Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beeswax Crayon Wedding Dance

I can now admit to having seen an Indian meeting, a hand-made pit loom for weaving, a full Kumaoni music and dance "talent show," the entire Hindu wedding ceremony, and finally an American film in Hindi.
In an attempt to bring the community back together, I organized a meeting to discuss "programming" with the man in charge of community events. This turned into a large circle of chairs and many participants, destroying any chance I had of actually controlling the input. The first issue of giving the children something to do errupted into an enthusiastic rumble of game ideas and an impromptu hopskotch demonstration. I let things go their way, trying to steer us towards the idea of a "talent show" and that was a meeting - the dinner bell rang.
Meanwhile, I continued with my small projects, completing a comic book cover for the first issue of Kumaoni-man and nearly burning down the dying room when my beeswax ignited, ending my all natural crayon tests and filling everything with smoke. A trip to Dharamghar to see the looms was extremely slow, but after sunset, we wandered downhill, to a few humble homes, only to view a spectacular ancient looking pit loom made from crooked branches held together sparsely with string and nails - the artisan sits in a pit and weaves thread through the intricate set-up by hand. Turned out it was barely two years old. After a slow night, interrupted by some animal scratching at the ceiling, a cold morning made warm chai all the more tasty, along with some rhoti and chickpeas very kindly whipped up for us over a propane stove. The staff were extremely kind despite some grumbling about conditions, particularly the salary for the night watchman - new understanding is that the organization's finances are stretched thin to provide income for as many people as possible, though it may be meager.
Returning a day later, the 4th day of the month meant all the leaders came to our center for a meeting and that night we had our "talent show," which was more a series of stories (it took 10 minutes for me to tell the joke "what's worse than finding a worm in your apple?"). After the stories came Kumaoni singing, with drumming and harpsichord and invitations to dance - I kicked it with 5-year-old Comu, learning a few (Kumaoni?) dance moves along the way.
Last weekend I finally witnessed the full wedding tradition with my friend Nermal, starting at 10 am, and pushing on through til after dinner - we retired at 8pm, though I think the music and dancing continued. Highlights included the bands, one in the local, Kumaoni tradition, with a few drummers, flaunting women's dresses, while the band explained to be from the plains' tradition boasted two clarinets, drums and a three-man horn section, though only one euphonium (ie small tuba) actually worked. The trumpet never made a peep, and the other (broken) euphonium blasted the only note it could play from time to time. The hills' band seemed more about impressing people, with their non-mnusical members and marching band-esque outfits of bright blue and red. The music was awful, but full of cheer and got the crowd moving, the lead clarinetist full of energy and smiles despite the drunks repeatedly bumping into him.
After hoisting up the groom, we trekked from Nermal's town to the bride's home, an hour or so along the road and creek, the groom now riding donkey-back, stopping in her town for tea and snacks. We arrived at her house, nearly 100-strong, only to face her hundred guests, packing us all into a small three-family estate. I had never thought of a seat at a wedding as a luxury before. The bride came out of her house after an hour of groom preparation (reading in Sanskrit) and wowed us all with her beauty. They put flower wreaths around eachother's necks and we broke for lunch, sitting on the ground in a circle, while servers scooped for us from buckets of rice, veggies, paneer (Indian cheese!) and some too-sour chutney. Back to the wedding rites, I failed to get any kind of detailed explanation of what was being recited and performed with some water and fruit and spice and... The two families then pulled out large metal trunks and exchanged fruit baskets, shawls, Timberland shoes, and finally a gold chain, back and forth, pausing for the camera-man mid-hand off, smiling uncomfortably, meanwhile two camcorders rolled, capturing video for a later highlight clip. As this concluded and they moved on to another ritual, the bride and groom now seated side by side rather than across from eachother, Nermal and I headed out, hoping to hike back before dark.
Back at the groom's home, we waited for the wedding troupe to return, then ate an even finer buffet dinner to the sounds of clarinets tooting and drums banging.
That night we again crossed the creek to return to Nermal's house, calling it an early night.
On my uphill bike ride back to Avani, I stopped and bought "Viaje a Darjeeling" (Darjeeling Limited) and after teaching my first computer class, I watched a familiar film in an unfamiliar tongue, with unaligned subtitles. Newest goal is to get a sweater vest knit for me, all the rave out here, though the yarn available has a bit of a sparkle to it, so I may be too shy to wear it back in the states.
As I scramble to finish a few projects in the next weeks before the year ends, I hope to complete some testing for our solar water heater and at least get one stove-heater built for the office here.
So, what's worse? Answer: finding half a worm.

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