Vasai Road: Love, Rum & Dancing At The *AlienPhyre Wedding
I’m just home from an amazing weekend. Actually it was only one evening but it packed in so much that it feels like I had an entire weekend.
My friend Reena got married yesterday to her longtime sweetheart Melroy. I met Reena through Adi and bonded with her at The Wall Project. If you visit the Tulsi Pipe Road stretch just to the left of Matunga Road station, you’ll still see our works of art.
Reena’s is the first one after the tree and is very much like her…pretty, graceful and romantic. It says,
You are one big fairytale waiting to happen.
So Reena’s fairytale did happen this weekend. Yes, I know that sounds corny but who cares? I’m still riding the warm, fuzzy haze that could be partly a result of the copious amounts of rum consumed (plus frenzied dancing and general madcappery) but also the afterglow of an evening and night spent in what now takes top position in my list of places I’d love to live in.
Adi and I spent about an hour battling the traffic to the station from my suburban flat. After that, we wedged into the impossibly crowded train to Vasai Road. A breathless (who’s got the space for lung-expanding breaths?) 45 minutes later, we both managed to disembark, miraculously with all limbs intact. We had to walk out of conjested marketplace but once we got into an autorickshaw, it got much better. The autorickshaws don’t run on meters (a point that both amazed and amused me on my last visit here) but thanks to Samir’s detailed instructions, we knew just where to look and how to proceed with the highly localized process of acquiring transportation.
The auto turned out of the marketplace and rode down a long, clean highway-like stretch of road. Our driver would stop periodically to try and engage a third passenger (similar to buses, these shared autos work on per-passanger-rates) and he only picked up after we agreed to pay a full amount at the end. It was awhile before I took stock of my surroundings and realized that we were cruising through curving bylanes, lined with trees, lush greenery and fields. The feel was very Goa and brought back not-so-distant memories of my great Goa14 vacation in October. Water bodies, small and large dot the landscape of Vasai Road and it seems like everything is next to some sort of Talao.
Reena’s wedding invitation had thoughtfully included a map pointing out landmarks, churches, signals and talaos. Armed with that and Samir’s instructions, it took us all of 15 minutes to come to a stop outside the red-bedecked house (opposite a talao, of course).
She travels all the way from here, each time she meets us?!
I exclaimed to Adi, who replied,
She actually says she lives in Vasai Gaon.
And I could see why she called it that. Vasai Road is a village in so many ways. The cleaner air, the unsophisticated proximity to wild nature, the sprawling spaces and most importantly, the easygoing camaraderie between everyone I met in these few hours…these are things I’ve never experienced in all my years in Mumbai.
This was already 5p.m. and the house was empty. Fortunately we met one of Reena’s family friends walking to church and he offered to take us there. I rather regret to say that I attended Reena and Melroy’s nuptials clad in jeans and sneakers but the alternative would have been to miss the ceremony altogether. We got there just in time to hear some of the mass and the beginning of the rituals.
The St. Francis Xavier Church is a stately old building, probably one of the big ones in that area. Now having grown up in a Catholic environment myself, I’m fairly familiar with some of the artifacts and nuances of the church. I found it most interesting to see Marathi inscriptions on the walls. The mural right above the pulpit depicts a saint in a pose of imparting wisdom to two people, clad in very Indian-looking costumes. I’ve never seen images of this sort in a church. Reena is an East-Indian after all and is a descendant of the fishing communities that spot the coastline.
I didn’t have a chance to attend her paani ceremony the previous day but from J (also an East-Indian), I know that this is a ritual symbolizing the bride’s family fetching water from the well in pots for her to be washed and readied for her big day. Goans have a ross ceremony the day before the wedding, where the friends and relatives of the soon-to-be-weds are invited to smear their faces with turmeric, milk and afterwards, anything that they have their mind to. It’s a fun occasion as at both houses, the bride and groom are respectively being splashed and smeared with all manner of substances and everyone is having a jolly good laugh at their expense. I think these are very similar to the mehendi and haldi ceremonies that have become the staple of Hindu wedding across the country.
It is interesting to see a blend of the early Christian rituals along with local practices combined together to form the culture of an ethnic group. More personally, from my own childhood growing up a Catholic area and studying with Goans, Mangaloreans and East-Indians, the weekend was a sweet throwback to my memories.
The actual nuptial ceremony was quite short and embedded in a religious mass. After the prayers, the couple were asked to exchange their vows. Adi would keep making me giggle by pointing out that Melroy had asked Reena very politely,
Reena, would you please take this ring as a symbol of…
While Reena’s response had been a more authoritative,
Melroy, TAKE this ring as a symbol of….
Hmm well, bad behaviour from the bride’s friends is probably an artifact of all weddings and we tried our best (our worst!) to live up to that standard.
After the ceremony, we had a short hour to rush back to Reena’s place, get dressed (mercifully NOT in jeans and sneakers) just in time to welcome the newlywed couple back home. A traditional East-Indian soup was served to the two of them (which was probably just as well considering that of all the hogging that happens at a wedding, the bride and groom get very little part of it!).
A bus drove us down to the St.Gonsalo Garcia College Grounds, nearly half an hour away. The choice of location was breath-taking. Right next to the old school, the open ground had been carpeted, a podium and tent erected with a stage to one corner for the live band and covered tables set up all around. It was a clear starry night (all visible in the clear Vasai night sky) and a lovely place to have the post-wedding party.
The centerpiece (seen hanging above the wedding cake) was a wedding couple on a motorbike, reading a book together to symbolize Reena and Melroy’s shared love of books. This came to them courtesy the very talented Shawn Lewis who joined us at the party By then Adi and I had managed to catch up with Gursimran, Samir, Apurva and Rehab. We were also joined shortly by Valerie, Shawn and Shailaja to complete the Tweeple contingent at the wedding.
After this point the details start to get a little hazy. This would have been around 8pm and I’m a little unclear about how we managed to pack in such a lot into the next 12 hours.
There was the bridal march culminating in the oranges-and-lemons dance (couples running under the bower formed by other couples holding joint hands in the air). There were all those brilliant fireworks set under the canopy of the nightsky. There was much frenzied dancing. I abandoned my food thrice to jump onto the dancefloor. Uncles, aunties, cousins, friends, classmates, bridesmaids, flower girls and us jived, salsa’ed, hip-hopped and everything in between that could pass for dance.
The bridal bouquet throw is probably one of the most well-known of Christian wedding rituals. But for some reason the garter throw doesn’t get as much attention. In this case though it did. After some blindfolded groping, Melroy managed to get hold of Reena’s garter and tossed it….to a little boy in the audience! Yes, much fun was had.
I don’t remember when the music faded from my ears and the laughter stopped ringing. All I know is that apart from the immediate family, we were the last ones to leave the wedding reception. Anand valiantly took on two pillion riders on his scooter while Valerie giggled and hiccupped the girls back in Reena’s car. From there we walked across the road at 3 a.m. in pitch darkness to Anand’s house.
I’m almost embarrassed at what an innate city dweller I am, where dark nights and insects chirping can put fear into me. I clung to Rehab as we picked our way around a talao, across a field and over the path through the trees.
If this had been a Bollywood movie, it would be a horror story. Door kahin jungle mein, kheton ke baad, two pedon ke beech mein se jo raasta nikalta hai…
But we turned the corner and Anand’s house loomed into sight, magestic, comforting and welcoming. What grand houses, the Vasainiwasis live in!!! A two storey building, flanked by a balcony twice the size of my room and surrounded by a yard, facing a talao. This isn’t Mumbai for sure.
We were just starting to rev up for a pajama party with a Calvinball-like game of ‘Skeletons In The Closet’ when voices on the landing told us that we weren’t alone. Another contingent of guests had landed up and decided to park at Anand’s place and have a party on his balcony. A bottle of Old Monk, a guitar and lot of people on the chaddars on the terrace were what kept me up all the way till 7 a.m. We switched the lights off to keep from disturbing Anand’s family (though we barely managed to keep our noise levels down). Anand brought in little candles in porcelain stands as Ryan started to strum the guitar, Munna sang along and Melwyn waxed eloquent to the stars and to the rest of us.
It was delicious, listening to live music, laughing and joking with old friends and some new ones, the rum keeping our senses blissfully muted. As the first light of dawn came up over the horizon (by that time none of us could tell which side was East), I hummed the last song of the night…
Here comes the sun..it’s all right.
It described the entire evening, the people I’d met and the place itself. There is such peaceful contentment right there that Mumbai and it’s noisy stress seem like a world away. Due to the greenery and lack of pollution the weather is cooler too and I probably experienced the only winter I’m going to see this year, last night. It’s a deliciously cool place with wonderfully warm people.
I was home by noon today, back to my glitzy room in a flashy upmarket address, my cellphone and inbox buzzing with invitations for the evening and the week to come. But none of them match the sweet wholesomeness that I experienced in a few hours. Reena’s family and friends, Anand and his parents who were our gracious hosts through the night all exuded such a cosy sense of warmth. I find that strangely lacking in the vast social circle I have back home here.
There is something about the peaceful serenity that makes it possible for people to open up and share themselves more willingly and truly with each other. I made a lot of new friends last night. Anand’s mother’s bhakri-chai was the most delicious breakfast I’ve ever tasted. In fact I don’t have a drop of a hangover or even a muscle ache despite all the strenuous dancing, the rum drunk or the night spent in the chill air with very little sleep. It might have been the wonderful company. It might have been the special occasion. It might have the lovely place. It might just have been all of that.
It was a special night for Reena and Melroy and somehow that managed to reach out and touch even the lives of those who were only dropping in for a few hours.
**Tweets about the event can be viewed under the hashtag of #phyre