An Indian Wedding

Jennie Maydew is a junior Art major and is spending one semester in Hyderabad, India.

[Originally posted October 31]
To see more from Jenny, check out her blog directly here

Before coming to India, I had many ideas about Indian weddings. From what I heard, I assumed they were the most extravagant, decorative, and festive ceremonies around. I didn’t want to leave India without attending one, so was pleased when I was able to attend a wedding with four girls from my program. It was a friend’s friend’s friend’s sister’s wedding, but we were invited as if we were the closest of family (I mentioned family is all-encompassing word, right?)

My first Indian wedding! Here’s how we were invited: my peer tutor Pooh is friends with the man four from the left, who is friends with the woman on the far right, who is the bride’s sister! (That’s how we “knew” the couple)

My first Indian wedding! Here’s how we were invited: my peer tutor Pooh is friends with the man four from the left, who is friends with the woman on the far right, who is the bride’s sister! (That’s how we “knew” the couple)

Indian marriages typically come in two styles: arranged marriage and love marriage. Arranged marriages occur when the bride’s and groom’s respective families seek out a potential spouse, and match the couple themselves. The couple meets, then gets married soon after. Arranged marriages, though controversial and becoming less popular, are still common. Love marriages, on the other hand, take place when the couple-to-be seeks each other out. It’s the method most similar to that of American marriages, but usually still involves compatibility between families and parental approval. This particular marriage was a love marriage.

The part of the ceremony where guests threw flowers on the heads of the bride and groom

The part of the ceremony where guests threw flowers on the heads of the bride and groom

The ceremony consisted of traditional Hindu rituals and was led by a priest reciting ancient verses. In the hour-and-a-half-long ceremony, the couple did all sorts of actions: pouring things into fire, circumambulating the stage, receiving showers of rice and flowers. In total, though, it was less elaborate than I thought it would be. It was a small wedding with fewer attendees than most. A few nights ago, we passed a dancing wedding party on the road that was sending up fireworks as the bride paraded on a golden chariot (my expectation of Indian weddings).

My and Rhia’s henna, done especially for the event

My and Rhia’s henna, done especially for the event

I have to thank my host family for helping me get dressed for this event. My host mom and sister adorned me with their entire collection of gold jewelry and tied my sari up ‘Gujarati style,’ a different draping method from Gujarat, India. My host mom put a black dot below my ear to ward off penetrating gazes, which is a tradition for brides—who get the dot on their cheek—and for babies as well. My host mom’s mother-in-law also blessed me and Rhia with a prayer to create similar protection. I’m lucky to have such loving friends and family who invite me to weddings and help me wear Indian clothes, all while selflessly keeping my best interest in mind. As I’ve said before, Indians are so eager to share their culture and don’t mind—and rather appreciate—when we as Americans adopt it. This generosity continues to emanate, and as I approach the final month of my stay in India, I realize this spirit of sharing is one of the values I appreciate most about Indian culture—and one of the things I just might miss a lot upon my return home.

Seven observations about India

Jennie Maydew is a junior Art major and is spending one semester in Hyderabad, India.

[Originally posted October 2, 2013]

From the minute I arrived in India, there were comparisons I began to make between Indian and American culture. These observations determined the way I felt about this new place, my reactions to them fluctuating between intrigue to amusement to shock. After time, some of these occurrences have become commonplace in my day-to-day and often I don’t react to them, let alone notice them. I understand that making generalizations about a culture is risky; though I’ve been in India for nearly three months, I still have a perspective confined by my Western background. I’d like to share some simple observations that I have about Indian society and culture, knowing they may be out of context but hoping that they will give you insight into my thoughts about this remarkably fascinating culture.

1. Advertisements exist on walls, houses, rocks, and really any kind of flat, upright surface

Dairy company advertisement (propaganda) on a home, written in Telugu script

Dairy company advertisement (propaganda) on a home, written in Telugu script



A Telugu warning sign for crocodiles at Nagarjuna Sagar waterfalls, conveniently painted on a rock near the trail

A Telugu warning sign for crocodiles at Nagarjuna Sagar waterfalls, conveniently painted on a rock near the trail

Advertisements in Telugu, English, and occasionally Hindi line the road of our neighborhoods. These ads often promote dairy products, homes for rent, schools, and shops. They even exist on the walls of people’s homes. Advertisers have also taken advantage of Hyderabad’s giant rock formations to display messaging. These advertisements are usually hand painted, which makes for some really cool graffiti-like ads.

2. The limit to the number of people that can fit on a motorcycle doesn’t exist

A regular Hyderabadi family outing (the motorcycle is the new station wagon)

A regular Hyderabadi family outing (the motorcycle is the new station wagon)

This one still takes me by surprise. The most people I’ve seen on a motorcycle is six. It’s not uncommon for the whole family to pile on a two-wheeler and brave the chaotic Hyderabad streets. Women wearing saris sit side-saddle, kids usually sit or stand up front, and infants are held in laps. Side note: I usually don’t take photos of people for the sake of capturing their image (I now know very well how intrusive and uncomfortable that can be). I try to be cautious about this issue and can only hope this family wasn’t threatened by my taking of this photo.

3. The concept of a line or ‘queue’ hardly ever makes it past theory

Tourists squeeze among each other trying to get to a ticket counter

Tourists squeeze among each other trying to get to a ticket counter

Just because there are signs and metal railings doesn’t mean people are going to stand in a line. I noticed this fact for the first time on my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Mumbai, where almost all of the passengers were Indian. When it was boarding time, everyone got up and formed a gigantic mob around the counter. I learned quickly that if I didn’t assert myself and physically push against someone, I’d be the last to board the plane. This is a photo of the ticket counter at a popular tourist destination we visited this weekend. All of these people were trying to get boat tickets to the island in the middle of the lake. Needless to say, we didn’t get to go on the boat (though my friend Romi made a really good attempt!)

4. Littering is usually acceptable, and sometimes even encouraged

Unoccupied land that has become a dumpster in my neighborhood

Unoccupied land that has become a dumpster in my neighborhood

Trash lines the sides of streets, floats in and along bodies of water, and migrates in heaps to open plots of land. Dumpsters exist but usually only have trash piled around them. People casually toss used paper and plastic cups, wrappers, receipts, cans, and bottles on the ground. The trash that finds its way to the sides of the streets is often burned out in the open—even though this trash is mostly plastic—and the awful smell permeates entire stretches of road. There are people who are genuinely concerned about India’s trash system and it’s a generalization to say that all Indians litter. There is even a group on campus called the Dirty Cleaners that organizes trash cleanups to make UoH campus a less polluted space.

5. Indian kitchens don’t have ovens

My host family’s oven-less kitchen

My host family’s oven-less kitchen

I’ve yet to see an oven in an Indian home. Most kitchens have a gas stove that sits on top of the counter. Apparently, ovens are expensive to purchase and the electricity to run them is costly. Plus, most Indian cuisine is made on the stove in pans and pressure cookers or is deep fried.

6. “Buy 2 get 3 free” does not mean you get five things

Misleading (to me) advertisement for basmati rice

Misleading (to me) advertisement for basmati rice

I came across this display in the supermarket and asked my host mom if we’d really get five bags of rice since it literally says ‘get 3 free.’ She was very amused, explaining between giggles that it’s really just buy two get one. Though comical, this misunderstanding illustrates the issue of navigating language barriers and translation in general, which is sometimes also trivial and funny, but other times can be difficult and frustrating.

Update: “Buy 2 get 3 free” does actually mean you get five. That’s a lot of rice!

7. Even the most basic things receive decoration

The opening of an ATM (yes, all of those flowers are real!)

The opening of an ATM (yes, all of those flowers are real!)

Indians decorate doors, auto rickshaws, work trucks, animals, themselves, and even the ground. When a new ATM opened in our neighborhood it was adorned with garlands of marigolds. This decoration makes India so vibrant and the most mundane things beautiful.

Through these observations I’ve learned to both question my surroundings and accept truths I cannot change. I’ve come to take frustrating situations lightly and to analyze the bigger picture of moments that may seem insignificant. I continue to form questions from my experiences at the same time that I become closer to understanding my own values, relationship to my community, global perspective, and position as a human in this world.

New Delhi: Everything I feared and hoped India would be

Jennie Maydew is a junior Art major and is spending one semester in Hyderabad, India.

[Originally posted August 23, 2013]

New Delhi is an area in the city of Delhi and the capital of India. With 22 million residents, Delhi is the fourth-largest city in the world and the largest in India in terms of area. It’s a modern metropolitan city with a punctual metro system and a bustling, busy population. Its architecture and city layout is heavily influenced by the British and the city as a whole differs from Hyderabad greatly. Ambitiously we chose our destinations, and in three days we did Delhi!

In sum, New Delhi was the manifestation of the image of India I had before coming here. It was everything I feared and hoped India would be. Tight and crowded streets lined with shops and homes above them, markets overflowing with people and goods, bicycle rickshaws whipping through the streets. Dirt and dust, color and texture, noise and odor. From spending a few days there the only conclusion that I could draw is that Delhi is a fascinating place.

We stayed four nights in Delhi on the topmost floor of a hotel tucked behind a series of alleyways. Travel publications accurately labeled the area around our hotel a ‘tourist ghetto.’ One of the strangest things about Delhi was to see tourists everywhere (Hyderabad isn’t frequented by many outsiders). Seeing another foreigner is like looking in a mirror, and it really puts my image in perspective. Because New Delhi is a popular destination for tourists, the locals are determined on pushing tourist scams. I’m proud to say never once did we fall for any, but these acts were much more apparent than they are in Hyderabad, and became irritating quickly.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple

Our first day in Delhi we arrived early in the afternoon and took the clean and efficient metro to the Baha’i House of Worship. Also called the Lotus Temple, this non-denominational place of worship offers a silent interior space for meditation or prayer, and was nestled around greenery and tranquil pools. Its architecture reminds me of the Sydney Opera House. Afterward we took the public bus to Dilli Haat, a crafts and cultural market. Bargaining at Dilli Haat is critical, especially because tourists are notorious for succumbing to bloated prices. We’ve learned a lot from bargaining at markets in Hyderabad, and regularly get items for less than half of the original offer. But because New Delhi’s markets have so many tourists, the vendors are reluctant to lower their prices, knowing another tourist will come along and pay the price the vendor wants. You never know how far your bargaining skills will get you, but there’s usually another shop down the way selling the exact same product if you don’t get the price you hoped for.

Dried fruits piled high in Khari Baoli; the numbers are the price per kilogram in rupees

Dried fruits piled high in Khari Baoli; the numbers are the price per kilogram in rupees

While in New Delhi we visited the Crafts Museum, a destination I couldn’t leave without visiting. The textiles there were stunning—ikat, brocade, bandhani (tie-and-dye), block prints, embroideries, and kalamkari tapestries that lined entire walls. It was all so beautiful that I took a hundred photos until the staff told me it wasn’t allowed. Oops! Although it was amazing to purely look, almost nothing in the museum was labeled, so it’s difficult to put into context most of what I saw. I’ll be researching Indian textiles for my independent study, so I hope to learn more about the pieces I saw in the museum.

One of the oldest markets in India, Chandni Chowk was a must-see for our Kate, Rhia, Romi, and I. This market has smaller, more specific markets within it that separate off into alleyways. Khari Baoli, the spice market within Chandni Chowk, is a fragrant and vibrant row of spices, herbs, teas, dried fruits, nuts, and specialty foods. It lends itself to some of the most picturesque images of abundant piles of herbs and spices. We rode in a cycle rickshaw around the marketplace to truly experience Chandni Chowk’s colorful and chaotic glory.

On our last full day in Delhi we visited Humayun’s Tomb, a major landmark of the city and one that Obama visited during his stay in New Delhi in 2010. I had difficulty seeing its grandeur, however. Compared to the well-preserved monuments of Agra, the monuments in Delhi appear in much worse condition. Though beautiful from a distance, Humayun’s Tomb was dirty and dilapidated, especially in the interior. There appeared to be some restoration project going on where laborers on scaffolding were casually repainting the building, which seemed sacrilegious and controversial to me. While in Delhi we also toured the Red Fort, which was in a similar state of decay. Some buildings in the complex appeared neglected and in the process of deteriorating, and there didn’t appear to be any plan to remedy this. The condition of these monuments was a sharp contrast to the protected and pristine conditions in which we view historical monuments and artifacts in America. Seeing Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort was an uncomfortable area for me to navigate knowing the amazing history behind these sorry structures.

Romi, Rhia, Kate, and me at Humayun’s Tomb

Romi, Rhia, Kate, and me at Humayun’s Tomb

In addition to the above places, we also visited a Tibetan area and a Muslim area situated within Delhi. It was interesting to see the mix of cultures in one city, and how these two places could differ so greatly. The Tibetan area was an oasis in the midst of the bustling city, with quiet shops and calm people. The Muslim area, also called Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin, was a series of narrow alleys winding among tall buildings. We toured this neighborhood with the Hope Project, a nonprofit that provides resources for families and individuals who live in this extreme poverty area.

Some things make more sense after visiting Delhi; I gained a lot of perspective, mostly about India but also about the world and the people in it. I gained a lot of questions, too. We’ll actually be returning to Delhi the first weekend in October with CIEE. There are a few places in Delhi I’d still like to see (like Qutb Minar) so I look forward to returning to this vibrant and intriguing city.