catches me again I am sure not to get a bail out. Sneaking into the room and under the blankets, I held on to my dear sleep, that was about to take off without me.

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While I and my bestie, slept with rice and fish packed tummies, the excited kids went to explore Ajmer. The gang went to visit Taragarh fort. Although I accept that I missed the opportunity, I would definitively like to highlight some shots taken by Tushar Chakraborty aka Chintu Bhaiya, with his iphone (wonder if I can do a promotion). There is such a splendid beauty in the scenic shots that will make you wonder and wish that you were there. The mosque with the Golden dome, with the setting sun in the background, hovers like a form of peace rather seen than felt.

Trip To Ajmer

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The kids jumped up and down with excitement when they told what and all I had missed, explaining the classic scenes with glitter in their eyes and awes in their speeches. I shuddered it off and got up to get ready.

The evening turned to night without our knowledge and the girls got ready taking their own sweet time while the boys rushed between getting work and getting ready. I had a got my mom’s red and white silk saari, thinking that, it looked somewhat like a traditional Bengali saari and wore it in the same style with the help of a friend. No pleates, no tucking them in and swelling like a balloon; it was the most comfortable style of saari wearing technique.

After finishing the makeup and getting constant calls to come down and leave for the venue, I finally came down but to find no-one in the house. Yes, everybody had left, so I waited there for the last of the few people, to come along so as to be carried to the venue, until this friend of mine called for me and we hurriedly scooted to the venue as the Barat was to come soon. In that Bengali styled sari, riding the streets of Ajmer, to a Bengali wedding, I witnessed a lifetime in that moment.

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District of Daydreams: Chapter II

DAY 1:
Though the decoration was still pending, the house looked as if, exalted with flowers pots of all kinds. I somehow knew it would come on me. There were rooms hidden and camouflaged, where you would expect a wall to be and the most surprising space was the backyard. Following down the steps from the endmost door, was the way to an open green space. To the right was a big concrete water tank filled with little lotus pods and enumerable fish and snail shells. The garden had a small walk-around track, which on the other side, led to another single storied small out-house, where the dinner was being prepared by 3 to 5 people. I stared at them with hopeful eyes, since I had skipped a proper lunch and there reached, well before the dinner time.
We had tea and some snacks and subsequently, I was introduced to the relatives, as a friend from Bangalore, who came running to Ajmer, when she heard about the marriage. Quite right indeed, I felt, because I was the earliest of few, who had arrived. Some Bengali words flew here and there and I settled myself with being an obsolete for the fresh talks.

Big red bindis adorned few wide foreheads, as the crowd settled down for some dance. Those among standing were few locals, and started dancing right away to the beats of dhol. Few ladies in ghagra and ghungat (veil) draped over their heads to hide their faces, circled round and round to slow beats diligently. I and another girl were pulled in by the bride to be (di) and her mum (aunty). We, in turn made a self-rescue out of it, together and became the best of friends, for the rest of the days I stayed there. After obliging to angry glances, we made our way and danced few steps to freedom. The dhol served its term well and blew out to mark the end of dance.
My friend called us kids upstairs to first floor and we started our work of dressing up chairs and tables for the mini-cocktail party for the grownups ups. After the work was done, we took the break too.

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District of Daydreams

We were on the terrace when I had a full view of the city at night. Covered by hills on three sides, the house stood on high grounds, offering a great view of the city that shone equally brilliantly under the stars. And then there was the full moon, that cast a light shadow of mine, in its delicate light. The clear starry sky, the noiseless roads, not even a honk reached my ears. It came upon me that I had longed for this peace since I didn’t know when. I hadn’t realized that the concrete jungle had taken a toll over me until Ajmer made me absorb it in its air. Time stood still and stayed with me. I hugged the silence of the city and I dreamed of this place as my own home.
Aunty called us down for dinner after some time. The sleep came swiftly after a long day.

 

DAY 2:
Next day I woke up to a stunning view from the balcony of the first floor. A beautiful hill, covered with grass, stood astonishingly just in front, like a huge mountain. If I could take a flight, it was like the nearest tree I could perch upon. Lit by the morning light, it looked breathtaking. I insisted upon a trek to the top, amidst the marriage….Well, not that bad an idea.
The morning began with getting ready for the breakfast and yes of course the Haldi Ki Rasam ( The tradition of applying turmeric on the bride’s face). After having a hefty breakfast, I gathered my excitement to hear the familiar “ululu” tone, commonly associated with Bengali weddings, and the one I had hear only in Bollywood movies.
There was a lot of commotion as di (the bride to be) finally left her tomboy style and entered in the traditional avatar, as she came down to the garden in a beautiful, brightly colored sari, draped in Bengali style. Fresh turmeric was mashed and applied on her face by married women, while they circled around her, uttering “ululu”. My newly-made good friend, successfully blew the Shankh (the Shell), though after a bit of funny whistling.
The surroundings were, as if, lifted up in spirits as the Gods came down to bless the bride-to-be, as is said happens when the Shankh is blown. The ambiance of the place took a turn of extreme positivism and power, as the ceremony proceeded. Women with maroon and white bangles, symbolizing their married selves, played around with the turmeric and even smeared it across our faces, saying that it brings forth the prospects of early marriage. They found me running and struggling away from the crowd thereafter.

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Post haldi ki rasam! Future husband, can you see me? :p

Lunch happened and I saw my friend and her sister (the bride to be) having their first meals of the day. The brother, I thought, should also suffer. Meanwhile aunty called us in the front verandah and we started the decoration as I had predicted. It was fun, as we tried the best of our creativity and convincing, to decorate the front yard, while it was getting prepared to be lit like a sparkling gem.

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Told’ya about the sparkling gem!

Meanwhile two young girls came out of nowhere and asked who among us wanted to apply Mehandi (Henna). I jumped up with excitement and offered my hand to the ladies. Intricate designs flowed cold on my palm and I came to know the girls were studying in 10th standard and doing a side job as a mehandi artist. Many aunties poured in, first hesitatingly then jovially and we the kids started fanning our hands dry.
The evening as if came early, but I didn’t allow the mehandi to come off even a bit, so as to churn the maximum dye out of it, that made me slightly handicapped as I didn’t use my left hand at all.

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My handicapped left hand

The night cracked with the sound of the speakers that were put up and blared out. The crowd slowly swelled and we started getting really ready this time. The front yard glowed spectacularly in the night against the dull neighborhood. By the time we were out, the ladke wale (the groom and family) had arrived for the function called Ashirwaad (Blessings from Elders). The bride to be arrived in a fairytale lehanga and almost elegantly took her place, over the intricately designed carpets in the yard. She was gifted with jewelry that glinted in the video camera and in the wide eyes of beholders all around her. The elders showered their blessings and with a constant expression that comes when under the surveillance, di received it all like a good bride to be. When it came to the groom’s turn, we had a good glimpse of him, after which we headed to our own selfie sessions and surprisingly discovered another short way to the back gardens. One big surprise house it was.
The ceremonies followed the much awaited snacks, which was followed by sudden migration of people to the terrace for the major cocktail party.

God, I really didn’t know Bengalis had Daru party in their Weddings, like Punjabis do.

People consumed the alcohol like there was no tomorrow and danced to Punjabi, Bollywood and even Honey Singh tracks. The uncles and aunties were pumped up and showed no sign of tiredness. Few neighbors stood with ghungat,(veil) covering their heads and faces and glasses of whisky in their hands. Quite embarrassed at first, my friends had asked one of them to take a peg. She had refused saying abhi break li hai, kam kardi hai (I have taken a break, I have reduced). Next moment she and her friends sipped from the glass, with their ghungat now high over their heads and revealing their pretty, chubby faces.

People pulled them in for a dance on the regional Rajasthani music and they danced and danced, gladly around the bride, who looked confused and wondering, right in the centre of rotating dolls around her. The bride and groom had their share of drinks and dance. We took the opportunity of the blaring speakers, the dancing drunk boys and followed the crowd to the place of dinner. I couldn’t resist being devouring and attacked the delicious cuisines. The chicken, the curd and the sweet satiated my hungry soul.

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City Lights

Sleep came like a wide fish net, thrown high up in air, and I comforted under my heavy blanket, against the cold night of Rajasthan, not bothering about anything else, no tomorrow, no office, no alarms, no calls, no messages. It was the best sleep I got into, after a long time. And no, the whisky was not to blame, Remember? I chose food!