Recently I went to a wedding reception in Mysore. An Indian friend of mine had just married his lovely Iranian bride and they invited hundreds of friends and family to celebrate. There were massive outdoor tents and romantic twinkle lights, men and women dressed in stunning gowns and suits and sarees. The food and alcohol were flowing, traditions like the cake cutting and speeches and hours of photo taking took place and then the party started ripping into high gear.
In the beginning of the evening everyone was mingling and entering into general “catch up” or “get to know ya” conversations. I could see that many friends were reuniting after years of not seeing one another – some since they graduated high school. Personally, I knew 10-15 people there between my friends in Bangalore and Mysore, but my outgoing socializing nature set in when I first arrived and it was super to mix in and make some new acquaintances – that hopefully turn out to be new friends in Mysore. The group was mostly Indian, there were two of us westerners if I’m not mistaken and a nice handful of Iranians.
After an initial couple of hours of cocktail party style activity, the heat of the party started to ignite and everyone moved inside where the DJ cranked up the tunes — an upbeat mix of Iranian, Indian and Western music that kept us all glued to the dance floor. I made a conscious effort to not drink too much alcohol. So instead of getting tipsy with my friends and throwing back shots and pounding cocktails, I was equally sweaty from all the dancing but I stayed truly clear-headed. And THAT is probably why I walked away with a few strange realizations about myself and different observations from this party than I normally would.
It’s funny how I view certain things now after just fifteen short months in India. It’s like my internal hard drive is being reformatted or reprogrammed, something I’m surprised about. For example, it was shocking to me to see women in clothes that were way too tight and way too revealing for India. My eyes got bigger and I sort of shook my head in disbelief when I saw a man and woman dancing as a pair instead of in a group, touching and moving erotically together as they danced. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a man put his arm flirtatiously around a woman he had just met a couple of hours back as he spoke to her.
And funny enough, it was even a bit shocking for me to see my friend and his lovely bride kissing in front of everyone. They setup this amazingly romantic shot with the photographer in front of a long draping curtain where she was leaning back just a bit as he held her up with one arm and “photo simulated” a soft kiss. It was something akin to that famous shot in Times Square New York of the sailor and the nurse kissing at the end of World War II. They looked romantic, awe-inspiring and it was a wonderful moment. But I remember that I turned to a friend and joked, “Wow, that’s like porn in India!” And in some ways it is. Films and television and print advertising never show a man and a woman in a passionate or even tender embrace like that … it’s taboo. But there is was.
And here I am now, thinking about how much I’ve changed. I’m chilling out on a chaise lounge at the Windflower Resort in Mysore, sitting on my deck watching geese give themselves a bath, listening to the sounds of the wind blowing through the tress…stupefied by the fact that any of the things I mentioned above are shocking to me. What the hell has happened to me? I was born and raised in southern California, have lived in Barcelona off and on for 18 years and I am anything but conservative. Yet I’ve really started to change here in India. And trust me, I didn’t come to find myself, I came for the booming economy. I haven’t taken a single yoga or meditation class (something I think I should do) nor do I have a passion for exploring new religions. Yet despite all that I have indeed changed organically over time. For the better? I’m not sure. But what I do know for sure is that I definitely have a strange new sense of what is and isn’t appropriate because I have zero desire to be looked upon as having no class — which is exactly how some of my Indian friends describe those who are too far outside the conservative norm. As an expat I’m happy to adapt and blend in instead of look or act as if I don’t know the difference between Ibiza or L.A. and where I now live. And today it’s crackin’ me up to realise that I am going over to the dark side – eh hem, I mean the conservative side!
Prior to moving to India I would never have thought twice about a woman squeezed into a skin-tight dress trying to look sexy, or a man touching a woman as they spoke, or a drunk couple dirty dancing on the dance floor.
And I would have found it shocking if a bride and groom didn’t kiss. In western cultures, that is the final seal of a marriage. After the rings are exchanged the priest tells the husband, “You may now kiss the bride.” In fact, at wedding receptions, guests will clink a spoon against their glass in unison to encourage the new couple to kiss, and then everyone cheers.
So I ask this: is India changing me only while I’m here in India or is my hard drive going to be altered forever? Is this an upgrade or am I completely reinstalling my operating system? Given my monumentally liberal upbringing and life before India, I suspect that a little conservative coding isn’t a bad thing. In the end, only time will tell. Hell, maybe I’m just getting old!
P.S. I wish my newlywed friends a lifetime of love and happiness…
© 2012 Angela Carson, Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore