The first public festivities of my friend Farakh’s wedding are called the shukrana, which literally means “thanksgiving.” We gather in a room at Bangalore’s chic St. Mark’s Hotel, where the wedding gifts are on display. These are the jewels and clothing that the bride, Qurrath, will receive from Farakh’s family. They are presented alongside an incredible, colorful spread of fresh fruit. Shukrana is a night of giving, being thankful and sharing the joy of two families coming together.
Some advice for those traveling to India: beware of “India Time!” Apparently, when something is supposed to begin at 7:00PM, it most likely won’t start until 9:00PM, 10:00PM or even 11:00PM. It’s a bit wild, but a completely accepted practice by everyone. Of course I was still on “New York Time” which runs about 15 minutes behind schedule, but the rest of Farakh’s friends who made it to Bangalore were on “British Time,” which I have to admit is pretty darn punctual. Because we were so early for the evening’s ceremonies, we milled about in the lobby until the moment we were waiting for: the Koran had finally entered the building. As part of Farakh’s “posse”, we followed the groom’s procession into the main room.
The first thing I notice is that Farakh is suddenly surrounded by kids, and they’re beating him! Of course this is all a part of the evening’s merriment. The sisters and young female relatives of the bride have attempted to prevent Farakh from entering the room and meeting with his bride. They tease him, beating him with fresh flower-covered sticks. Word is that a few boys brought some bare (painfully hard) sticks into the mix, but naturally, Farakh took it like a man.
Farakh is presented with wreath of fresh flowers, but somewhere along the way his shoes are stolen! He now has to bribe the bride’s young cousins with cold hard cash in order to get them back.
Meanwhile, Qurrath received her wedding gifts. As part of the tradition, she is veiled with beautiful fabric, then adorned with every single piece of jewelry she has received as a wedding gift. Here she smiles as flowers and jewels are carefully layered upon her.
Once Qurrath and Farakh are sufficiently covered in flowers and gems, the feasting begins.
Sit-down dinners are not typical at Indian weddings. Usually, guests enjoy a full buffet of some of the best regional food. The offerings here include cream of almond and coriander soup, a vegetable kofta curry, panchmili subzi (a lentil and vegetable dish), murgh (chicken) biryani and mutton do pyaza. The food is incredible. In Bangalore, it’s common practice to eat with one’s right hand, using fresh-made breads or the biryani rice to scoop up the rich curries. I love any excuse to dig my fingers into my food. I quickly caught on, figuring out how to transport rice from the plate to my mouth.
The buffet is huge, and the food is delicious, but I notice another table to the side. This is Farakh’s personal wedding feast (thanksgiving, indeed!) handmade by local women – just for him and his hungry friends. The dishes are all adorned with silver leaf, to signify Farakh’s role as groom in the wedding ceremony. This spread runs the gamut from salty to sweet, including some incredible spicy home-grilled chicken.
I must have hit that buffet at least three separate times. Who could possibly imagine a better way to be introduced to the flavors of a new foodie destination like Bangalore.
The festivities continue into the night. Though this shukrana/thanksgiving is filled with laughter and pranks, it’s also representative of the joining of two families. Farakh’s friends from the UK and I chose to wear traditional Indian clothing, which turned out to be a big hit. We were welcomed with open arms, and both families made us feel like we were at home. A truly incredible first night in Bangalore, India.
2011 Mileage Total: 16964