After our trip to the zoo we headed out for the Royal Botanical Gardens, believing this would be a good chance to get away from so many people and relax. The trouble was that we'd taken a yellow cab there. We should have made sure he knew where he was going before we set off; when we realised he was driving under rather than over the Howrah bridge we asked him for directions and he did a swift u-turn. There we sat in traffic for forty-five minutes in dusty, near-static, ever-honking traffic. Thankfully the gardens were the perfect place to unwind in the lush, peaceful quiet. We'd been getting quite stressed before arriving and as soon as we stepped into the green silence it felt like a rattling fog had been lifted. We sauntered past the lotus pond, gazed at the shafts of sunlight beaming through the trees, and made our way to the Great Banyan Tree. The banyan was truly beautiful although there is the question of whether it could really be considered a tree. Banyans send down aerial roots - proproots - which given time and food become tree-trunks themselves and send down their own proproots. This one tree was more than two and a half centuries old and had over 2,800 proproots enclosed in a perimeter almost half a kilometre around. The original main trunk was destroyed a century ago by storms and fungus but the forest of offshoots looked like some kind of elven paradise.
The next night's party was where it really kicked off. Spectacularly posh, it was held at a mansion with a goldfish pond under the stairs, an ornamental waterfall in the garden, and semi-live music played throughout the night in the cavernous front room. The house was owned by one of the directors of the company in charge of Kolkata's electricity supply, the father of one of P's oldest friends, and I was relieved when he announced that our wedding was only one of four events being celebrated that night. One of his daughters had a new baby son, another was in India for a rare visit and his niece - almost as close as a daughter - was getting married next month. This took the pressure off us somewhat.
I was introduced to what seemed like a dozen or so middle-aged Indian couples in quick succession, while most of our white folk friends were huddle in a corner making tentative steps towards mingling. Later, we settled down to a delicious meal in the fairy-light-strewn garden next to an image Ganesh in the waterfall. Family servants distributed alcoholic drinks and tasty little spiced babycorncobs, chicken bits and fish on sticks and soon everyone was loosened up and less in awe of their surroundings. My brother struck up an enthusiastic conversation with a fellow animator, a white-haired Indian living in Amsterdam, while I debated astronomy with Janet, Rebecca and an Indian whose name I didn't catch. Orion's sword, he said, points south, but nobody was quite sure whether he meant the bow or the dagger hanging from his belt. We collectively puzzled over whether it's really possible for part of a constellation to always point in the same direction and what effect geographical location has on the orientation of things in the sky. To a European, the moon looks sideways in India. We were sorry to have to leave so early – there were more celebrations planned for the next morning.
The next day's events were taking place at the in-laws' spare flat, used at weekends and for parties, which had a roof terrace and an amazing view over a golf course. My brother and our friends were staying there and were a little dismayed to be woken so early.
All the girls had mehendi done apart from our actress friend who'd spent too much time getting married in her films to fancy going through it again. Intricate patterns were picked out in chocolatey henna and P's hands were completely covered. The designs concealed my name transliterated as closely as possible into Bengali, which made it something like 'P'hargaash'. I was tasked with picking it out among the flowers and curlicues. The henna stayed on for a couple of hours, periodically refreshed with sugary lemon juice, after which it flaked off to leave the skin dyed a reddish-orange. The depth of colour in the bride's mehendi reflected the depth of her husband's love and it looked suitably deep and rich to me. I eventually caved in and got a little mehendi myself - a small om on the palm of my hand. After this was the dancing; a troupe of young women and men performed for us with a star turn from a highly talented nine-year old who really gave it his all. The intensity of his expression and movements were a joy to behold. My brother joined in with the last dance; P said she could see a great future for him in Hindi films. Around this time my parents arrived, straight off the plane from Delhi, looking dazed but happy. The wedding was set for the next day.
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