Engagement Celebration in Kochi, Kerala

Much has happened in the past week here under the cloudy and fickle Indian sky. Me and the husband embarked on our first, albeit short, trip outside Bangalore since moving here as we traveled to Kochi, Kerala, this past weekend to celebrate his graduate school classmate’s engagement. Just prior to leaving for the trip, I was also offered a research position at a local NGO called IT for Change! To be honest, this could not have come at a better time – though I have enjoyed the freedom and luxury of time to get to know my new home city, I had just about had it with the life of a stay-at-home wife. Now, this is not to be confused with lives of stay-at-home-moms, who I highly respect and fully believe motherhood to be a full-time job, even though I have no personal experience of this at least yet – but being a stay-at-home-mom is quite different than being a stay-at-home-wife, which I essentially was since we do not have any children. Children keep mothers busy, children give mothers a great purpose for staying home when they so choose to do – but for me, that purpose and busyness wasn’t there. I was just.. home. Being a wife actually has nothing to do with it, to be honest – I was a stay-at-home person, so, in other words, unemployed – going crazy with having nothing to keep my brain challenged and busy besides trying to figure out my way across the street without being horribly injured. And, for a person who is used to keeping herself fairly busy, that just isn’t an ideal situation to be in for anything past a couple of weeks. So, needless to say, I am quite happy to be working again, and even happier to be working with a great organization in an area I am extremely passionate about, which is gender equality and women’s empowerment.

First though, let’s talk about Kochi and the Indian engagement party. My husband’s friend was born in the US, but his family is originally from India – one half of them from the north, and other half from Kerala in the south. His beautiful fiancée is also originally from India, and her family, from what I know, traces back to Kerala. Since the actual wedding will be held in the couple’s home state of California in the US, the engagement party enabled the Indian sides of both of their families to join in the celebration. Apparently, it is also a local custom even in cases where the actual wedding will also be held in India – according to Paul, the groom-to-be, for many in his family it didn’t make sense that him and his fiancée considered themselves engaged after he had proposed and she had said yes since, at that time, the traditional engagement ceremony had not yet taken place and therefore, the engagement wasn’t considered official.


In this case, the engagement ceremony was a modest affair with the couple, their immediate families, and – ONE THOUSAND CLOSEST FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Yes, 1,000. I don’t think I even know 1,000 people. I probably don’t, since my Facebook friend count hovers around 600 and I tend to be one of those people who’ll befriend the mailman on FB if I manage to stalk out enough information to locate his profile. But there we were, in an engagement celebration for Paul and Elsa, along with 1,000 others. I had made a huge issue about what to wear prior to the ceremony, as I am still trying to figure my way around local dress code, but it turned out to be in vain. First of all, it has dawned on me that it is extremely difficult to over-dress in India. Women here wear elaborate, decorated, beaded, sparkling, most beautiful saris just for a regular Monday at the office – so, when it comes to a celebration, over-dressing is almost impossible. I wasn’t comfortable opting for a sari yet since I have never worn one and I’ve been told it takes some practice to pull it off gracefully – and without stepping on it and accidentally unraveling the whole thing – but I do plan to venture down to a sari store one day when an appropriate occasion comes along. This time, I took the safe route and purchased a beautiful, teal-colored Salwar Kameez-outfit, that includes a dress-like tunic, parachute pants that are very loose on the top and tight around the calves and ankles, and a scarf worn across the shoulders. Before doing my shopping though, I had inquired from local women whether there were any particular colors I should avoid, similarly as not wearing white to a wedding in the western world. Apparently, this is actually a state-specific issue, so the colors that one should steer away from in engagements or weddings vary from state to state. In many states white is considered to be non-appropriate for celebrations because it is actually a funeral color, but in Kerala it would have been okay since off-white is the color of Kerala’s traditional outfit for both women and men. Black is usually also considered a non-appropriate color for weddings, but this also varies by states. Since there’s no such thing as “too colorful” in India, I opted for brighter colors and steered away from all shades of white and black, just to be on the safe side.

As was to be expected, the engagement celebration was like a rainbow of colors and shades and fabrics and patterns, including white and black, so I probably worried more than I needed to – but, these things are always delicate, and I don’t want to offend anyone through ignorance or because I didn’t do my homework properly.

 

The blessing of the engagement was beautiful -though, since it was carried out in the local language of Kerala, Malayalam,  I really have no idea what was said. But it sounded beautiful. And the church, St. George’s Basilica, was also gorgeous. I was preparing for a ceremony that would go on for several hours, as a result of hearing stories of Indian wedding and engagement blessings that go on and on and on, but this one was done in probably about 30-45 minutes.

After the blessing in the church, we all moved to a reception venue where there was plenty of Indian food, and even more photography. It turns out, that the main purpose for the engaged couple in an Indian engagement ceremony reception is to, essentially, act as a photo prop for all the guests.

Paul and Elsa literally sat on stage for about 2-3 hours, with if not all, definitely most, of their guest lining up to join them for photos and video footage. Basically, the shindig was run by the photographer and videographer – the rest of us, including the couple themselves, moved around according to their instructions, and stepped away when ordered. There must be at least 5,000 photos from that day – but hey, I’m of the school of thought that to get one money shot, you often need at least 100 frames to choose from, so I’m all for snapping away like there’s no tomorrow!

In any case, the couple was beautiful, the experience was exciting and interesting, and the little that we got to see of Kochi and Kerala made us both want to return back for more when we have more time to venture out and see some sights. We didn’t have time to go on a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters this time, so we’ll definitely have to go back for that.


Now I’m hoping to get to experience an actual Indian wedding during the time we’re here – and, soon I will take on the challenge of learning how to wear a sari properly. That should be fun – for me, and for all those witnessing! But hey, when in Rome..

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