Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | December 28, 2012

India: Married in Maharashtra

Married and fabulous: Alekh and Barkha

Married and fabulous: Alekh and Barkha

I met Alekh on my first trip to India in early 2009. He was serving in the Indian Navy, showed me around Bombay, including the Hard Rock Cafe and the Siddhivinayak Temple where Aishwarya Rai was married, and was resisting his parents’ pleas to get married.

Entertainment: The happy couple performed for us

Entertainment: The happy couple performed for us

A few years later we were chatting on facebook and he suddenly wanted to know if I was attending his wedding.

“You’re getting married?” I asked.

He was, and I’d been invited to the extravaganza several months ago, except somehow the invitation had got lost. Which was a nuisance, as booking transport to get there would have been much easier in early August than early December. Not that I would have known where I would be in early December, but I could have had a plan. At this point I had nothing. Though I was happy for Alekh.

The wedding was in a place called Amravati. I’ve never heard of it and it’s not in the guide book. It’s about 12 hours inland from Mumbai. My initial plan is to go to Bombay, spend the weekend there, and get a train to the wedding. Except there are no trains with space on them for me going to Bombay. I get my friend Anil, who works in travel, to investigate for me and he said the day I wanted to travel I would be waitlisted 60. Not good.

As did parents ...

As did parents …

After much toing and froing, I abandon plans to leave from Chandigarh (good move considering what happened there) and return early to Delhi to increase my train options. Anil books me on a train to Nagpur from Delhi, which is about three hours from Amravati, so at least that is in the zone. About ten days before the wedding I am waitlisted 7. Anil seems to think this will be OK. Or at least this is what he told me.

Two days before the wedding I am waitlisted 5. I have found an internet page which gives an update depending on the PNR number on the train ticket. I started checking this fairly regularly. I was supposed to leave Monday afternoon at 3.30pm. All day Sunday the page just tells me the same thing – and that the chart has not been prepared. While the chart has not been prepared, there is hope of a berth. I’m not sure what I will do if I don’t get a berth, but there are always last-minute flights I suppose.

And what looked like India's version of the Backstreet Boys

And what could have been  India’s version of the Backstreet Boys

Monday morning I was wearing that page out. When, at noon, it finally says something different, I am amazed. I have to check it again to make sure. I was prepared for disappointment, but I have a berth. It’s the slow, slow train to Nagpur, and I have one of the narrow berths down the side of the corridor near the door that will creak open and closed all night long, but I am ON THE TRAIN.

When I know this, I email Alekh and his bride-to-be Barkha Kedia, who is a celebrity as a champion swimmer and the first Indian to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. Before I left Amravati I visited her parents’ house which has a wall devoted to her achievements, full of trophies and photographs of Barkha with various Indian leaders.

Now I was on the train, my instructions were to disembark at Nagpur (9am) and board the Maharashtra Express (10.55am) and get off at Badnera where I would be collected.

Taking the wedding to the street

Taking the wedding to the street

So that was all fine. I slept a bit on the train and at 8am I was ready for an imminent arrival. Barkha’s cousin had texted me with some information. I tried to reply, but I had no network coverage on my phone. Everything was still fine, even though the train was now due to arrive at 10 am. Except 10 am came and went and we were still not at Nagpur. The phone was still not working, it was 10.45 … I was getting a bit stressed by now. I would not have time to get off the train and find the ticket booth, let alone queue and buy a ticket.

I got off the first train at 10.53. With two minutes to find the second train, It was, fortunately, on the other side of the platform so I just hopped on. I don’t think I hadn’t many options there. The train left 5 minutes late, and then the phone started ringing …

So I finally reached the hotel which wasn’t finished yet and from there it was all manageable chaos. That evening there is a kind of variety show where friends and relatives of the happy couple put on a show. They were surprisingly good at doing a turn. Food also plays a large part in all of this.

With musicians

With musicians

The next day there is more eating before the groom rides a grumpy white horse down the street accompanied by friends, musicians and random dancers.

At 5.30pm or so the decorations are still being put in place but they manage to finish all that when the rituals begin (accompanied by snacks). Panni puri is served and I love panni puri, especially these ones as they didn’t make me ill.

Alekh was looking very regal in a purple jacket, cream turban and a manly amount of jewellery. Barkha wore an incredible sari that weighed 9kgs. They stood on the stage under giant tusks greeting hundreds and hundreds of well-wishers, while hundreds and hundreds of others attacked the buffet, which offered a pasta bar, an array of street snacks (chaat) and a variety of Maharashtrian delicacies dripping in, floating on or coated in ghee.

Dancing in the street

Pre-wedding ritual

At around midnight the greeting and gobbling ended and the bridal couple moved inside so the next bout of ceremony could begin. At this point I was feeling fatigued, and I was sharing a room with a girl who had to get up at 3am to get on a plane so we retired. At least she retired, her phone kept ringing, then people were banging on the door, then Alekh came to say goodbye, then some guys were looking for spare turbans (as you do) then other people were banging on the door for no discernible reason at which point I yelled at them, pointed at “Do Not Disturb” button and told them to shove off.

Sleep is sometimes the last thing you get in an Indian hotel.

As I wasn’t even sure I was going to Amravati, I had no onward plans. But one of Alekh’s friends was going to Pune, and I recalled having a friend in Pune, and somehow I end up on this train, with no berth and the conductor wasn’t too impressed but he lets me share the berth (charging for a full ticket, and an extra chunk, which I guess is a kind of aggravation tax, though I think it is Alekh’s poor friend who deserved a reward). I get to curl up in the foetal position near the door that never stops creaking open and shut, and my chivalrous acquaintance nods off in the corner.

We disembark about 5am and then all I have to do before I can collapse onto a stationary horizontal surface was hold onto my bag for a motorbike ride through the suburbs of Pune.

Crowd-pleaser: Dancing in the street

Crowd-pleaser: Dancing in the street

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