“Please, come and dance sir”
“No, no, really, I can't”
“Nononononono i'm ok really. Thank you.”
“Please, it will be good luck for us if you come and dance with us...”
“err... umm... arrg”
This is wedding crashing, Indian style. We broke into one huge celebration at 9pm one night during a long drive home, simply because we were hungry and couldn't find anywhere that looked like it was serving good food (note to the cynic: it is actually a proscribed part of the wedding that you cannot turn away any chancers; indeed we had a couple of random extra mouths turn up at our Hindu wedding on 09/08/08; this, however, doesn't stop you getting a fair few curious looks). But this time we were driven out of our compound in Gwalior by the insistent desi-ton rhythms pounding out of the mobile discos night after night. When we spotted a huge ceremony being setup not 20 yards from our door it was too good an opportunity for people-watching to pass up. So we wandered out after having eaten a sizable dinner at home already, dressed in our scrubbiest home clothes, with the simple intention of watching the procession, the band and the dancing and taking a couple of pictures.
Plans change however, and within minutes we found ourselves doing the lightbulb dance under a thousand-watt portable flashlight, being filmed for posterity and with a whooping, clearly delighted crowd of revellers gathering around us.
Weddings here are seriously big affairs; huge gatherings of several hundred people with all the food you could imagine (but no booze!), culminating in the groom arriving at the party hall atop a white charger, at the rear of a vast, noisy procession of wildly dancing youths, huge mobile boomboxes and a brass band all playing separate songs. Strangers are garlanded with marigolds and treated like royalty. Fireworks are set off from the middle of the street while cars drive past.
For just a short while we thought that we might have gotten away with a quick shake of the moneymakers but it had only just begun for us. We were decked with flowers and led inside, past the groom and family being welcomed to the hall, into the huge food court. Our protests of being stuffed full to the throat fall on deaf ears and we are escorted to the sweets stands with a solemn promise to try and eat more. We watched the guys deep fry fresh jilebi out of spirals of dough and managed to choke a bit more down.
Then when we were full (well, fuller) we wandered into the main hall to see what was going on. The bride and groom, looking very nervous, were sitting on a pair of decorated chairs on a dais, covered in heaps of flowers and having their pictures taken with all and sundry from the congregation. I wandered up to the front to take some pictures alongside their professional photographers and before I knew it we had been dragged up to the front to have our picture taken with them! Which I unfortunately didn't get a copy of....
So, there you have it. If you're ever hungry and bored of an evening in central India, let your feet take you towards the pumping disco music and the rest will just happen. And best of all – on auspicious days there will be a wedding every couple of hundreds yards along the street!