I had the immense privilege of being invited to my friend’s Telegu-Wedding in Telangana. It was an incredible experience that was rich in culture, and colour. Please stay tuned as this is in 2 parts. This is the first part and the second part will be published in a few days.
My Arrival for the Telegu-Wedding
God, the Great Giver, can open the whole universe to our gaze in the narrow space of a single land”
Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)
‘You Muslim or Christian?’ I turned to see the woman who had just asked me the question; she had a squared face and pouty lips. Behind her were three other women – all middle-aged, their skin was browner than chestnut, with the end of their Saris loosely draped over their chests, with their fat bellies half exposed. ‘A Muslim,’ I said, and folded my prayer rug.
I had seen them entering the house. I was praying, and from the corner of my eye I could see them huddling in the living room, gawking at me muttering words in Arabic. I thought they had come here to greet me, or ask me where I was from. After all I was the first foreigner to ever set foot in Thogarrai. I presumed they must be curious.
Thogarrai is a small very rural village in Karimnagar, one of the districts of Telangana. It’s located on the northeast of Hyderabad, the capital and a far more known tourist destination of Telangana. Jagadeesh – a friend of mine, had invited me to join his family and attend his wedding. Which was the purpose of my visit to South India. He had told me not to be too surprised by his village. ‘It’ll be very remote. Not be like the ones in UK and Malaysia,’ he wrote in one of his emails.
For the most part, the village was a huge stretch of brown and green squares of paddy and corn fields. Occasionally, we came across groves of banana trees, cattle and crops that dotted the landscape. Houses in Thogarrai were what the Indian term as pucca. They were traditional South Asian houses made of bricks, stones and cement. They were rectangular, had flat-roofs and they somehow protruded from the ground. The topography of the village looked something like the film set of the Indian movie Swades.
The auto-rickshaw that Chitti and I took from Sultanabad dropped us by the roadside, on a narrow, dusty track that led to the small settlement. My arrival immediately caught the attention of a group of men in their 50s and 60s, all in white dhoti, congregating in front of a house that had been painted in mint-green.
Chitti, Jagadeesh’s cousin, glanced at the green house, and said, ‘This is Jagadeesh’s mother’s house. But we will sleep at my mother’s house only. Come.’
Image 1: Farmers carrying haystack on a traditional bullock cart in Thogarrai. Agriculture is the main economic activity in this village with the majority of older people working in farms, paddy fields and small farming factories
Image 2: Many traditional houses in Thogarrai are pucca, a type of South Asian housing with walls and roof made of durable material such as burnt bricks, stone, and cement.
With the Family In the Kitchen
Chitti introduced me to her mother, Padma. Padma ji was a short, gawky lady. Her hair was sooty-black, her skin was chestnut and wrinkly. I wanted to ask permission from Padma ji to use her bathroom and pray in the living room. She didn’t understand the word pray so I gestured with my hands in front of my chest with palms touching each other. I looked up and said, ‘pooja.’ Padma ji moved her head and said, ‘haan, haan. Pooja!’
Image 1: Padma ji, Chitti’s mother, was making Indian chai for breakfast
Image 2: Padma ji’s kitchen was built outside her house, adjacent to the bathroom. Her kitchen did not have a sink; water source was obtained manually from a well and through a hand water pump in the backyard where Padma ji normally prepared and washed the ingredients.
Once I’d prayed, Chitti took me to visit her neighbour, Jothi. She was one of the women who had come to ‘view’ me that afternoon. Her house was just a stone’s throw away from Padma ji’s. There, I met two women who were with Jothi earlier. One of them was Lata, and the lady with pouty lips was Vanitha. When Chitti and I left her house, the afternoon warmth had begun to ebb. It was getting dark. Rooftops were becoming silhouettes against the golden sky as the ball of red sun slowly sank below the horizon. We walked to Jagadeesh’s house where his family was hosting a pre-wedding feast for the well-wishers who had come to bless the groom-to-be.
On entering the house, Jagadeesh’s sister-in-law welcomed me warmly. She took a pinch of vermillion on a silver tray she was holding and pressed the red powder on my forehead, in between my eyebrows. I thanked her, and smiled. I moved aside in order to give way to the many people jostling around me and it was then I felt a tap on my arm. I looked downward and saw, sandwiched between two rather plump middle-aged ladies, a skinny girl in green dress. Her eyes were large rounds and her eyelashes were so long, that mascara would never be a requirement! I wanted to say hi but she spoke first, ‘Are you a Muslim?’
I stood a little awkwardly in the corner of the room, not quite sure of my place. Then some women made space for me to sit on the floor. I folded my legs and as elegantly as possible tucked them to the side, so my body would slant when I sat – the way Southeast Asian women would sit. Sitting across me was the girl in green dress, very comfortably with her legs crossed. She patted her knees, and said to me, ‘Here, we sit like this!’ I tittered. It’s interesting how etiquette varies across Asian cultures. My mum would definitely have given me a look of disapproval if she had seen me sitting crossed-legs on the floor!
Jagadeesh’s sister-in-law appeared from the kitchen with some silverware filled with food. She placed a silver plate in front of me, scooped some rice onto it, and poured a generous amount of lentil curry over it. A girl in purple dress aged around fifteen came and sat next to me. ‘I’m Nene. Jagadeesh is my uncle,’ she said. We exchanged pleasantries, and as I finished my plate, she kept me entertained with brief details about her family and her uncle’s wedding. From her, I learned that Nisha, the girl in green dress, was her cousin.
In traditional style, the groom’s blessing ritual was about to start. Jagadeesh’s sister ushered me to a room where I saw him sitting on the floor, looking pensive. A group of professional photographers had just completed the set up of their equipment.
Kneeling on the floor one woman was holding a silver tray containing rice grains. Another two other women took turn to pound the grains. Turmeric powder was added to the rice and Telegu hymns were sung, bestowing sacredness on to the grains that had now turned pale yellow.
South Asian women were stirring rice grains with a wooden mortar in a Telegu pre-wedding blessing ritual called Pendlikoothuru. The grains would later be used to bless the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony.
The chanting, along with the thumping of the wooden mortar on the silverware, the shutter sounds of the DSLR, the flashing lights, the jingling jewellery, the chatter become the blend of sounds and rhythms reverberating between the walls. Within seconds, the small room was filled with more movement and sound that it seemed could possibly be contained.
If this was only a pre-wedding ritual, I couldn’t wait to see the real Telegu wedding tomorrow. It must be far, far more exciting!