My Aha moment at a Grand Indian Wedding
Flower Bloom, Weddings and Social Phenomenon
The bloom of a flower has always fascinated me. Just before sunset, I watch them as buds. The next morning as I glide past them, I am transfixed. They are flowers - bloomed in full glory glistening with the morning dew- from jasmines, roses, hibiscus silhouetted by the green leaves and the blue sky.
The very act of the bloom, quick in its dexterity, seamless in its motion and blissful in my ignorance is something my mind has always pondered. In my growing years when I saw the first footage on TV that brought the fluidity of the bloom to the forefront, it brought me closer to nature.
What brought those memories back? Weddings.
Well, in a wedding we are so caught up in the act of celebration with the congregation of friends and family that I have never observed weddings from the vantage point of an observer of human nature. A phone call from my friend changed that.
“Three day bonanza of fun, dance and merriment, with an army of well wishers in the thousands- is that what it is?” my friend Colin echoed on the phone with an infectious enthusiasm. I had just mentioned to him that I was traveling to India to attend a wedding. In the same breath, he continued “Bring me stories and pictures, I am fascinated by the different cultures.”
Colin’s quest for learning brought a question that was in the back of my mind to the forefront. How is that close to a thousand folks charter in and out during the three day wedding? Is it the most potent social obligation?
It was hard for me to believe that people would suspend their daily rhythms of life, put in sweat, time, money, logistics and surmount difficult travel terrains to just show up!
Here are my observations.
The Observer’s Eye: South Indian Wedding
Yes, Colin when the bride is dazzled in fine jewelry, draped in her best attire, she walks hand in hand with the bridegroom in holy matrimony around the fire. In front of a large crowd, the boy gently and caringly lifts his wife’s feet and places it on a granite grinding stone (“Ammi Kal” in Tamil) as a symbol of the journey together.
I can hear Colin’s wonderment of “really?” in the background. There may be misgivings on gender equality around the world today but there are pieces of age old traditions when the idea of equality in a relationship was paramount. But all these are key discussion points if the prince and the princess on stage are the vantage points.
What happens if they are part of the backdrop, a context for the social aggregation and celebration? What happens if everyone in the crowd is the point of focus while the couple blur in the background. Could I catch the bloom of the flower unfold to expose the nectar?
I watched when people’s eyebrows raised in surprise and happiness, when they smiled in contentment and above all when they leaned forward to observe with their face completely lit up. Every sign that they were engaged. I saw a common thread emerge on the other side of their observations.
The best way to describe it, is a visit to the school play by the whole family. The expression on the faces was reminiscent of the family in the fleeting moments when the arc lights were on their child. At the wedding, every time I observed what was keeping the audience engaged, it was somebody they know having a key role — the maternal uncles who stand next to the bride and groom and decide the garland that the boy and girl exchange, the aunts who display their singing skills while the bride and groom are seated on a swing ordained with flowers, the children showcase their artistic talents during the fun and frolic as the events unfold.
I marveled at the ingenuity of ancestors who crafted wedding events that were like a stage drama — lot of players with key roles. Friends and family of the role players watching with glee when the arc lights shone on their cast ensemble. The undercurrent of it all, most subtle part that was my ah ha moment, the marrying couple were central but not center stage.
I have new found reverence for these weddings — seemingly about the couple but all about the audience making the weddings grand, festive and successfully engaging.
Why people embark on a journey to show up at an Indian wedding, it is more than a social obligation — to engage, to enjoy, to contribute, to participate and above all feel good about themselves and for the people around them. In my quest to understand the social side of Indian weddings, I came to understand some of my subconscious underpinnings that has shaped facets of my life.
How I lead is answered in the very question fundamentally driving humans — why we engage. When we get that question answered, the treasure trove is opened, we evolve as leaders of the caliber that Laozi, the Chinese philosopher evocated:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
Life is a journey and just like the bloom of the flower, the answer to the question “why people engage” are found in the fleeting clues. The Indian wedding provided a great canvas, a self reflecting one at that, to bring a confluence of eastern charm to ‘who am I?’
For that, I owe it to Colin and his thirst for learning- he asked me to implicitly observe the bloom without missing a moment of revelry and the joy of celebration.
P.S. This blog is a tribute to all those lover of words — garland of words for the sheer joy of it.