Sunday, our first official day in India, we were awoken by the phone ringing at 8:30am. It was the front desk asking if we wanted breakfast. Kathleen answered and in a half-asleep stupor said, “no thanks.” About half an hour later, we realized we did want breakfast, so we walked down the hall to the desk to ask about getting some.
The breakfast comes from the restaurant downstairs, and they deliver to the room. The guys at the desk don’t speak much English, but said something about an omelette and coffee, and we said, “yes please.” The next words we understood were “Indian breakfast,” and we just nodded and said, “oh, ok.” Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on the door and a delivery of 2 omelettes, a thermos full of coffee and 2 trays with soup, bread and rice. The latter was the Indian breakfast. We tried it all and liked it, so we ended up eating 2 breakfasts, I guess.
At about 10am, we heard Ramji in the hall. He was organizing a shopping trip, but they were leaving at 11am, and we had to be back and ready for the Mehendi ceremony at 2pm. We decided to forego shopping and just hang out since we’d had such an exhausting day and long night on Saturday.
One thing we’ve quickly learned about Indian culture is that time means absolutely nothing. It’s worse than any “island time” or any Latin American country I’ve visited. As Ramji was leaving, the “be ready” time suddenly changed from 2pm to 3pm. Then when we were ready at 3pm, our rides didn’t show up until 4pm. Then we went to Ramji’s family’s house (which was so fun to see! but not at all in the plans) before going to the Mehendi party.
Anyways, after breakfast we met up with Diego, Kara, Dima and Rachel. Diego and Dima are friends from UF Tennis Club. Kara and Kathleen were roommates at UF, but now she and Diego are dating. Rachel is Dima’s girlfriend from Denver. (Whitney, another tennis club friend is here too, but went shopping).
The wedding guests from the States are staying at 2 country clubs next door to each other. We’re at the Boat Club and Archana’s guests are at the Alumni Club. The Alumni club has some red clay tennis courts, so we borrowed Ramji’s racquets and decided to play. The club was preparing for a match later in the day, though, so the court was closed. Instead we found a ping-pong table and played that for a while, but it just made us want to play tennis more.
We did some exploring and found a gym, but right after we walked in, somebody came and told us we couldn’t be there. We showed him a card saying we were Ramji’s guests, but he just said “Boat Club - no. Please come.” And made us follow him back to the front desk. Then he got on the phone for a while and we had no idea what was going on. I don’t know why he didn’t just tell us to leave. Luckily, Ramji showed up while we were detained and explained the situation. We thought we could go back and forth between the two clubs since we are all in the same party, but that was wrong. Only the people staying at the Alumni Club could use the Alumni Club facilities. Since we couldn’t use the gym, we decided to eat instead.
We went back to the Boat Club for lunch, and ordered a huge amount of food for us all to share. We had a ton of food, and it was all delicious, and the bill came out to about $30 for the six of us, including 2 pitchers of beer. We love the Boat Club!
Finally, it was time for Mehendi. Traditionally, this is a party for just the women. They get henna drawn on their hands and play traditional music and dance. There were a few male family members there, but it was mostly women until later in the evening when Ramji and the rest of the boys joined. All of the women were so friendly to us foreigners, especially Archana’s mom and aunt, and Ramji’s sister. There were lines for the henna, but they pushed us to the front to make sure we got it done quickly. The henna is so cool! I love it. It felt really nice when they’re drawing it on - kind of soothing and relaxing. Each woman has her own style, but for the most part the designs and symbols are similar. It’s an art form that’s passed down from mothers to daughters.
We had to wait for almost an hour for the first side to dry before we could get the second one done, but there was lots of conversation and tea to keep us busy. All the Indian women were wearing gorgeous saris, so just looking around the room and taking in the scenery kept me occupied.
Once the men showed up, the night got interesting. There were some musicians on stage and an MC running the show. It started out with some Indian karaoke (and I’ll point out that there was no alcohol involved whatsoever), then Ramji’s sister and a few other girls performed some Bollywood type dancing. I’m not sure how the next event was set up, but Kara and Diego ended up on stage singing karaoke. They sang “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing and made Ramji and Archana get up so they could sing to them. It was hilarious, but the Indian crowd didn’t seem very into it. They were ready to get on with the next event.
The MC handed everyone a sheet of paper with the names of Indian movies on it. The game was like BINGO, except he would sing part of a song, everyone would yell out which movie the song was from, and if that movie was listed on your card you marked it off. To win you had to get 5 in a row. It cracked me up that everyone knew exactly what movie the little snippet of each song he sang came from. They like their Bollywood here.
The game got old pretty quickly, but went on forever. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I was relieved when they announced that dinner was ready. There was a bit of confusion because some people (men) were telling us we had to wash off the henna before we could go upstairs (where the drinks were), but then the women started yelling and saying we couldn’t get it wet yet because it wouldn’t stay dark on our skin. When it’s painted on, the substance hardens into a crust, and eventually you scrape it off. So then we had all these women trying to help scrape our hands. It was really overwhelming and I finally just said I didn’t want a drink and didn’t want to go upstairs. Then a few minutes later, it was all of a sudden totally fine for us to go up there with the henna still on. I was really confused, but by that point, we all needed a glass of wine, so we went up. It was a really pretty room with a hindu shrine in the corner, so I’m glad I went up and saw it. We ate dinner a little while later, then headed back to the Boat Club.
Sad news - I think I left my camera in the car. Ramji knows the drivers and we’re using the same ones all week, so he called to ask if they found it, but they said they hadn’t. I’m 95% sure that’s where I left it because I took a video on the ride home, but I kind of doubt I’ll ever see it again.
Today was a sight-seeing bus tour of Chennai and the surroundings. I used my phone camera, which isn’t bad actually. And I saw some really really sad looking poor people, which made a lost camera and a few stressful hours traveling seem pretty trivial.
Well, it’s 2am and we are getting up at 7am….gonna be another long day tomorrow.