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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Land of Karma Sutra

I was apprehensive boarding Air India. But it actually was not a bad experience! Other than the flights are always 99.9% late on arrival AND departure, we should be thankful that there is a low rate of crashes and accidents. The stewardess are dressed in their national costume, the sari. For a moment, i wondered if it's convenient in times of emergencies, then i thought our SQ's kebaya is just as slim-cut.

I brought a face mask, having unfounded prejudices  of the "coconut smell", thankfully, the flight wasn't full and i wasn't sandwiched in between, making an Oreo cookie.  I SAW ARMPIT SWEAT STAIN on the air stewardess! Getting over the revelation of prespiration being the natural human reaction (air stewardess are NOT perfect), i settled in, only to find my window greasy.
See that greasy strip in the middle of the window? Probably from an oily head who leaned there before and Air India didn't bother to clean. The stewardess are really grumpy too. Not demure, sweet and friendly like other airlines. Now i know why SIA is the best in the world.
The budget airline saved itself from all the unpleasantness by providing free food! The mango yogurt drink was good, although i wonder why ALOT of products is only in India. They don't export. Pipping hot curry puff with 3 other snacks which i didn't eat. The sandwich was filled with some kind of cheese that i thought was egg mayo. Then some fruit cake and some fried indian chip. I didn't like my first Indian meal.
There was common TV that everyone watched and they played the SAME two films (4.5 hour flight) on my way out and in. The passengers actually brought their own walkman/ discman! Wow, these still exist in the Ipod generation.
I laid down in the empty seats to sleep and woke up to play with this kid.
By making a puppet out of the sick bag.
This was a clean one, another one i found actually had stuff in it. The airline really don't clean before a new flight leh!
I was amused when close to touching down, the stewardess pulled the pin off this spray can, and she walk up and down the aisle, emitting nice smells. That's her, prohibiting me to use my camera.
Arriving first at the groom's house, i was attended to by one of their maids. That lady in a green sari actually WATCHED ME CHANGE. The upper caste in India have many helpers, they don't usually need to lift a finger. So she was there to help me get out of my clothes, fold them, throw my tissues, put my dress on etc. I was half expecting her to sit me in front of the mirror and start combing my long locks, like in the period dramas. She didn't, but she did gave me her comment if i should tie or let my hair down. She couldn't speak English though.
This promenarian is the diva of the house. He actually POSED for my camera. And then walked away haughtily when the photoshoot was over.
Male servants are alot more common in India. It was quite a culture shock. We're so used to female maids here, them having the natural nuturing and motherly instincts. In India, there'll be at least 3 male servants in the house. If there is a woman at all, it'll be only 1 and it's because there are children in the house or a family member requires a full-time nurse.

When my friend brought his male servant to Singapore to help him settle into Singapore, he was told male domestic help was not allowed. Reason being they're more dangerous. Haven't you heard of female maids scaling babies with hot water? Or throwing babies down? Hmmmm......but i suppose female maids can't rape girls. But they can let in their male friends when the madam/sir is not around!! Ok, this will be a never-ending debate with myself.
So i reached the wedding grounds. Indian weddings is a 6 day festive affair. I arrived on the second day of it all, there are in total 3 ceremonies with a priest and a dozen other rituals then ending with 2 parties.
Another culture shock i got was the mother of the groom is NOT ALLOWED to attend all official ceremonies! Apparantly, they believe it will jinx the newly-weds :S

So poor mum got to stay at home, while the party is going on blocks away. Sitting around aimlessly. I promised to come back with photos to tell her what she missed.
So many people told me about India. Said i will get harrassed by beggars, it's unsafe and don't eat the food other than hotels etc etc. I am proud to say it's all prejudices! I wasn't hoarded by beggars nor dodgy locals, and i didn't get one stomach upset. Although it does pay to be cautious and alert when overseas, no matter where. And i didn't eat street food. Someone told me to STAY CLEAR of vegetables in India, confirm stomach ache! But i couldn't resist taking this salad because i have had TOO MUCH MEAT! Felt i needed to balance it out, i am not a man. Men can survive on meat alone.
Gazebo under the stars, food stalls set up for guests.
I was the grandest of them all (other than the bride). Bought my dress at Little India for $55. Before leaving for India, i kept observing every single Indian woman that walks past in Singapore. Noticing their saris, how they wear them etc etc. I ditched the sari i borrowed from my friend, because i was sure i wouldn't know how to wear it, and wasn't sure if there'll anyone be free in the wedding chaos to help me get dressed (didn't know they have SO MANY servants). I was afraid i would be over dressed with this glittery dress and be a laughing stock. Thankfully, i got nothing but compliments.
My first meal setting foot in India. Just a little sample of everything first, i was afraid of stomach upset (misconception #1). I went for seconds and then thirds. I was in Kolkatta, and the cuisine was Bangalore. It's quite like North Indian food, but not quite.
Don't quite like Indian desserts although the locals are very fond of them. It's too much for me to handle, i take one bite and i've had enough. Alot of them have a condense milk base, super sweet.
I thought he was part of the ritual, but nooo..he's actually making dinner guests an after-meal leaf! It aids digestion. All these various spices and what-nots (i really don't know what's in it. No one could explain) that tastes minty and sweet and it's supposedly very good after that heavy feast.
It took quite some guts to put it in because it's a RAW LEAF rolled up. I was being obssessed thinking if the leaf has been washed, if there's caterpillars on it, i saw holes on the leaf (eaten by caterpillars!) etc.

I forced it in, just for the experience. And well, it takes some time getting used to. But nope, i don't think it aided my digestion. I couldn't feel anything. It tastes exactly like how a leaf would taste. GREEN.
We were put up at the groom's uncle's 4 storey house that has a retro lift in it.
One of those whereby you've to pull the grill shut. Totally awesome, such an oldie! It wasn't because he paid extra for an antique lift, but all the lifts in India are like that! 
That's not mango, but papaya!
I was wondering if roti prata was a Singaporean cuisine or actually real Indian. They do have something similar. For breakfast, it's a lighter version of prata and some cauliflower-peas stir fry.
Then onward in a chauffered car to the bride's house for ANOTHER ceremony.
Master and servant behind. Indian weddings are a massive affair. All family members are immobilised, and you'll be amazed at how extended the family can get. The wedding reception can have as many as 1200 attendees. Wedding cars were hired and they chauffer guests around. Traffic in Kolkatta is bad.
Every wedding house has decorations on the front gate (irregardless of private or common). It's like having decoration at your HDB lift landing and then in front of your door, and the few floors just below you.
Then we had our second breakfast. Indian weddings is ALOT about eating. And you know what's awesome about wearing the Indian traditional costumes at these functions? You don't have to suck in your tummy, let loose and comfortably eat.
It's really funny, we kept making fun of our friend, the groom. Because they have countless and i mean really rituals and ceremonies to make this marriage official. And they don't even know the meaning behind some of them! Mostly is due to Hindu religion and thus the procedure. I thought last night was the official ceremony, but no...this afternoon there's another one. After this, THEN they're officially married (you mean they're not yet? Wedding officially started 2 days ago!)

But on their first night, which is tonight, they cannot consummate. They can't sleep together, the groom has to sleep out. Bad luck, they believe.
We're the only 2 best friends from Singapore who flew in. Possibly the only other ang moh and chinese in that city too. .
A really exhausting ritual that lasted 2 hours, the couple had to sit-stand-sit then stand in front of that camp fire.
And they walk around the camp fire, with the groom tied to the bride, following behind. Interesting eh! You'd thought that our Asian culture is about the man walking in front, and the woman behind.
Aha! Spoke too soon. As soon as the ceremony comes to an end, the woman has to kiss his feet as a sign of respect, and he gets to "brand" her as his wife. And that's how that red line up the forehead on Indians come about.
Then ANOTHER feast.
I sat with one of his neice and we exchanged stories. More like i interrogated her on growing up in an Indian culture. She spent much of her childhood in USA and recently moved back, so alot to talk about the differences.
The part i missed about the wedding was when the groom went to the bride's house to receive her. He brought along jewelery and gold and clothes on displays like this.
Although i really don't quite know what to make out of this fruit platter though.
It has mouldy strawberries! I think it probably wasn't mouldy when it arrived fresh on Tues. But by Thur, and left there on display out in the humid weather, it has gone bad.
Rows and rows of presents like this were presented from the groom to the bride and vice versa.
It could be clothes, commodoties, toiletries and even dog food for the house pets!
Having time in between, we went out to do abit of sight seeing.
Ths buses could be packed to the brim like its roads. There isn't really any designated bus stops, so i really wonder how do people know. I suppose they live there long enough to know, its quite amusing seeing people running after the bus and hopping on.
Visiting the Victoria Memorial Hall. Entry for locals was 10rp (0.70SGD), but 150 rp (5 SGD) for foreigners! Look at the disparity! In modern countries like Europe, Singapore, Japan and USA, there isn't the inequality, unless we're talking about student/ senior citizen concessions for locals only.
Most of the local girls wear their traditional get-up. I asked my new friends if the young people ever wear jeans, they say they do! Just that, in general, the locals think it's more appealing to be traditional.
It was pretty boring. Architecture was pretty nice, but inside was a museum with history and paintings and ALOT of small text.
Everyone young and old are smitten by the young ang moh.
Everyone wanted a peice of that fair skin. I rejected a few requests to have my photo taken lah. I was shy, and abit scared. But i regretted rejecting them. Because all they want is a photo, just like how i want a photo of the Vietnamese girls in their traditional costumes!
This girl was abit aggresive though. Mother and child was initially begging for money, when the girl spotted the baby, she grabbed the stroller and wanted to take the toys and baby out. The mother pulled her away. See, it's not too bad. It wasn't like how my friend warned me that hundreds of beggar children will be tearing your four limbs. Alas, we had absolutely ZERO money. We didn't need to spend on food, acoomodation, transport. There weren't any money changers around anyway.
I was expecting to see poverty and slums, but they were on the outskirts of the city. In the city, there were some sightings, most of the homeless were sleeping under the bridges.
Its absurb. THe cars are parked BUMPER TO BUMPER. Sadly, we couldn't hang around to find out how they get out.
Then, it's back to the groom's house in the evening where he officially takes his bride home.
I laughed when i heard how his Bachelor's Night was like in India. He had to stay home and his mum fed him rice for the LAST TIME as a bachelor. Like i said, culture shock.

For a family full of traditions, you would think they're conservative. Interesting painting on the wall, a naked black canoodling with a topless yellow.
Having no pockets in their saris, they tie their keys over their shoulders.
Here, they receive the blessings from the male's family.
and the new mother-in-law adorns her daughter-in-law with gold. Across cultures, the groom's family usually presents the bride with jewels. But i always found the jewelery too gaurdy. Who wears them after the wedding? The Indians still do because they love chunky gold, but i know of Malay friends who feel the pinch because the gold is practically "useless" after the wedding. Chinese are abit luckier, although the custom is also gold, they get diamonds too. BUT gold is more value for resale though. So these are a form of dowry for the bride. They're hers to keep and hers to sell if the man leaves her, and she needs cash.
While rituals go on, the people around usually make this indian call. It's like how the red indian sound. A-loh loh loh loh. They use the horn too, like a sea shell. Not an easy toy, my ang moh friend couldn't even make it whimper.
Olympus 850 is a bad model, by the way. Always blur and the night modes etc is practically useless.
This boy is so hyperactive and he kept disturbing the golden retriever non-stop that i'm impressed with the dog's patience.
It's my favourite breed, other than huskies.
Sometimes i think a dog's love is so unconditional, albeit like God. and God is spelt opposite of dog.
The groom's mum clearly loves being the only female at home. One son, 4 male servants, 4 male dogs...
They'll need to adapt now. So sweet..
I made a card for the couple with my gift. I make cards for very special people only. Usually, when i can't afford an expensive gift..But there're exceptions. So i put a price tag on my own cards! Pop-up somemore leh.
Seeing them appreciate my card was priceless. I haven't lost my touch, i still can draw!
Indians in Singapore are often associated by the Mama stall. Once, my boyfriend felt so bad buying from the mama stall downstairs my house because he felt like he intruded their house. He whispered to me "Oh-no...the whole family is sleeping on the floor. I disturbed them!"
And i'd think that's the road side indian rojak! Not sure if i'll die from this one like the Geylang one. Actually, it's a very sad case of misfortunate for all involved in that one.
It's quite a male dominated country, even sales people in the children's shop are male! Alot of the women stay home and care for the family whilst the men work as servants, as labourers, as sales assistants etc. I didn't see a bra shop though. I wonder if they're also male assistants inside.
This is such a cool feature outside the neighbour's apartment! But it gives me the creeps though, reminds me of Harry Potter.
New Market where it's meant to be like our Bugis Village.

Next day, it's ANOTHER ritual. By this time, we ask ARE YOU GUYS NOT MARRIED YET??!!
This is the first meal that the new daughter-in-law has to serve her mother-in-law and the male's family.
annnnnnd we feast again. This is downstairs the apartment. Abit like the Malay weddings we have downstairs our void deck (which by the way, void deck only exists in Singaporean's dictionary)
Drinking out of clay cups, i didn't like the feel on my lips.
Then finally, it's to the main wedding reception where all 1200 guests are expected.
she must be SO tired of smiling non-stop for pictures for the last 4 days. 2 more days to endure!
Such a cool coffee maker. In the shape of a ship!
My generous host who put us up in his house!
Remember that leaf thing i said earlier?
A local introduced us the version with a special ingredient! I felt high after trying it. I have NEVER felt like this before. I took a puff once, curious what the addiction was about with smoking. My friend said i will feel light headed with that puff. I didn't. I got an irritating headache. The special ingredient that they put in the leaf was tobacco. Instantly i felt light headed, and then i felt a strong urge to kiss someone.
i found my victim.
Culture shock #2. Alcohol wasn't served at the banquets because it might be impolite to some elders or to people who don't drink. So they actually had a mobile bar...on the first night it was IN A CAR (we didn't know). The second night, a little bird came to tell us and we found the water hole!
After the wedding, it was FINALLY the night where the newly wed can consummate. The cousins wanted to go create havoc in the bedroom. So we speed chased the wedding car. In the end, everyone was so beat that we decided to let them off and go hit the night life instead!
Its ironic that although in a traditional country, traditional costumes are not allowed in the clubs. We had to convince the bouncers we just got married. I'm quite smitten by the eldest cousin, i admit. He's always dressed like a Prince! He gave credit to his wife who shopped for him. Being the leader of the pack, he took care of us, chatted to me and created the fun.
A family of lawyers, they were very warm and welcoming.
The club was well, 10% filled. With us in it, it was instantly another 10% with our big group, The girls can sure dance. All those bollywood moves. They aren't dressed super skimpy though. Alot of my overseas friends say Singaporeans wear the skimpiest.
All married men in their 30s with children and wives, it's so fun hanging out with them!
The hilarious part came when there was a HUGE commotion how to get me and my other Singaporean friend back to our accomodation. NO ONE KNEW! We assumed these cousins would know because well, we're staying with their uncle right. Later did we know, the family is so huge that that uncle wasn't their uncle! We made desperate phone calls to the groom (who was consummating his marriage) because he was our only common link. He didn't pick up, thinking we're probably being a nuisance after we gave him such a hard time not leaving his bedroom. I panicked a little because i had a flight to catch the next morning!
I found this in the airport. The karma Sutra pillow! Guaranteed to whet your appetite for more.
8 USD.
I wanted to bring back something authentic of India, and i found the legendary....
Its a misconception about Karma Sutra being all about positions. It's actually an art. It's about sexual congress, on seduction (characteristics of men and women), of examining the state of a woman's mind even, on marriage and on courtesans. Very rich in culture and history. Coupled with visuals, artistic paintings. Hahaha! Buuuuuuut....guess what's the first thing i saw as soon as i flipped it open??

1 comment:

Marvin said...

Interesting... :D

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