India Update Nov. 18 – All Dressed Up and No Place To Go

 need to preface this, for myself, as well as my readership, by saying that the first and primary reason I’m here in India is to help ANCER grow their reach. They want to work beyond Mandapeta, to provide relief aid to those in legitimate and emergency need, spanning from children to impoverished, lepers, focusing on women’s rights, improved health care, and so forth. I encourage you to check out/follow ANCER’s Facebook page to stay tuned for updates and events

I’ll be participating in. Go do that and come back here to finish reading; thanks!

Logistically, this weekend was kind of insane. The Rajahmundry airport was shut down, we were told for a number of reasons, but the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh was passing through for a wedding and security got crazy. We needed to get to Hyderabad for a wedding, prompting a roller coaster, nearly four hour drive to another airport so we could fly into Hyderabad. The driver then proceeded to try to make us pay more, my skin betraying us again, but Timbrel and I got out of it when he had to move his car for airport security.

Being a male, I wasn’t going to be permitted to go to the Mehndi party but I still needed appropriate clothing, Timbrel needed to pick up her clothing, and I needed a secure place that I could stay at the wedding, after driving another hour from Hyderabad to the wedding. I grabbed a culturally appropriate McDonald’s dinner as Timbrel’s awesome friend, Shazur, picked us up at the airport, then took us to a suit store downtown where he helped me get two kurtas at a discount!

Upon arriving at the wedding location before the engagement, there was still a room available for me, thankfully. After settling in, it immediately became clear that I was not going to be photographing the wedding at all. The bride had not communicated with her family that I was coming, and it broke tradition, so I wasn’t able to enter. That unfortunately put Timbrel in the middle, as I didn’t even get to see them face to face. I was fully prepared, ordered equipment specifically to photograph this wedding 8,500 miles away from home, but it came down to communication between their families and cultural differences. The poor bride was really upset about how everything was handled but her family had total control. She really wanted someone to capture their connection, seeing as how this was not an arranged marriage. I wish I could have given that to her…

The other part about it that got to me was that, as a human being, I was left to fend for myself, sourcing a private room, finding food (I had water, a Hershey’s chocolate bar, and a loaf of bread at Timbrel’s suggestion to last 24 hours), after basically losing the wedding. Thankfully, Timbrel the best lifeline possible but that left her stuck in the middle, as she was also a participant in the wedding. I have her old Blackberry but it can only receive calls, no wifi access, and anytime I left my room I felt immediately ostracized by my skin. I needed time to cool off and rest so I just stayed in my room for a day, did some writing, watched a few movies saved on my MacBook Air, and slept 11 hours. I did steal one portrait of Timbrel before she went to the engagement so I wasn’t left totally empty-handed.

This morning, Timbrel arranged for a driver to get us back to Hyderabad and then her back to the wedding, while also ordering Domino’s pizza for a taste of America. They delivery guy was more than 30 minutes late, which meant it should be free, but I was quite tired of people getting the shaft.

It’s in the past, and while I am, among other things, quite sad that I wasn’t able to tell this couple’s story visually, it was out of my hands. It would have been spectacularly colorful, the light was phenomenal, and it would have been a new genre for me to pursue in the wedding world. I feel like I’m learning a lot about Indian culture and that is a beneficial dynamic added for visual storytelling. But there are lessons to learn here. If you are a bride/groom planning your wedding, make sure you communicate all expectations with your family and vendors clearly, preferably in writing or a contract. I know it is not always up to the bride and groom, but it is about them, their story, not the parents’. Expect cultural and societal differences, have a backup plan, and then another. Trustworthy friends like Timbrel, and local fixers who know where to go, make all the difference logistically, but most importantly, for support. Timbrel, thanks for saving my tail.

I have since consumed most of the large BBQ chicken pizza, half a dozen wings, and a coke. There’s wifi access, I’m in a beautiful city, and plenty of writing to do. I’m thinking about writing a book, but I’m not sure what about. Next week I leave India for Sydney, Australia, my 5th continent at age 28, so maybe it’ll be something along those lines; suggestions appreciated. Life is good.