A wedding in Orissa

‘My favourite city!’ – the CISF security guy at Delhi Airport presents me with a wide smile as he notices the destination on my boarding slip. Certifying that the night breeze in Ranchi is out of the world, maybe I notice a tinge of envy in his eye as he hurries to zap his metal detecting wand around the next sweaty passenger. Probably another morning export to Ranchi. Like me.

I’m going to miss that breeze though. My train from Ranchi is only an hour after the flight – onwards to Rourkela, where I attend a friend’s wedding. So this aerial view is the only Ranchi I see on my very first visit to the eastern paradise lands of Jharkhand, and Orissa too.

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The wedding is amongst the Oraon tribe, one of the several aboriginal inhabitants of the land thats nurtured them much before there were steel factories and maniacal mining ministries. And thats about all the history I’m interested in. Have always found it better to reserve the brain for present day observations and things that catch the eye. Like these little rituals of hands greeting the earth and rice being coaxed into wine.

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On the day before the wedding, a bright bus transports us, the bride’s family and friends, to the groom’s village. Its like an orientation program. Both families meeting each other and spending a day together on a farm. Under the shade of trees, with food cooked from just plucked vegetables, blended with ancient rituals and garnished with some of those games which never found their way to the big cities.

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Where I come from, they don’t even call them weddings anymore. ‘Marriage’ sounds almost legal, as if it were a selfish announcement concerning only the two protagonists involved. ‘Wedding’ on the other hand sounds more like community, more conscious of the moment and the ceremonies taking place.

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I taste the flower of the Mahua (Madhuca Longifilia) for the first time. Sweet is too simple a word to describe it – its an alkaline sort of sweet thats on the verge of fermentation, almost innocent if I can use an adjective like that, as if it were one of those primal flavours of the floral world. The bees would know better.

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The day of the wedding begins with drums and community dances. Every woman joins in, hand in hand – there is so much beauty in these moments, almost a reassurance of standing together against an onslaught of cheesy bollywood numbers and music born of electronic equipment.

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Blessings in city weddings have almost evolved into cold envelopes of currency sealed with cheap scotch tape and rupee coins. I like the act of throwing freshly harvested rice over the just married couple, one guest at a time.

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A day after the wedding, we drive out of the city, to a little dam. Somewhere on the way is this beautiful yellow attitude of a tree, daring the browns and greens to self reflect.

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A healthy snack presents itself around noon. I love the way the leaf is folded. Where’s that plastic spoon I’m not even missing?

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The rest of the afternoon, we spend at the family farm on the outskirts of Rourkela. The largest cabbage in the patch today shall be tommorrow’s lunch. Its that simple. And I realise I’m losing this simplicity every single day I spend in the big city. Do you ever think about touching the earth of the place you live in? I may have spend a decade or more in New Delhi, but I may not remember the last time I walked barefoot on its earth. Its a painful thought.

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Looking up is another such story. In the city, we never discuss what shade of blue the sky was this morning. Because its a strange shade of grey we have no name for. The people of the land know its language. Without pressure guages or weathermen or moonphase watches. And I’m busy drawing the curtains of my apartment every evening. Keeping myself in?

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In the evening, we head to the Ved Vyas mela, an annual fair coinciding with a festival. Such a fairground! A choice of giant wheels, or a try at shooting down balloons, or a ride on the dragon train. Maybe everything. Topped off with a special viewing of ‘Roop Badalne Wali Ladki’ (Form Changing Girl) – a magical spectacle in a dingy auditorium without an audience. Its based on science, the ticket seller assures me. Just in case I’m terrified.

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And thats all for this trip. Trip. Isn’t that what they call a hallucinatory experience caused by a psychedelic drug. It could have been the Mahua flower, or maybe it was just a good dose of blue sky – cerulean?

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Orissa and Jharkhand, India / All Photographs © Harpreet Padam