So said E.M. Forster, or one of his characters, anyway. Here I've been wondering what to write about our trip when I should have known from the beginning to forego sweeping summaries in favor of snapshots and glimpses. Then I can get on to the other things I've been wanting to write, right? Right.
I kept finding men who looked just like Maira Kalman's turbanned characters. They pop up in all of her books, not just Max in India. (Slightly related: today I realized that when I hear "Maria Callas" I think "Olivia the pig." Note to self, more adult culture?)
We traveled the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle (without really getting to see any of Delhi, since we spent most of our time at a wedding in Jaipur). At least in Rajasthan, everyone--men, women, children--wears scarves and shawls, much of the time and every which way. As we prepared for our trip, I had gotten very nervous and excited. I expected to be overwhelmed by the poverty, the supposedly pervasive sense of the spiritual, and, to be embarrassingly honest, by all kinds of disagreeable smells. Instead, the poverty was as (horrible as) anticipated, and neither the souls nor the smells struck my dull senses as unusual. But the citizenry's way with a simple piece of fabric? Forget about French women. This was something.
It was the clothes that blew me away. Look at this spangled, colorful ensemble for hauling sticks along the road. On a detour down a country road (much smaller and more perilous than the one pictured here), we saw many women stooping in the fields, tending crops in their marigold, fuschia, and fanta-tinted saris. I still haven't wrapped my head around it. I loved the yellow mustard fields, too.
Color! Color and fabric. Our tour guide tried to take us to a jeweler when we said we wanted to go shopping, and it took some doing to convince him that we wanted to see some block printing on cotton instead. He obliged and gamely spent a couple of hours waiting while we looked at fabric and had clothes sewn up. Crazy Americans.
I would feel guiltier about my superficial sartorial impressions of India if every American woman who heard I was going to an Indian wedding had not asked, "ooooh, are you going to get henna?" Yes! (These wacky threads, by the way, were borrowed from the bride, whose family gave her a bunch of clothes to pass around so we Americans would not have to feel lame in our lame clothes. The bride said this aggressive pink number would be appropriate for the fun of the henna application and bangra lessons, which were indeed superfun.)
The bride's clothes, you know, they were okay, too. That's her in the orange in the center, back to us. The curtain is made of strings of marigolds! This was a temple ceremony, mostly a boisterous professional performance of the life of Shiva, which culminated in the bride's and groom's families pelting them with flowers. This was the first day. There were two more days of ceremonies, buffets, fireworks, elephants, performances. I mean, have you ever. Two posts at least, don't you think?