Saturday, February 22, 2014

Village stay, Gujarathi wedding, no work - awesome time

Follow up post to bus travel from Bangalore to Surat. Fair warning - long post just like long Indian wedding :P

From one of the busiest highway in India (NH-8), we turned right to take Kosamba-Moti Pardi (KMP - thats a short-name I just made :P) road, the junction flanked on all sides with Hotels and a Fuel station. After having had breakfast at "Decent" hotel, we saw "Honest" hotel being newly constructed. Immediately within few meters into KMP road, thick black smoke were rising from factories - guess sugarcane. Road was good enough for 80+ km speed. Further ahead, it was more village like with trees and fields (spotted Sugarcane for sure) with occasional passing of carts and bikers and cars. The ride was about 9km and some narrow village road ride later, we reached Yatin's house - almost 26 hours after leaving my little room in Bangalore.

A function was just about finishing (Yatin was wearing white Kurta-Pyjama with Haldi applied at various places, sitting on a dais and Pooja being performed). Me and Devang refreshed ourselves upstairs, Yatin's cousin Viraj and his friends Prasun and Suraj giving us company and general welcome. The narrow roads, some bare brick houses, cattle sheds, etc reminded me of my own native village (Bhawtari) in Rajasthan. But comparison ends there - new houses will give stiff competition to houses in Indiranagar (Bangalore). We named it modern village :D Also the coconut trees definitely stood out along with many guava and mango ones. On the balcony, looking out, I realized that the narrow road ride was just a long detour - the tent in front of Yatin's house extended beyond the road and the power-line pillar being effectively used to hang lamps along with other wooden ones needed to spread the tent. Space behind was used to park cars and almost full.

Once the function finished, we were requested to have food at Ramji Mandir. It was between 4-5 PM and we had just had lunch around 2:30PM! After spending some time idly, we nevertheless went through short-cuts and village roads to the temple. Large open space in front of temple was tented to provide catering service (workers from nearby town/city). Don't remember exact menu, but all meals I had there over two days was similar - some sweet, sweet dal, vegetable curry (usually potato, brinjal) poori, rice, snacks (papad consistent item, even at wedding), butter milk (obviously I avoided it :P), etc. Poori's were small - about two mouthfuls which led to frequent requests from Suraj and Prasun :P The service never let our cups be empty of water for long and at end used to wash our hands in plate (effective I must say to avoid space and queue for washing)

Later in the evening, women folk gathered in front of Yatin's house to sing songs passed on from generations past. Whether all the rituals are necessary for a marriage might be debatable, but one cannot deny the festive entertainment, social interaction and things like songs preserving our heritage for so long. Kids don't need an invitation to play - they are so adept in turning something trivial into interesting game. The one that got our attention too was something like this - kids would get hold of wooden pole with one guy left standing without one - his aim being catching a pole empty when two kids exchange their spots. Rules were little more complicated than that which we didn't understand - like the calling of name which makes the catcher turn around from current direction.

I took a power nap with the singing acting as lullaby. Previous night's sleep quota was getting covered. After sometime and yet another food munching (atleast 5 for the day for me and Devang), we wisely left the arena to another house where we were to sleep for two nights. This house was what prompted us to coin modern village - Chinese symbol on doors, windows that become one way mirror on the side having more light, one wall painted like the Asian paints ad, nice floor and restrooms, etc. Beds were already arranged with nice warm and cosy blankets. Yatin told us that we were to wake 6AM next morning when we left him, but Viraj soon confirmed what we suspected it to be. We were free to sleep even till noon. We didn't take long to get comfortable and dug deep inside those blankets with two fans at close to full speed :P. Smart phone wale put their phones to get charged. If it hasn't been obvious - this little village had electricity pretty much all day. Forgot to mention - every house has atleast one primary requirement - झूला (swing) some of them with a fan above. The other common thing being a cattle shed.

I wisely turned off my 6:15AM alarm before sleeping but still ended up waking at around 6:45AM. I freshened up, read few pages of Xenocide and then tried to sleep again. Meanwhile, some kid had come knocking looking for someone I had no idea about. After everyone was up, our royal treatment continued - hot water and soap was supplied, tea given and even offered breakfast - that was already arranged in temple, so we could decline gracefully. We met Yatin and then went for village tour - that meant going to the canal. It wasn't a long walk but a little too hot to our liking on a February morning. We spent some time there - just idle talk about canal and how deep it was and how water was flowing at all (we did see that there was alternate sloping and flat surface - using momentum of down slope to carry water over flat slope and then down again). Our host was passing by in motorcycle - stopped by to chat with us. Yatin's uncle passing by in car - stopped by to chat with us. We all liked this aspect of village life - Prasun kept repeating this throughout our stay and to anyone who asked :P

We also got to see some engineering wonders - a load hauling auto (open container), except that the front part was being pulled by part from motorcycle (guess it was bullet) instead of the normal ones. And fitted with CNG too. (We later learned that CNG gives about 300 kms for Rs 100 fuel - might be exaggeration, but still very impressive)

We then came back and continued straight on road to reach temple (instead of galis and spotting more modern houses - one with two nice palm trees). As it was day of important function, arrangements were bigger. It was pretty hot day and we first quenched ourselves with cool water - brought in thermo-bottles (something similar we had arranged for my brother's wedding in 40+ degree June month). As it turned out, we had arrived right time (around 11AM) - we were having brunch while normal waking people were having their second helping of the day.

When we returned, arrangements were being made for "Grah Shanti Pooja" (I first misheard it as गृह instead of ग्रह - which changes meaning from Planet to Home :P If it was a Marwadi marriage, Pooja for Home Peace would have made lot better sense than for Planet :D). Bed (thin as well well as thick ones) were laid all over the place for sitting, a platform on the opposite side of pooja for Geet-Sangeeth as well as big poster and photo frames of the marrying couple and family were placed. Kids as usual found a way to play - this time over-turning themselves on the bed, sometimes over the back of another kid. Yatin's room-mate Ruchik arrived by now, we went back to our stay to rest and freshen up a bit.

Then we went upstairs to check on Yatin and his family getting ready. Barber had come for home delivery :P I enjoyed some time in jhoola before all forced me to wear a पगडी (turban) too. When we came down, crowd had significantly swelled and by start of function had occupied every space available and more. We sat few paces in front of the music stage, looking very odd in our turbans - I strongly suspect we were ridiculed by locals :P. We were served fruit juice (pineapple + orange mix) - which took long time coming to us. An elderly person was distributing chocolates (throwing rather) to women folk. And then Mohammadi (our colleague) arrived too.

Pooja went on, we could barely see from our position and couldn't hear anything as the hired artists sang in Gujarathi/Hindi along with commentary about pooja and people involved. I would have liked more folk songs but then perhaps the locals liked Hindi ones :P (not that I understand Gujarathi :P) A few times in middle of pooja, more sweets were 'distributed' amongst the women.

Like the previous day, food was arranged immediately after the function. We stayed back to allow huge crowd to clear up a bit. Big relief when we removed turbans (had blocked ears and a bit tight over head). But even then, we had to wait when to finally went. We had soup while we waited (and joked that it was customer satisfaction ploy by caterers). After another sumptuous meal, we took another round of village (some different route) and came back to temple. We kidded Prasun and Suraj to have another innings (they were not-out in batting :P). After some chit-chat with Yatin (having his dinner), we came back. Beds were being re-arranged for ગરબા (Garba) later. We stayed a while before deciding to take power nap and returning.

I read few more pages of Xenocide while others slept. Ruchik was sleeping like a guy not slept for a week. And we proved to be troublesome guests - tap in bathroom gave away twice - fixed cleverly by Prasun though using a wooden stick. Around 9:30PM, I went out to check if the dance program had started. Mid-way I could hear the starting notes. I saved my kurta to be worn next day while others dressed in kurta-pyjama or more casual dress. When we arrived, crowd were beginning to build again. Huge clearing in the middle and chairs arranged around. After some songs (artists finding innovative ways to make us applaud at end of a performance - there were 2 male and 1 female singers. Yatin was called to sing on stage which he somehow avoided, but artists were equally well-equipped. They sang Kaate Nahi Katthe (song from Mr. India) and made Yatin to sing I love you :D), it was time for main show - Garba. Not sure if I had seen before, but certainly first time I was seeing live. And of course, we normally associate Dandiya with Gujarat (made famous in Tamil Nadu by AR Rahman's rendering in movie Kadhalar Dhinam).

Not able to find video which closely matches the one performed here, unless I get some clip taken at that time. Nevertheless, watch this one from 1:20

It starts slowly with three-steps and people going in circles - sometimes circles within circles. Yatin's family members started and then one by one many from the crowd got in to form a very large circle. We were obviously pulled in and I can be applauded for the most comical show ever. But after two circles, I did atleast get the beat and rhythm of the steps (not necessarily visible on my outside). Singers were continuously performing (pretty difficult to differentiate change of song). I got tired pretty easily but the villagers kept on it for more than 2 hours I suppose. The pace picked up in various stages and left us in awe by the gracefulness of it all.

There was a break, during which the crowd thinned. To our surprise, we were served gobi manchurian and tea and then dance started again! Pace picked even more this time - which was being performed by few select ones, while others continued in their sedate pace. And then, to satisfy the adrenalin, songs moved to bollywood ones made for this very purpose - like lungi dance. The artists stopped and left when the show moved beyond their calling - at which point some villagers were pretty disappointed. They even tried a failed attempt to bring a car and play. One guy led chants of Yayaya (Rockstar) - which felt like some sort of rebellion :P

Hiren joined us to make it 6 for the stay that night (we could have accommodated 2 more easily). As you might guess, we slept  long. I got up around 7AM again - don't remember the last time I slept past 8AM. I finally finished Xenocide - some consolation. That's not to say book was bad, it just was too long and not fast moving. We had breakfast and then went to Viraj's home (forgot place name) - it was about an hour's journey through various fields (sugarcane, wheat, cotton, channa, etc). On the way, we got some snacks and heated jawaar (even raw tasted good). Spent about an hour at his place - looking through photo albums, with Big-B's Lal Baadshah in back ground and munching away jawaar mixed with snacks. Followed by tea and, wait for it - ice cream! We got to know a bit about agriculture and tools (mainly drip irrigation) and use of CNG (saw all motorcycles fitted with one). Guys polished their shoes and sandals before we left.

We reached back Kantva and had just enough time to freshen up a little and pack-up. We had to leave to Baruch. We had to travel on the busy NH-8 again, with long hold up due to accident on one crossing. I kept a lookout for Hotel names - wasn't disappointed (saw two more Decent hotels and some other English word ones). To drop Hiren, we went via Ankleshwar instead of NH-8. It was better choice as we got to cross the Golden Bridge on Narmada River (built by Britishers, metal bridge about a km in length - no nails, rivets used instead). It was wide enough for about two cars to pass side by side - buses and other large vehicles prohibited. 

We reached the welcome place for baraathis after some confusion. We turned out to be first car from our procession, and so a bit worried if it was right place :P A large area was tented and chairs placed with provision for some snacks and water. Being Yatin's friends, we got special treatment and went inside house meant to receive Yatin. Lots of mosquitoes, but otherwise nice place. We went to roof and waited. We were served a very tasty snack (again forgot name :( - it had aloo, apple, pomegranate, etc) followed by ice cream and then tea! (odd combo twice in a day, but different order). Once again, there was Pagdi tying - I somehow escaped :P. Then bride's family performed a welcome ceremony followed by gifts. It was reciprocated from groom's side after sometime. We waited downstairs - on beds arranged all around like before. Kids were playing with big ballons - smashing on each other and elders alike and moving on quickly when they burst.

We then walked to bride's place for dinner (about 10 min walk) - large tented space opposite the bride's home. Waited for Yatin (coming in car) and then seated opposite him - again special treatment extended to us :P Food was largely similar to that we had in Kantva. We then walked back to original welcome place. A different tradition compared to Marwadi wedding - but as one joked, perhaps it helps to have our stomach full before baraat starts.

The loud band wasn't as good as previous night's show. But very few cared - baraat is all about fireworks and frenetic dancing surrounded by bright lamps. Got to credit one singer though - he sang in pretty believable female voice - solo/combined as well as in male voice.

After some time, there was Garba show again. Not as grand as previous night, but nice to see tradition being followed. Suraj and yours truly avoided dancing as much as possible (beneficial to us as well as to unfortunate viewers). It was pretty late in night, but still people were returning to their homes - good to see them taking our obstacle in stride and not making an issue. There were even posters and police arrangement informing public of the baraat. But I doubt many in the houses on both sides of road would have slept amongst the loud fireworks and band.

It was past 2AM I think, when we finally reached bride's home. And that too after speeding up baraat in last stretch. Bride came flanked by her family to welcome the groom with garland. Then after some more ceremony to the groom, some inspired thinking got us forming two lines and joining hands above when Yatin walked inside to the mandap. There was Geet-Sangeeth arranged here too! Gujarathis do like live music shows ;) Perhaps inspired from us, bride's side formed two lines and held their hands on ground for the bride to cross!

Viraj and party took care of groom's shoes (don't know eventual result :P) with some camouflaging. We were given flowers (to be showered during Saat-Phere). We didn't get to see much of happenings on mandap thanks to photographers and videographers blocking our view. When it came to saat-phere, we all stood around and started showering flowers plucked from garlands adorning the mandap itself :P

Finally, at around 4AM, after all ceremonies and bidaai, we left for Kantva. Initial plan was for me to go to Surat airport straight, but we had enough time now. Tired, we slept for a while but load music was a deterrent. Devang and Mohammadi went Ankleshwar to catch train to Mumbai (and then bus to Bangalore). Ruchik went with Viraj. Myself, Suraj and Prasun left for Surat (after bidding bye to Yatin and some freshening up and one last cup of tea) - driven by a relative who has his own sugarcane field and had slept only few hours past two days - I for one was certainly a bit embarrassed with so much hospitality (not to forget mentioning the weird feeling because of not working anything for 3-4 days at a stretch).

After some CNG filling (always topped to full tank irrespective of how much was there earlier) and fast highway riding and through Surat (very busy even so early in morning - saw a girl riding to tuition in scooter!) and rising buildings around outer ring road, we reached airport - about an hour before scheduled departure. I freshened again a bit, had the remaining pieces of Khakra (left over from bus travel) and snacks. Surat airport had only one gate and no need of bus to transport us to the plane. I slept fitfully while waiting, briefly saw takeoff over Arabian sea and slept again for most part of flight. Long stop over at Mumbai and then another delay in Bangalore waiting for #4 (more than an hour! didn't take #6 to avoid changing bus - bad decision). To make it a bit worse, I had taken only half day leave that Wednesday. Worked the afternoon session from home, fighting against fatigue :P

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