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Postby kerble on Fri Jul 29, 2005 8:42 am

Hi Folks,

Feeling completely separated from self and surroundings here in the motherland during this trip to go to my cousin's wedding. Didn't know what else to do other than to come here and typ a bit to clear the head. Sorry if this is long winded in advance, but it feels like an excercise that'll prove therapeutic.

My brother and I finally reached Hyderabad (sort of in the south central region of the country where all of my family hails from about 500 miles west of Bombay-now Mumbai) after a two day flight cancellation delay from the fine and totally inefficient folks over at Air India. Not only was our flight on thursday cancelled and moved to saturday morn, but the saturday morn flight was also cancelled until that late afternoon, resulting in a two day period of transit where I walked around Chicago with my travel-on in tow for what felt like the longest layover ever.

The flight itself was not too horrible as Sameer (brother) and I get along famously well and managed to doze and crack jokes at everything between the palatable meals.

India has this smell. A thick, musky aroma that clouds everything. It's simultaneously inviting and mildly repellent, with its' mixture of diesel exhaust, bidi smoke, fried but unfriendly to the american stomach roadside foods, jasmine and the occasional whiff of human waste. The water is non-negotiable without a proper boiling, filtering, reboiling and fingers-crossed pre-gulp that one won't end up hospitalized from having a stomach lining of less than Indian fortitude.

Anyway, the smell--it was subdued by the days of rain we've gotten during this post-monsoon season and was sorely missed. I love it when we disembark and the wetness in the air robbed me of the immediate sensory overload that assaults as soon as one steps from the plane. However, this rain has provided for a balmy climate which is agreeably mild and breezy as opposed to the hot as balls scorch of the Indian sun.

We arrived to much familial fanfare as Sameer and I are the oldest on both sides of the family and perpetual favourites for years as we've learned to just be quiet and bury ourselves in books as opposed to coming into conflict with our lovely-yet quite frankly religious and hotheaded kin. This of course is not how I am in the states--I'm loud and annoying and chatty--some relatives bring it out still, but for social events, a subdued and non-confrontational manner provides for the least amount of drama, which my family more than makes up for in spades.

Fifteen people greeted us as we rolled in at five in the morning, many from the states, also on reprieve from the US for the wedding, but still struggling with the 11 and a half hour time difference jetlag. Children should be asleep at this hour, but my small cousins were wide awake at this ungodly hour. Humbling, yes, but still---get those kids some rest!

We stopped off for dosas, idly and vadas before heading to my uncle's palatial home and the change from airline meals was greatly appreciated. goddamnit the food here is great.

After sleeping a bit, Sameer and I got up and hoofed over to my grandmothers' home (Dad's Mom). Daduma wasn't in b/c even at age 80something, she still is a brilliant botanist (over 200 different types of plants in her incredible garden) and teaches english five days a week to various groups of battered women, college students and children.

Daduma is a badass. She left our good-for-nothing grandfather in the 1950's by escaping back to India from london with her three children in tow (my father, his brother and their sister) and struck it out on her own in possibly one of the most patrecentric countries I've been to. She broke her leg maybe two years ago by falling off a motorcycle. I shit you not, she could probably kick in the door of a submarine if she were so inclined.

Anyway, we caught up as we hadn't seen her in about three years. Foot's not treating her well and that cough has got to go. The thick pollution in the air is hardly forgiving to older lungs. It killed my mom's mom a few years back.

The following day, we had to run some errands--new sandals to wear for the actual wedding (as those pointy elf shoes eat dick and look silly) and dropping my Shervani off at the cleaners (basically a long, white nehru jacket used for Indian formals. Stopped at a place to get a toll free number set up for my borrowed cell (which has yet to work outside of mom's successful attempt) and hit an internet cafe to recieve some saddening news from m'lady about her family that's left me feeling depressed and wanting to be home and with her as opposed to being in exile over here, underconnected with the rest of everyone.

that evening we got dressed for the first day of the wedding (this one's five days, I've been to ones as long as eight) at my cousin's family's home.

Indians have absoluely no concept of time. I'm not too great with it myself, but I pale in the shadow of the monilithic delay that hangs over the country like the smell I missed so much when disembarking. We arrive at the first event, which is where the bride's family (my cousin) sits on a little tapestried platform and people put garlands of jasmine flowers around their necks and rub turmeric into their skin providing a color that resembles a mix between a healthy glow (because of the mix with brown skin) and the yellow pallor of jaundice.

While this is happening and ghazals are being sung by the men with Harmoniums, tablas and chennai (the hilariously noisy and annoying flute), food is not served for say--three hours--providing for a dinner that arrives at 11:30--we are hungry and tired and people are leaving without being fed. It's tuesday for fuck's sake. People do have to work, don't they?

Well, aside from the colossal delay in the meal (which is once again, superb), the evening is pleasant. that is, until I step out to have a smoke. While I'm away, a "matchmaker" (one who specializes in setting up arranged marriages--a practice my brother and I find distasteful, and quite frankly-fucking scary) by the name of Akhtar Nawaab cases my brother for the daughter of Yasmeen Aunty.

Now, this would be just a funny "ha ha" story except the fact that Yasmeen's daughter is the ex-fiancee of my overly distraught cousin, Sohail--who after four years of cross pacific engagement has been unceremoniously dumped as of say-two weeks ago. Sohail wants nothing more at this point to get hitched to this girl (ain't gonna happen kid) and my brother is seemingly being checked out as a suitable husband, which of course--he sees as:

a)out of the question and

do your research Akhtar Nawaab-don't pit cousins against each other. Regardless, this is hilarious to Sameer and I because it's so inconcieveably coincidental. Now Akhtar was just "scoping" Sameer out and no proposal was made, but it was pretty fucking hilarious regardless.

the problem arrives when some dispute comes between Sohail's mom (My Aunt) and Yasmeen Aunty's other daughter, who just so happens to be My Uncle's (i.e., Sohail's Mom's Brother) wife. Yes if you did a family tree, you would realize that this is an intercousin sort of thing, which is not frowned upon in india. Go fuck yourself--it's weird to me too.

Anyway, the blowout is spectacular and very public.

I won't go into the details as it seems crass to air family arguments like this, but holy christ-it was something else. w o w . I could type five pages of backstory about why everyone was mad at everyone else, but a diagram would be more useful. Either way, sorry, but no.

installment two will continue after tonight's ceremonies.

I promise:
1) Eunuchs Dancing
2) the Groom is a Goon

cheers, all.

kerble is right.
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Postby the Classical on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:05 am

salut faiz! I eagerly await the next installment!
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Postby DrAwkward on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:07 am

Indeed! Completely fascinating.
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Postby Peripatetic on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:08 am

Is everything backwards when you go to India for a wedding like that episode of Seinfeld? Make sure to not use the bathroom while you're there!

But seriously, thanks for the update, it was a good read.

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Postby n.c. on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:18 am

Thanks for the story Fiaz. I'll be checking back for the next installment.

Shit I might have to head up to Devon, that food sounds amazing.

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Postby Champion Rabbit on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:18 am


Brilliant stuff; sign me up for the serial.
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Postby cjh on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:21 am

And once again...beautiful!..bring on the Eunuchs!...it sounds like a head-frazzling adventure alright, a superabundance of family weirdness..more!

Have a fantastic time, drop by when you can Faiz. Salut!
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Postby sparky on Fri Jul 29, 2005 9:34 am

Travelogues are great. Thanks for this; makes me wish I was still travelling. It's an intense, diverse, crazy, beautiful country.
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Postby toomanyhelicopters on Fri Jul 29, 2005 12:18 pm

faiz, you are one sexy motherfucker!
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Postby bfields on Fri Jul 29, 2005 12:32 pm

Most excellent, Faiz!

The yellow pallor of jaundice

You wordsmith!

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Postby Bob Weston on Fri Jul 29, 2005 12:35 pm

A great read. Keep it up, man.

Carrie and I recently booked some frequen flyer miles tickets for our first trip to India: 3 weeks at the end of Jan. We're pretty excited. She's doing all the planning, so I'm not sure what we're doing. I hear things like: Goa, Kerela, the south, etc.

Maybe we can get some "tips" from you at some point?

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Postby hench on Fri Jul 29, 2005 12:43 pm

keep it comin. for sure.
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Postby itchy mcgoo on Fri Jul 29, 2005 1:00 pm

So great, this travel tale, Mr. Faiz.

I was just reading about eunuchs/hijras this week
(a good book: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/de ... ce&s=books) and can't wait to here a real life account of your experience.

stay safe.
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Postby prplmtngal on Fri Jul 29, 2005 1:06 pm

Champion Rabbit wrote:Woah!

Brilliant stuff; sign me up for the serial.

Like he said.

An entertaining diversion from a dreary Friday afternoon.

Once again, Kerble blows the curve on the quest for best post!!!
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Postby Mayfair on Sat Jul 30, 2005 1:07 am

Thanks for the great blow by blow Faiz! So glad you were not caught in the deadly monsoon we all read about the other day.
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Postby kerble on Sat Jul 30, 2005 8:07 am

Hey All,

Thanks for the lovely votes of confidence. It really made my evening. The mosquitoes are currently creating a constellation map on my skin in bites. Pepto Bismol has saved me, but my brother hasn’t been so fortunate.

If "tips" are needed towards an Indian trip Bob, don't hesitate to PM me about it. I'd be happy to pass on all the stuff I've gleaned from staying out of Indian hospitals.

I too, am glad that I missed getting stranded in Bombay with the floods, thanks Mark. Let’s hope that I can get my outgoing flight in a timely manner at the end of this week. Good god, I don’t want to be stranded here.


After the Family Blow out (well, actually during) I made an escape to solitude and made a hasty and totally expensive call to m'lady just to hear her voice. It was worth it. Kept me going for so long on that slice of memory and made the crazy that was going on more tolerable.

By the time the party was done, it was maybe 3:30-4:00 in the morning and I was whupped. We headed home and sleep didn't come, but I got some good reading in. and a whole lot of cigarettes. They are so cheap here, it should be a crime. I think the conversion comes out to a buck or two a pack. Salut! shitty economy that allows us to run around like so many Mughals, money flowing from the pocket while most of the country makes up the 25% poorest in the world.

The caste system is alive and well here, in case you were worried. At my uncle's home there are a handful of servants and drivers that help out with the day to day runnings of the house. It's been this way for years. My great grandfather ran Hyderabad Asbestos, the largest manufacturer of the insulation in the country many years ago and even when the bottom fell out on the carcinogenic tile industry (they actually still sell asbestos tiles in India, but Hyd. Asb. has long since folded), we've managed quite spectacularly over here.

It's a mixed feeling I have about having "help." On one hand, it makes me uneasy, but on the other hand, our family has always (I mean years and years and years) been able to take in some folks that have little chance of making it on their own and eventually provide for them to go to school (in house), learn to cook and clean and whatever and eventually, our family arranges for them to get married into a "good" family who can provide.

Also, there is no fucking way I would drive a car in this mess over here. Imagining going without a driver (or Autorickshaw) is nerve racking just as a concept. The roads have little to no rules and it's gotten worse. A "two car space" lane (in the states) would be "three cars, four scooters, two motorbikes and five pedestrians not to mention throwing in a cow or a cart with fruit or fried corn or whatever thrown in, maybe a bus" here. People use their horns to indicate location and that they are behind the wheel, they don't signal, they don't stop---basically, you just go when you can where you can.

Oh yeah, there aren't seatbelts.

A few years back, Slick Willie Clinton visited India and Hyderabad was his stop of choice (Microsoft has offices here as well a countless other purveyors of outsourced labor--when you call 24 hour tech support and you get some indian dude on the line, chances are your call ha been routed to Hyderabad) and the city did a lot to make itself look nice-lots of trees and landscaping, flyovers (highway overpasses) and general R&B improvements. Now that those days are past, the population has naturally boomed and the new government doesn't give a shit about keeping up appearances. So the city suffers.

Sameer, Sohail and I went for a few more errands with our two little cousins, Hasan and Hamzah, arguably two of the most photogenic and hilarious little dudes I’ve had the pleasure of being related to. Our Driver, Afzar took us around to get Roomi Topis (Fezzes) to go with our formal wear and we stopped off at a tailor to get some pants made for my brother. At the end of maybe five or six hours, we decided to stop and eat. We took the kids to Pizza Hut (yup) and bought them dinner. We invited Afzar with us as well and he made the comment that he usually doesn’t get invited in for this sort of stuff. He’s a good hombre and if he’s going to be hauling us around in that ridiculous traffic, you can bet that we’re going to get him some grub.
I came home and started getting caught up with work from over here and everyone got semi-dressed up to go over to the bride’s (Zainab) father’s family’s house. I stuck around and sent emails out. At about 11:00, I got a call from Sameer saying they’ve sent a driver to come pick me up and that I should come over. I ride over to the spot and it seems that one of the father of the bride’s family traditions for most large occasions is to have some eunuchs hired out to come and dance and grind on people. Yay.

Eunuchs, or Hijrahs, are usually castrated at birth and live in colonies often in these parts. They’re either beggars or performance artists, but either way, it tends to bring out all the weird homophobic, bigoted dialogues out of people and it makes me uneasy. It was funny watching Sohail get his panties all wound up because the Hijrah kept dancing with him (he was utterly embarrassed, and actually got pissed when the Hijrah took his hat and wore it, the big baby). It was doubly hilarious to know that if his father back in Chicago found out, there’d be hell to pay as he’s an utterly devout Muslim.

I don’t think this Hijrah thing is all that common, as it’s the first wedding I’d been to that involved them, but apparently the Father of the Bride’s family has ‘em all the time. Just had a baby? Here’s a freaky castrati dancing to Bollywood hits blaring from an overloaded PA in our living room! Enjoy!

This particular event that required the Eunuchs’ presence was the Mehndi ceremony where intricate patterns are drawn on the hands and feet of the Bride and bridesmaids in Henna which stains the skin so the pattern remains. Beautiful work.

I got my leg ground against by some Eunuch (the prettier of the two, one of them looked like an Indian Gene Hackman) and children were trying to stuff 10 rupee notes in my mouth for the Hijrah, so I took that as a cue to go sit in the back room and do some work instead of hanging out in an environment that felt like it was getting a bit more misogynistic (not even the right word) than I cared for. In the solitude. Without the eunuchs. And the PA.

The next day we got up and had a visit from the rug man. Earlier, my brother and I had gone to the rug shop and selected maybe fifteen to twenty rugs that we’d choose one or two from. Gorgeous handmade wool or silk. Handwoven pieces of genius. The rug man and his sidekick came over and the fam gathered around to select the nice ones and watch my uncle negotiate price.

Price haggling is the most common thing in India. We’re shrewd at it. I’m a total amateur, but my uncle is King Shit of Fuck Mountain about the haggling. When they come to the states, we go garage sailing and put their shark like skill to good use. A few years back, I watched my uncle talk some lady into selling me a mint Roland Juno 6 for ten bucks (down from twenty) because it didn’t come with an amplifier. God Like.

Please be jealous now.

It’s such an odd experience b/c most of the haggling involved him telling the rug guy (in both Urdu and Hindi, which we understand and can speak) that we were dumb American kids that didn’t know what we were doing. The rug guy knew we understood what Uncle was saying, we knew what he was saying about us, but still the prices kept dropping. It’s a weird formality, but somehow it works. It’s as if everyone is playing a role, but the end result is going to be the same regardless.

I spent some time with Amijaan (my great Grandmother) who is there in my uncle’s house. We have no Idea how old Amijaan is, but she’s outlived her daughter weighs about ninety pounds and has succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Tears my heart out as I still remember her taking care of me as a kid and teaching me the languages we speak in the home. She doesn’t remember anyone, really and just wants life to be done with her. I sat on her bed and stroked her hair and delicate, wrinkled hands. She didn’t remember me, but she did realize the feeling of kindness. She kept offering me (make that-requiring me to eat-a trait that Indian families have that results in maybe five meals a day for everyone on vacation here) the potato chips she was snacking on, and while I wasn’t hungry in the least, I’d have eaten thirty bags of ‘em if she’d asked me to.

On this same day, my Aunt (mother of the Bride) was admitted tot the hospital because her severe asthma was getting its ass kicked by the Indian air. We’re all worried shitless, especially when she has herself released of her own volition to come back to the wedding. Not Good at all.

I had an eye exam in the foyer of the house for some new specs and then we got suited up for the night’s celebration.

Once again, we showed up at about 7:00 for some festivities that were going to start at eight and proceeded to wait. The night’s function was the Sanchak where the groom and the bride sit in two separate halls and the tables are lined with tray after tray of clothing and items (bangles, shoes, stereo, jewelry, purses, dresses, ties, shirts, cologne, coconuts, dates, sugar, sweets, etc. etc. etc.) to more or less, show off the dowry and the gifts each family had brought for the bride and groom. A bit ostentatious and odd, the thing that struck me was how hideous some of the shit they brought for Zainab (the bride, my cousin) was. Jesus fuck. Huzzah for the American gift registry. You save us from the unfortunate fashion sense of others.

Two hours into the waiting, the groom hasn’t shown up, the fucker. People are hungry and leaving and it’s once again 11:00 and once again, people haven’t eaten yet. Zainab is just sitting on the stage with her legs crossed and in the adjoining hall, there’s nobody but the guests waiting for the family of the groom to arrive.

While we’re shuffling our feet, hungry and tired, I’m accosted by “the matchmakerâ€
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Postby Linus Van Pelt on Sat Jul 30, 2005 8:33 am


More, more, more!
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Postby hench on Sat Jul 30, 2005 9:10 am

i can't get over the eunuchs... i've got the partyboy music from jackass stuck in my head now.

mr. horse sweat is my new favorite imaginary band.

what a great post with which to start the day.
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Postby choppy on Sat Jul 30, 2005 9:28 am

kerble wrote:Please be jealous now.

Done and done.

I'm enjoying this travelogue thoroughly, Faiz. Can't wait for the next installment.
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Postby endofanera on Sat Jul 30, 2005 11:53 am

choppy wrote:
kerble wrote:Please be jealous now.

Done and done.

I'm enjoying this travelogue thoroughly, Faiz. Can't wait for the next installment.

Seconded on all counts. Ten bucks! Down from twenty! Horse sweat! Eunuchs!

Utterly fascinating and enjoyable. Can't wait to hear what comes next.
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