When our driver, Xavier Joseph, invited us to attend the engagement party for his youngest brother Arick Nadan, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. Touched that he’d even think of including us, we of course said yes.
I’m so glad we went. What we witnessed that night was joy, celebration and the infamous Indian hospitality.
It began with a street procession of traditional Indian music–two blaring shehnais and three raucous drums. Dancers went in front of the musicians, followed by a procession of women carrying trays of fruits like coconut, bananas, pineapple and I’m sure other things. The groom-to-be led the group behind the musicians, festooned with a large garland of flowers around his neck.
Click image for procession video
The dancers, including Xavier’s daughter Carol and his wife Elizabeth, were so uninhibited it was infectious; I soon found myself dancing along with them to the beat of the drums and blaring sheniahs. The procession moved across a busy street and down a small lane that passed by humble homes, with families sitting on the floor cooking and small children crawling around.
Here is where we became famous. It was obvious we were white westerners at this traditional Indian procession. Small children came from side lanes and asked our kids things like, “Do you drive a Ferari? A BMW? Is that an American shirt?” We see ourselves as middle-class Americans (even more budget minded than ever, since I’m not working this year) but to these children living in these side lanes, we are rich beyond their wildest dreams. I’ve no doubt we are. They wanted to shake our hands and just be next to us.
Watching Xavier’s family dance and rejoice in Nadan’s engagement made me long for my own family, especially the family of my childhood growing up in Juneau, and with deep roots in Douglas. I remember wonderful holidays with my Grandpa Tic on guitar, Great Uncle John on the accordian, my Uncle Jerry on guitar and my Uncle Donny on the spoons–everybody playing an instrument, and the children and cousins playing in our small livingroom with its big picture windows overlooking Gastineau Channel. My mom was always in the kitchen, tending to a giant turkey or ham in the oven.
But this night is about Xavier’s family. The eldest of four sons, he has two twin younger brothers, George and James, along with the young Arick Nandan. The twins danced the entire time along with two other gentlemen Xavier later described as very good family friends. Xavier’s 12-year-old daughter was a beautiful dancer, and kept encouraging me to join in, along with his gracious mother and wife.
After two hours of this, the procession went into an open-air hall where everyone gathered on chairs as the bride to be, Juanita, was presented with a beautiful new saree. After she returned in her splendid new costume, family and friends gathered around for prayers and blessings by a Catholic priest, who sprinkled holy water and led the group in praying the Our Father.
It became apparent soon after we entered the hall that we, our family, were special guests. Xavier himself brought us glasses of water and his mother kept checking up on us, bringing us glasses of 7-Up. I didn’t want any special treatment, but it continued with a meal that was obviously made just for us—sandwiches and potato chips! I didn’t see anyone else eat this meal, but even after we hungrily consumed it, Xavier’s wife asked if we’d like to eat the other food they’d prepared for all the other guests—spicy dahl, rice, some vegetables and a sweet made of cornmeal and nuts. As is the tradition in India, we ate the delicious food with our bare, right hands—and made a mighty mess of ourselves in the process, too! But even that was fun.
There was more dancing, and again we joined in—even Brian!
As we witnessed during the Hindu wedding ceremony that we attended when we first landed in Mumbai back in June, everyone was invited to have their picture taken with the betrothed couple. We took our turn as well.
Just outside the hall, there was a balcony where we could wash off our hands in a simple basin and enjoy the cool night breezes. Guests kept asking to have their pictures taken with us, and one plopped a baby in my lap. We gamely went along with all the pictures, as this has become quite common in India and by now we’re used to it. Then I decided I wanted to take some photos for myself too, even though I didn’t know most of the guests in attendance outside of Xavier’s family.
We finally took a taxi home at about 9:30, as the next day was a school day for the kids. We live about 45 minutes away from where the event took place, and I knew it would easily be 11 p.m. or so before everyone would settle down. Still, I didn’t feel like leaving, as the party seemed to just be getting under way.
No one would have a later night than Xavier, who as the eldest brother would be busy ferrying friends and relatives to the railway station and bus depot until the wee hours of the next day. In Indian culture, he is ultimately responsible for everything that transpires with his youngest brother’s engagement and wedding in just a few months. All of the details–the food, the music, the photographs–all rest on his shoulders.
“Take tomorrow off, Xavier,” I said, as he saw us off in the middle of the narrow, crowded lane below the hall. “You deserve it.”