So Gwen's comment below about how many dogs I would adopt if I were able means that I really have to tell you this little anecdote in which I kind of... embarrass and endear myself simultaneously. Right, okay.
Day Two was the day of Sandeep and Sumya's engagement party. They've opted for an arranged marriage, which mostly means that they were set up by a matchmaker and then took the decision into their own hands to build a relationship and get married. The contemporary, arranged marriage thing is a subject for a whole other day, but I'll just say this for now... I came here with an open mind about it, having worked with Hema on a story about arranged marriage and knowing she arranged a marriage for a cousin a few years ago. Her cousin was tragically and unexpectedly widowed with two daughters, which was... not good. Long story. She's happily married now and lives in Virginia, thanks in no small part to my friend who arranged the marriage, which involved screening out anyone with an email address like "Lovemachine@aol.com." Not making that up.
Her family, especially her parents, are incredibly liberal. Her brother married his high school sweetheart. Her sister the news videographer married a newspaper reporter in an arranged marriage, and Hema's story is one that I simply sum up by describing it the way she does- she broke all the rules. Ultimately, she's a suburban working mom who moved to America after marrying a world class American artist who has a painting hanging in Buckingham Palace and used to be in a band that played in between sets for the Grateful Dead. Oh, and he looks like Jim Henson. Her family LOVES him. He isn't arriving until the sixth with their older son who can't miss that much school, but already they're making special arrangements for a distant cousin in culinary school to come over and make him beef. This is HUUUGE. (G- they wouldn't care that you're Jews. ;)
Right, okay, so! The dog story! As I said, the neighbors across the street live in a squalid lean-to and iron clothes for families in the area and have a few dogs that hang around being all emaciated and besieged by their own puppies. The puppies? Are really cute. I mean, they're fucking puppies, alright?
So the engagement party involves a lot of blessings and symbolism and exchanges of rings and saris and bangles and feeding sweets and bestowing of coconuts (yes, really) followed by a huge dinner (be jealous; the food is amazing every day) and there'll be tons of pictures of this later. At this point, I'm the only non-bilingual white chick around.
A toddler on the groom's side was toddling around being adorable and I'm making faces and going round for round in an international game of peekaboo and generally holding an ice cream-type dessert thingy and smiling. I'm being chatty, and I call the toddler "babu" which is a general term of endearment in Hindi, not unlike "cutie pie." I turn around for a second, and the toddler... well, he toddles away and turns back toward me, and... alright, there's a lot of shouting and noise in general, okay? God, this is so embarrassing.
The toddler runs back to me without my really noticing, despite the adults calling out things like, "Look out!" and "He's going to fall!" and "Hey, you! White chick eating ice cream! Catch that baby before he falls and skins a knee!" but since my Hindi/Urdu crash course from Hema's 10-year-old niece Anvi only included, "Hello, nice to meet you!" and "Not too much spice, please," a special greeting just for Muslims who speak Rajastani with a few silly words for bodily functions** thrown in for good measure, what happens is that I blithely stand by eating ice cream while the toddler falls. Fail.
**If the party guests had been shouting "Pee pee!" I would have been fine.
Hema tried to make me feel better, "What, you called him 'babu' and now they think you know everything? Don't worry about it" but soon we're all distracted by the groom's family leaving. The bride is starting to sway under the weight of her jewelry and various bangles, and after much bowing and hugging, they start to drive away. Everyone starts shouting and one of the puppies narrowly escapes death by wheel-crunching. The cars start to move again, but it's Puppy DeathWatch the Sequel. People start trying to shoo the dog to the side of the road, and it's not really working, and I'm standing right there, so I scoop the dog up and say, "Aw, I got him; it's fine."
People gasp in horror. They actually gasp out loud, in unison. (Um... I kind of kissed the puppy on the head without really thinking about it, though it was really dark and I think only 10-year-old Anvi saw me do it.) Truth be told, the mama dog? I would think twice about touching. The cow that eats trash? As it turns out, it would be incredibly auspicious if I touched its rump. So.. yeah. Anyway, the groom's party leaves, and I set the dog down carefully next to the mama dog and make a big joke about having to go burn my shirt. Everyone laughs, except for an uncle who thinks I really am going to burn my shirt and feels the need to tell me emphatically that it's not necessary. Washing will be sufficient. Next language lesson? Learn to say: Hi! I'm Hema's crazy American friend! I kiss dogs and ignore unsteady toddlers near cement steps! Now I must burn my garment!
Hema's brother-in-law pulled me aside to tell me he was just about to grab the dog if I hadn't; and it was generally agreed that touching the puppy was a good deed. For the record, the last dirty street puppy I pulled away from a busy road is now sleeping on my pillow in New York next to my husband and two formerly dirty street kittens turned spoiled housecats, one of whom likes to lick shower curtains. I miss all four.
And now, the first photo I'm posting from India...
Oh fucking hell. Blogger hates photos from India. It's on flickr. Go see it there. Clicky!