Holidaying with my grandparents in Chandigarh, a wedding finally came my way after exactly eight years.
An Indian wedding celebration, or three, to remember
It is a widely held belief in India that no one knows how to have a good time quite as well as the Punjabis do. A paddy-field-dotted state nestled in northern India, Punjab is brimming with people who like their bhangra dancing and like their food even more. A wedding - always an exciting event, no matter where in the world it is held - takes on a new meaning here: think enough gold jewellery to fill Bellatrix Lestrange's bank vault at Gringotts, waiters gliding about with silver platters, bouquets everywhere and enough brightly coloured, glittering clothes to make your eyes smart.
A dazzling show of opulence is guaranteed, as families vie to outdo the lavishness of their friends' weddings. This means, of course, that teenagers like me, hungry as always, ready to indulge in wild dancing and generally looking foolish, regard weddings as excellent opportunities to let their salon-styled hair down.
Holidaying with the grandparents in Chandigarh, a wedding finally came my way after exactly eight years - that's half my life gone without sampling any of the delectable chicken tikka masala only Indian wedding caterers can whip up. The elaborate crimson invitation card, bordered in shiny gold and with a gold tassel hanging off it, informed us in curly gold lettering that "Mrs Balvinder Chawla and Mr Vinod Sagar cordially solicit your benevolent presence and blessings on the auspicious occasion of the marriage ceremony of their beloved son", my Uncle Vicky to my now-Aunt Daisy. No one can say they spared any effort in choosing the words to put on the card.
A quick shopping spree in Delhi fixed my dearth of traditional attire, as I robustly ignored maternal protests on why on earth I needed five changes in outfits when there were only three different ceremonies.
The first of this trio of ceremonies was the ring ceremony: a refined, white-tableclothed event with a golden (we like our shades of gold) love seat at the front of the hall. Uncle Vicky sat there patiently while a gaggle of other girls, all giggling noisily, and I escorted the blushing bride-to-be from her room in the hotel to the party hall. Well, you couldn't see her blushing for all the gold jewellery on her face, but she was giggling a bit, too. Once she'd reached the love seat, the photographer shouted purple-faced at the couple to pose this way and that, to open their mouths as if in conversation and stay still so he could get "natural-looking" photos.
The next morning, we arrived at Uncle Vicky's house bright and early for another ceremony, which was by far the most exciting one of the lot. There's nothing teenagers like better than seeing an adult, part of a species branded Public Enemy Number One, being made to look ridiculous, and that's what we did apparently to beautify the groom. The groom, in faded jeans and an old shirt, sits on a chair and each member of the hundred-strong family dips a paintbrush-like thing into a gloopy mixture of oil and spices; a homemade face pack. You then paint the poor man wherever you can - his face, neck, arms, knees, ankles and toes, something that the teenagers especially took delight in. At the end he looks vaguely like someone who's been rolling around in a Turkish mud bath fully clothed. Absolutely barmy.
This, though, was just a taste of what was to come: the wedding itself, a heady, exhilarating affair, filled with cousins flown in from every nook and cranny of the globe dancing to Bollywood songs played by a band of trumpets, trombones and traditional percussion. The musicians led the way to a horse-drawn carriage, much bigger, flashier and more colourful than the one I remember Will and Kate riding. I was even allowed to feed the horses a plateful of lentils, and we led the groom, in a pink turban with a veil of strung flowers rendering him unable to see, to the wedding hall.
One thousand and one relatives posed for photos with Uncle Vicky and Aunt Daisy, while I hurried around gobbling up every morsel of fried oily savouries and luscious sweets I could get before the crowd closed in on the buffet table. A great-aunt twice-removed pulled me aside very sternly. "Act like a lady, now," she muttered. "Weddings are where all the good matches are made." I spluttered on my samosa. "I'm sorry, what?"
She sniffed: "All the mothers are looking, think of all their eligible sons. If they see you eat so much ..." Mumbling something about having to rush to the ladies', I escaped to the safety of the desserts section. And I'd thought those sort of characters existed only in old Hindi movies.
The rest of the wedding, owing to my new, calorie-surrounded location, passed most satisfactorily. I suppose, though, it is a bit of a damper when all you've got to show for a week of merrymaking are two extra kilos and another week in bed with a stomach I've put rather too much of a strain on.
The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai