I love India! I count it a privilege to do my business here. Of course I miss home sometimes - my family, my friends, fish and chips on the beach... but it is amazing gift to enjoy the rich culture in India, the food and friends I have here. Also, it is true that as much as Holi Boli is about empowering women here in rural India; I have been empowered by the wonderful ladies at Holi Boli (and a couple of decent blokes also).
I thought it would be nice to share one personal story here on the Holi Boli Blog.
Mr. Ashok is one of the directors of Holi Boli Fashionz here in Bhalupali. My family were given the honour to attend his sons wedding. My family set off in our little red van for the long drive on roads that sometimes were not much more than dirt tracks. I like to drive, so I was at the wheel. My husband was the nav-man and my children were suppliers of water and treats. It took 7.5 hours to drive 250km from our village to Daringbadi in the Khandamal district. The trip was slow but the scenery was amazing. They call Daringbadi the Kashmir of Odisha. I haven't been to Kashmir but I know it is beautiful, green and hilly. It was just the same on this journey. Through the jungles we saw monkeys and the occasional snake. There were signs warning us that tigers also roamed the hills. Super beautiful and super exciting.
We arrived and slept the night in one of the local hotels. We are used to the whole family sleeping on one big bed - Indian style. We have done it quite a few times now. Our room had no air-conditioner but it wasn't required because Daringbadi is a 'hill-station' it is much cooler than our village. We woke up and found some breakfast - samosa - yum! Then we walked to the wedding across rice paddy fields. It was quite a 'confidence-course' and especially challenging in my sari (required wedding attire in these parts). You could hear the music from the wedding booming across the paddy fields. It was occasionally interrupted by the crack of thunder as the dark sky lit up the rain-threatening clouds overhead. We passed some of the wedding patrons having a bath in a waterhole then up the stairs on the other side to enter a beautiful marque filled with Mr. Ashok's family and friends.
We ate and talked with the guests. We practiced our poor Odia and found longer conversations with those who could speak some English. These people speak Odia as their second language and English as a third. These are tribal people who speak Kui as their native language. I often find myself in awe at how many languages people can speak in India. Even these so-called simple rice farmers, speak 2 or 3 (sometimes more) languages fluently. The culture does not dictate for deep discussion but more for being together. We are all waiting for the brides family who are travelling the same roads we were on the day before.
The wedding is due to start at 10AM. Of course, in India that means you start getting ready at 10AM (we know this after 10 years living here). The bride is running late. The roads are worse than they expected due to overnight rains. It's the monsoon season so it can bucket down at any moment. Tension is rising among the marriage party because it is now 3PM and the brides family is still not here. People are hungry and lunch was ready an hour ago. There is nothing else to do but to feed the hungry family members that are waiting. Beautiful basmati rice and Indian curries are served. These tribal folk are not strict vegetarians like my friends are in Sambalpur and they are surprised that I am vegetarian - they assume that all foreigners are meat eaters.
Now at 4.30PM the bridal family arrive. As they come across fields, Mr. Ashok's family wait with gifts of cloth. All the ladies are excited that the brides family are arriving and push forward through the crowd of onlookers to get a better view of the new arrivals. My family and I are standing near the back enjoying the excitement. After the brides family are honoured with their gifts then we are suprised by also receiving gifts since we are foreigners. I appreciate the honour but my New Zealand upbringing makes me embarrassed to be put in the limelight.
After the eating is finished the negotiations start. I am confused I thought this was a wedding. I cannot understand all the language being spoken. It is fast and swapping from Kui to Sambalpuri to Odia to Hindi and occasionally an English word for good measure. From what I can grasp, the agreements made between the two families are being finally settled. Both families are happy to do away with the serious business of dowry (paid by the brides family to the groom) but in this case there will be some exchanges made to keep the ceremony official in the eyes of the culture. One old lady, I presume is the brides grandmother, asks for something more than agreed upon earlier. Mr. Ashok's oldest brother (actually a cousin by western thinking) says that this is not normal for such a request but seems to agree with the new terms. I can only guess that the age of the lady has allowed this change to occur. There is nothing here that resembles a wedding in New Zealand or even those I have previously attended in Sambalpur. It is fascinating. I feel like I am watching a documentary on TV but it is real - I am here.
The bride and groom speak and confirm that it is there desire to be married. Aha, I think this is a love marriage. Maybe that is why there is so many differences. My mind is racing through all the differences I have experienced today. Is it a love marriage or is it a tribal marriage, is it a different culture or is it some concoction of all these and other things I cannot perceive? The ceremony ends. People are happy but there is no formal finish like I have experienced in the past. The bridal party get up, share their thanks and accept the marriage of their daughter to Mr. Ashoks son. They leave. We leave. We have to get home and back to work. It is much later than we expected the ceremony to finish. As we cross the patty fields again to get back to our little red van we hear the music start again. I presume we missed the party - perhaps we should have stayed another night.
We clean our feet from all the mud. Those threatening clouds did burst open once and caused the track to be more muddy than before. We pile into the van for the long ride home. The adventure is not finished.
We planned to go a different way home. The new plan allowed us to travel for 4 hours and stay at a hotel to finish the remaining 3.5 hours early the next day. My husband phoned the hotel and told the management we were running late. They understood. Weddings do that around here. First we were surprised how good the roads were. Much better than our trip to Daringbadi. Why had the locals told us to go the other bumpy way? Then our perfect road quickly turned into a dirt track again. However, it was way worse than last time. Maybe this was the reason for the local advice?
Our new road would completely disappear at times. My husband was eyes on the road giving me help to see the dangers and our children were doing the same. It was intense. Driving through the Indian jungle in the dark with little warning if the road was there or not. We crossed from one side to the other finding a track. Like good New Zealanders - going backwards was not an option. One bridge had been half wiped out. It was slow and careful work. Yes, we were a bit scared. Then after about 1.5 hours of extreme driving (adventure holiday anyone?) we were back on a beautiful sealed road. My husband poured out his encouragement to the team and me especially for navigating through the worst roads we have ever seen. My son said, "I never want to do that again".
20 minutes until our destination. We were really excited to be arriving at a hotel after such an extreme adventure. We were ready to sleep. Then it happened. We could not believe what we were seeing. A huge pipe lay across the road. The pipe was roadblock. Behind the pipe the road had been completely washed away. I guess a monsoon downpour caused a river to change direction and wash the road away. My husband cursed Google maps. He needed to blame something I guess. He then phoned the hotel (having just got a phone signal) and told them we wouldn't be making it tonight. We swallowed our disappointment and gave a pep talk to our children that we had to do 'that' road again.
10.5 hours later at 5AM in the morning we arrived safely home in Bhalupali village to our own beds. What an adventure!
I am pleased to have these times. Don't get me wrong, I am not pleased at the time! However, looking back, it was amazing. Beauty, cultures, the unknown, a little scary, a journey - we had it all. Maybe all that it needed was a ring and an evil presence and we have ourselves a great story. Holi Boli - Fearless Ethical Fashion! I guess being fearless means facing your fears. I keep telling myself to 'walk the talk'. This is a little evidence of the outcome of that self-talk.