Thursday, January 7, 2016

India 2015

Photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/105494084231616659850/India2015

Hot on the heels of my Australia jaunt, I took just under 72 hours to run frantically around India. The cause to which we were all drawn was the wedding of my friend and colleague T, and his extraordinary bride A. 

On Sunday December 20, 2015 I landed in Hyderabad. On the third try I found the right immigration queue (un-signposted, of course) and, by 1am, found two men with my name on a piece of paper. We trotted off the carpark and drove along a hair-raising flyover freeway into the heart of the city where, after a few (tens of) stops for directions, we found the Bank of India Guesthouse. I found my room and passed out.

Four hours later I was incredibly awake, and went to freshen up for the wedding. In the bathroom, I found no toilet paper, no shower, no soap, no towels: no problem. Mainly because I brought all that stuff, so I had a sponge bath, minus the sponge, dressed, and had a look around. Noone else was awake so I left a few notes for friends in the same building, and later walked across town to the high school building in which the ceremony was to take place, arriving around 10am.

It's worth mentioning that this walk was the first time I had been 'in' India, and I found it to be pretty cool, actually. I had been warned by a wide variety of travelers that India would be challenging in a way unlike any other country. There was crazy traffic and bad air pollution, but probably not as bad as Vietnam or China. The city was filled to the brim with noise, colour, a variety of smells (most better than downtown Los Angeles).

Hindu wedding ceremonies take a while. Like, a few weeks. In particular, T had a huge backlog of ceremonies from early childhood to get done. But first, his parents had to perform a ceremony to apologize for having allowed such a backlog to develop. You get the idea. Ceremonies included promises to study hard, to become a priest, to not become a priest afterall, and so on. Because the whole thing takes ages and is periodically interrupted by extremely loud music, it's customary to walk around, talk to people, take photos, and go shopping during the proceedings. 

Later in the evening the actual marriage ceremony occurred, wherein A was brought in in a basket, everyone was very well dressed, and T and A sat opposite each other separated by blanket. After a mere 45 minutes it was raised, and they saw each other for the first time ever, since approximately the previous day. No-one ran away, except the crowd to the banquet tables out the back, while the ceremony continued. By 10pm I was dead tired and went to sleep, but apparently things continued until well into the following morning.

That morning was a Monday, I went back to the airport pretty early to dodge traffic and took a flight out to Mumbai. On the flight I was seated next to two incredibly broad-shouldered men, at a window seat with no window. The flight was a mere 85 minutes, followed by some ad hoc taxi navigation in Mumbai. Mumbai is built mostly on a peninsula and is only about 30 miles across. It still took nearly two hours (and $8.50) to drive to the end part, where I was staying. That afternoon I found my airbnb and took things easy, downloading several lengthy reports on space shuttle aerodynamics. In the evening my airbnb host M and I went out to a nice place for the local biryani special, followed by an excellent night's sleep.

The next morning, Tuesday, I was up with the noise. I walked into the center of Colaba, the oldest, British part of Mumbai, and met up with Caltech friends D and A, getting a second breakfast, and finding some really neat interior design stuff, before exploring the area. We visited the Gateway to India, a monumental arch down by the Taj Hotel, in which we imbibed the traditional G&T while surveying the harbour. Mine was more like and T&T, though. There's also a nearby museum, called the former Prince of Wales museum, which had about a dozen really interesting and well-produced exhibits on Indian history from the Harappans through to the present day. 

That afternoon I returned to the airbnb, had a shower and got dressed for the ceremony. I took a taxi to the RC church and met everyone again. Huh? Why two weddings? Well, A's family are Syrian Christians from Kerala, so they needed a Catholic ceremony. Well, Syrian-Indian-Portuguese-Catholic. You'll see.

At some point we reached a critical mass and everyone went into the church, including T and A. No music or processions to slow down the proceedings. About 8 windows on each side of the church were wide open for air, several fans hummed. The priests spoke in barely intelligible English, and the service itself was over in about half an hour. One bible reading, one lesson, and transubstantiation only for catholics. After the photos were done we piled in cars and drove around the corner to the US Services Club, where, unusually, we enjoyed open space, air, and the sea shore for the reception.

After all too short a time I had to rush back to the airport, taking the sea bridge, a newish expressway built over the water, to get back in time. The international airport was huge and full of lines, but I was in no rush. Eventually I crawled into my seat, fitted my aviation headphones, and hunkered down for the 16 hour flight to the US. The whole flight was during the night, and at hour ten as we coasted past Iceland my steady persistence was awarded with a great view of the Aurora Borealis. Which I photographed, for any doubters. 

The United Airlines entertainment system uses a distro of Red Hat Linux which was built on December 20, 2002. Let that sink in for a second. The one impressive thing about it is that it can (sometimes) deliver smooth video, something most Linux distros still do not reliably do. 

Back in the states I deplaned around 5:30am after an impressive dark 0/0 vis landing in Liberty Newark airport, where my temporary greencard earned me a swift trip to secondary screening. There I sat around as a handful of officers played good cop/bad cop with various soon-to-be-split families with bad documents. When it was my turn I was barely coherent enough to answer in complete sentences. I managed to not implicate myself and was 'paroled' into the country, which is apparently entirely different from being admitted. 

In the next terminal I performed an airport bathroom change/shave/wash and jumped on a plane to Columbus, Ohio. Still socked in, we were number 20 for takeoff, but eventually made it into the air. Apparently the space shuttle was developed with about 100,000 hours of wind tunnel time - just before computers started to be useful. 

Just outside the Columbus airport amid drizzle and half-hearted gusts of wind I found C and her mother J, and aggressively began a long-needed series of naps. It was a privilege and pleasure to see T and A tie the knot, twice. India is certainly worthy of further attention!

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