In a coincidence that showed just what a small world Calcutta’s Chinese community is, I crashed the same wedding twice on Sunday. That morning I met a man, Frankie, at the Chinese market in Tiretti Bazaar (see my photo album from India). He wore a patch over one eye and had come to town to attend a wedding at the Chinese temple nearby. “You should come too,” he said.
I was intrigued but also hesitant: You can’t just go to a stranger’s wedding uninvited. Or can you? In typical Indian fashion, Frankie replied with a head waggle.
The offer was too good to pass up, so I showed up at the temple around 11. The first floor was the Chinese association’s meeting room, now decorated with streamers. I talked with a woman who was half Nepalese, half Chinese; her husband had spent the last decade working as a laborer in Dubai. Aside from a few guests, there weren’t many people around, except a few kids playing by the small slum–homes made from cardboard boxes and rags–that grew out of the side of the building.
One by one, guests arrived by car and by rickshaw, until the room was packed with more than 100 guests, mostly Chinese, milling around. Some Chinese women wore western-style dresses, others saris. Finally, bride and groom arrived, the bride with her eyes cast downward. They paused before the entrance, then made their way through the crowd and up the stairs to the temple, followed by their wedding party. Upstairs, the pair knelt before the altar for a long time while the guest looked on and chatted and laughed. The room was filled by the hubbub of Hindi, Hakka and Cantonese all at once. I breathed a sigh of relief; the whole village had come, and no one minded an unexpected guest.
The wedding was for sure a mix of traditional (roast suckling piglet) and new (professional videographers) that I hadn’t seen before. It was, in fact, far more traditional than I suspect most weddings in China are today. When I attended a wedding in Beijing two years ago, the event took place in an indoor park and the tea ceremony featured a teddy bear exchange.
That night, I met up with Stephen, a Calcuttan Chinese enterpreneur. “Want to come to a wedding?” he asked. It was the reception for the couple from the morning. With pleasure, I replied.