No one had scheduled a slum walk for Sunday, so we decided we would head into the slums to see if anyone needed anything and visit with Manju (Laxmi’s friend and an amazing woman) who was dying for me and Lisa to try on saris. We went through the usual tasks of crossing the street into the slum and hanging with the kids who greeted us upon entry. Over the several days spent in the slum, I think all four of us averaged at least 100 handshakes per day. It was great because we felt as if we knew the area now. It was small and crowded, but we generally knew our way around and faces were starting to become familiar after the hours spent there the day before.
We followed Laxmi up to Manju’s house which was a small room with a little kitchen off to the side and even a small room with a squatty potty. She made every effort to make the space cozy and welcoming. She lives here with her husband and two young children. Her daughter is probably about six or seven and her son was around 2 years old. She invited us in and made us some tasty chai while we got comfy on the bed and looked around at the cute pictures they had all around the room. We spoke with her friendly husband and Laxmi proudly informed us that Manju’s marriage is a love marriage. It isn’t the norm in India, especially in areas like this, for two people to get married for love rather than a family arrangement. Apparently, the marriage was arranged initially, but after Manju had some disputes her future in-laws they called off the wedding. While this was going on, Manju and her husband ended up falling madly in love and ended up getting married anyway and having two adorable children. It sounds like a Bollywood movie script, I know.
Anyway, Manju really wanted us to try on her saris. Lisa was first up and went behind a curtain in Manju’s house to put on a beautiful gold saris with Manju’s help. She came out to show us and Manju was beaming. Lisa expressed how incredibly heavy the garment was from all the intricate beading. It was my turn next and Manju put me in a beautiful blue green Rajasthani dress that she hand made! That vocational school really is working wonders. The first piece was the flowing skirt and the second part was the top which was tied tightly and then further garnished with a pretty scarf that I would occasionally let hang low and other times place over my head. I came out from behind the curtain to show the rest of the gang. Manju then decided Lisa and I needed some makeup, which had become the most foreign substance to me in 4 months on the road. I didn’t even recognize myself when she was done! She put plenty of eye makeup on us and finished us off with bright lipstick. The next stage was jewelry. Manju decked us out in heavy necklaces, earrings, and of course, bangles. I felt like I was little again playing dress up and it was awesome! As us girls were getting all dolled up, Manju’s husband brought out two turbans for the guys to wear. He also put his sunglasses on John’s face and was so tickled by how good John looked with his turban and sunglasses on that he decided to gift his sunglasses to John. John said he absolutely couldn’t accept it but there was no arguing. The sunglasses were now his. I have never met such giving people in my life. They have so little but would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.
Next came the real fun. Manju told us we had to walk around in the slum and show everyone our outfits. We were apprehensive, but again, there was no arguing. She wanted to bring us to a family member’s house so we obliged and set off into the streets of the slums. Walking out of her house was the closest I think I will ever feel to being a real celebrity. Everyone ooed and ahhed at us, smiled and giggled incessantly, shook our hands, and ran after us through the streets. We made our way to Manju’s aunt’s house where we were greeted by about 20 other girls and women of various ages. They immediately decided we would be given an Indian wedding. How could we say no to that?! We sat there, hand in hand, as they performed a ceremony for each couple, sang traditional songs, and eventually pronounced us husband and wife. Antoine and Lisa weren’t married that morning, but by the end of the day they were man and wife in the eyes of our new friends! Of course, no Indian wedding is complete without food and dancing, so one of the girls, Pooja, made a smorgasbord of food (yes, we were a bit hesitant to eat food prepared in the slums, but it was actually really tasty!). Everyone sat and stared at us four while we ate, smiling all the while. We asked them to eat but they wouldn’t hear anything of it until we had finished. Once we were good and full, we rose from the floor and danced our booties off for quite some time. When everyone was danced out and were content with the events of the day, they took us out into the streets for a walk. Our clothing informed all the locals that we had just been married, so they all took turns coming up and congratulating us. As we encountered elders, we would do the traditional act of bending down and touching their legs right above their ankles. They would further congratulate us with a big smile and we would move on to the next one.
The festivities lasted all day, but it felt like only an hour because it was such an amazing experience. This day was one of the highlights of the entire trip and something I know John and I will never forget. The women had such a wonderful time, I know it will stick with them as well. I guess all wedding days just go by in the blink of an eye, I know both of our wedding days did!
P.S.: In case you haven’t noticed, Indians love posing for pictures, but generally do not smile in them. So, after our quick wedding ceremony, we had a proper photoshoot under the direction of Manju (while the girls tried to hold back smiles). Enjoy the results!