Flying into Mumbai International Airport is such a pleasure with the swanky terminal and aesthetic décor. Usually immigration, customs and exit from the airport is a breeze but this time it took longer than usual. Maybe it’s just that time of the year with more people flying to India. Returning always feels surreal; like I never left at all.
Having said that, as much as I love being back and reconnecting with everyone, I need to prepare myself mentally for sniffles, sneezes and itching throat.
It starts within twenty-four hours. My throat itches followed by the eyes after which the running nose and sneezing fits begin. I cannot understand whether it’s the dust, pollution or my body’s inability to cope with the environment. It was never like this when I lived here. And back in New York, I sail through all the seasons with barely a sniff.
It’s the NRI syndrome and I never thought I would succumb to it.
This time of the year is also shaadi season. I love Indian weddings. The pomp and glamour. The music and food. The colours and clothes. The fun factor. The build-up and the festive feel. I landed in the wee hours of the morning and by mid-morning was dressed and ready for the first of the multiple functions that make up an Indian wedding. It’s a non-stop blur. Puja, dance practice, sangeet, after party, baarat. shaadi, reception and more partying.
From college nicknames to reminiscences, we revert to a long forgotten persona, peppered with shrieks, laughter and much ribbing.
The first wedding I attended happened to be that of a college friend’s son. To imagine, thirty-two years ago we met as kids ourselves and suddenly we were donning the roles we always imagined our parents represented. And when college friends meet, the years simply melt away.
Indians know how to pull out all the stops when it comes to celebrating occasions and weddings are the ultimate show-stoppers. Having said that, it does feel surreal when I walk into extravagant celebrations where the cost of what people are wearing is more than the lifetime earnings of those Indians who live in poverty. Or when I see tables groaning under the choicest cuisines but have nothing to offer the beggar knocking at my window. The disparity is glaring. And thanks to that inbuilt immunity, our coping mechanism kicks in.
But one thing we are not immune to is an out and out celebrity watching culture. Each country has this phenomenon but I think it takes a larger than life form in India. Maybe with 1.2 billion people, our celebrities have the most fans. I take the reverse attitude. If there is a celebrity present, I avoid contact. At the end of the day what is the celebrity going to say. He or she is not going to become your best friend overnight. Or give you a break in her or his next big show/ movie or what have you. If the celebrity is attending a family wedding, privacy is a right. It’s a time to be with loved ones without being inundated with requests for photographs and autographs. I allowed myself to be content with some distance shots just to remember the celebrity presence.
Presents is the other issue. At many of the weddings I attend, taking a gift is a moot point since people request no gifts. Yet others request a donation to charity in lieu of a gift. I like that request. There are so many worthy causes begging for attention. In India, you have your pick. I feel like a bull in a china shop when it comes to picking my favourite charity. I generally like children and women centric causes. But in recent times have also found myself giving to Grow-trees.com. In this age of global warming, what better way to make a direct impact on climate change. The benefits will accrue to future generations, reduce carbon footprints, revive forests, bring back rain, keep wildlife from dying, provide livelihoods to people apart from a host of other reasons.
These options are a Godsend because after attending multiple function weddings and experiencing every conceivable luxury, what to gift is a stressful issue. It jostles with the other excruciating issue: deciding what outfits to wear! I arrived with a summer mindset only to realize it’s cool in Pune. Its uncanny how quickly you forget the weather pattern!! Luckily, I escaped the Arctic Blast in NYC. Now, as I step into shaadi mode, gearing up for dancing, eating and celebrating, I dread not just returning to the cold, but also stepping on the scales.
But as we all know You only live once. So bring it on.