I was at New York´s St Patrick´s Day parade when I got the call from my Indian business school friend, Arisht. He said that he was engaged and that I was invited to his wedding in June. Not next June, but this June. Having never been to an Indian wedding, I accepted immediately and told Arisht that I would find a way to make it happen.
He said to look out for an invitation via WhatsApp.
A couple days later, I received a multi-page document explaining the details of the wedding. It would last 3 days in Kochi, a city in the far south of India. The dress codes for the 5 main events were also included.
I then booked the flight to Kochi via Abu Dhabi on Etihad using Chase points. To save both money and a precious vacation day, I added a trip to city of Pune to my itinerary so I could work from my company´s office there.
About a month before the wedding, I received the official wedding invitation, a 3-minute video that explained their relationship story.
It was around this time that Arisht created a WhatsApp group of all the IESE friends attending (about 30). Arisht communicated all the details through this group.
How the Wedding Came to Be:
Like more than 90% of weddings in India, Arisht´s wedding was arranged. There are many reasons for this, but here are three. 1. Parents have the long-range vision and can pick a partner based on factors that the bride and groom often overlook such as family background. 2. The bride almost always moves in with the groom´s entire family so the groom´s parents actually have a stake in this decision. 3. It´s worked well for thousands of years.
Most well to do Indian couples today meet through matchmaking services. Families receive folders containing information about the suitor and the family. The folder includes a picture, educational information, employment, family background, and the all-important astrological charts.
From the stack on resumes, the family creates a short list. Then, they will receive even more information and will sometimes hire private investigators to ensure that the data is accurate.
At this point, there will only be a few suitors left. If your final list meets their final list, the parents will meet in person. Should they get along, then the two suitors will be able to meet. As many suitors live in different cities (as was the case here), the two will first text and Facetime before meeting in person.
I don´t know exactly how long Arisht and Anushka dated, but the proposal happened in February of 2022. The proposal was probably no secret since they flew out to Kashmir for it with a full camera crew.
Indian wedding dates are not random, they are chosen due to auspicious astrological charts. There are only a few of these “Shubh” days each year; in 2023, there will be 56 days. However, they are not spread out evenly. February, May and June have more than 10 days, but there are none in July, August, September, or October. I truly have no idea how Arisht and his family were able to plan such a massive event in such a short amount of time.
Journey to the Wedding: June 2-4, 2022
On Thursday June 2, 2022, I flew to Kochi via Abu Dhabi. The journey took more than a day, as I landed in Kochi around 3:30 on June 4.
Immigration was a very funny experience. There were two very distinct lines: one for Indians and one for foreigners. The foreigner line had a series of teakwood chairs with comfy cushions. My conversation with the immigration officer was done while sitting in the chair! By contrast, the Indian line was very long, and everyone had to stand.
After clearing immigration, I was met by a driver. He handed me a bag of goodies and we headed into the car to the hotel. While the wedding was at the Hyatt, I was instead taken to the Marriott, the overflow hotel since the Hyatt was completely full of wedding guests. It was a 25-minute drive from the Hyatt with traffic, but hey they are paying for the room so I can´t complain! I fell asleep around 5:00.
I then slept in until 11:00.
At this point, my friend Angus had arrived from Barcelona. After he checked in and we pumped ourselves up listening to Bollywood music on the TV.
We then went to the mall to buy clothes for the wedding. At Indian weddings it is expected to wear Indian clothing. I had tried to buy online from a store in the US, but due to supply chain issues, they could not deliver it on-time. Luckily, there were plenty of shops in Kochi. I purchased two kurtas (one red and one yellow) including pants, one pair of shoes, and a stole for about $120, considerably cheaper than what I could get in the US. Also, I was able to guarantee that everything was my size.
After buying my outfits, I convinced a whole bunch of IESE friends to buy outfits there too. An hour later, we were 15 strong.
Angus and I then went upstairs to the food court where I got the most delicious biriyani of my life. Seriously, how was it so delicious?! The mall was packed, and I thought that if I didn´t catch COVID on this trip, then I must be immune.
Back at the hotel, I stopped at the hospitality desk just for the wedding (separate from the hotel concierge) and an endless buffet of food billed as “high tea”.
Arisht´s family is Jain- a related but distinct religion from Hinduism. There are approximately 5 million Jains in the world, the majority live in the western part of India: Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. One of the main tenets of Jainism is to do no harm to any living thing. For this reason, Jains have unique dietary restrictions. Not only are Jains vegetarian, but they also do not eat root vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots, and garlic) because the process of removing the vegetable from the ground and washing it would kill insects. Dairy is fine. Some observant Jains wear facemasks to avoid swallowing and therefore killing insects (this happens a lot more than you think- look it up!). Hindu and Jain weddings are very similar– as an outsider I was told I would not be able to tell the difference.
Later in the afternoon, all the IESE people gathered with the official wedding choreographer to practice our dance for Sangeet (Event 3). I can´t say we are going to be cast as Bollywood backup dancers, but we had fun…and that´s all that really matters.
Event 1: Cyberpunk Night aka Last Night As Singles
The first event of the wedding was billed as a rager before the religious events begin the next day.
The event was scheduled to start at 20:00. Arisht´s family had a fleet of shuttles and cars on demand that moved between the Hyatt and Marriott. We left at 19:45. Despite the heavy traffic, we made it at 20:15, 15 minutes after the party was scheduled to start.
Little did we know that Indian weddings work on a very different timeframe. Nobody was there. The hospitality desk at the Hyatt told me “You are on time, but we are not”.
Luckily, this gave my friends and I plenty of time to explore the massive hotel. Funnily enough there was another far less impressive wedding going on in one of the other ballrooms.
The room itself was full of neon signs, a light up dance floor and many couches. There was also a mocktail bar (the wedding is officially a dry event). Outside of the main room was an endless (probably 50 meters long) food buffet with dozens of chefs ready to serve you all types of food. It was the most elaborate party room setup I had ever seen.
90 minutes after the official start time, people started to show up. To pump people up, an MC, decked out in sunglasses and a shiny black and white fake leather jacket, made jokes in Hindi and checked to see if you were wearing enough bling. If it was determined you did not have enough bling, you were sent into a cage guarded by two scantily clad (by Indian standards) female “police”.
2 hours after the published start time, everyone had arrived, and we were told to position ourselves for the big entrance. And what an entrance it was!
Dramatic music played and about 20 Squid Games dancers came in with fake guns. They danced around and pointed their rifles at the crowd.
Led by a drone, Arisht and Anushka then entered to the tune of Bella Ciao (from La Casa de Papel/Money Heist). Arisht wore a tuxedo glittered with silver and Anushka wore a spectacular blue dress with a silver leaf design. They were surrounded by (no joke) 25 cameramen and a drone.
They walked oh so slowly, savoring every moment in the sun. The dancers lifted their guns to the beat of the music. Once on the dance floor, the couple picked up twin liquid nitrogen guns and sprayed the crowd.
It was at this moment, I knew that this was no normal wedding.
Next it was time for the first dance: “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. The LED light up dance floor swirled below with spectacular rainbow patterns to match their steps.
It was now time to party! DJ Ganesh played Bollywood tunes and the crowd sprang to motion. I can say with certainty that Bollywood music is great for dancing.
The party continued until late. There were a few more surprises like a saxophonist girl from Ukraine who is apparently a big deal at weddings and a drummer. After dancing up a storm, I left around 1am and returned home at 1:30.
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