Stepping out of Kolkata airport for the first time was a strangely disorientating experience; the relentless honking from taxis was louder than I expected, and the street was busy with people. I found myself searching for the faces of my boyfriend’s relatives I had not yet met.
The entire family greeted us warmly and I felt instantly welcome in this unfamiliar city. I was entertained (and slightly terrified) by the not very safe drivers with “safe drive, save life” ironically painted across the back of their vehicles. Throughout the trip I was continually amazed by the ability of drivers to avoid crashes.
The first job we had was to buy clothes for the various wedding ceremonies at Mohey Manyavar because the wedding ceremonies began the next day. The volume of gifts from the groom’s side of the family was unbelievable. My favourite gift was the glittery, dressed-up fish which we watched be prepared by the kitchen staff. It was utterly surreal watching them undress the fish and chop it up in a garage!
There was a little time in the afternoon to visit New Market and College Street. Walking among the endless book stalls on College Street and the views from the rooftop at the complex were some of my favourite places in Kolkata.
The wedding day began very early; I was surprised by how quickly night became day. There were many sections to the day, but the actual wedding ceremony began in the late evening. I grabbed some coffee at the start of the night which was khub khub mishti (very very sweet). Bengali people really really love sweet treats!!
I found myself comparing this wedding to a German wedding I attended last summer. I had never experienced such a crowded wedding before; it took us over 45 minutes to say hello to the bride despite her being less than 10 metres away. Watching the men lifting up the bride and groom to determine the dominant person in the relationship was particularly enjoyable but I was slightly stressed by the indoor fire!
The next day my boyfriend and I had some free time to explore the city. The area around the Victoria Memorial is similar to some of the big open squares in Europe. From here we took a horse-drawn golden carriage to the river. This journey was particularly sobering; huge government buildings and vast slums sat adjacent to one another. I was acutely aware of my privilege as a white woman dressed in fancy clothes riding in a golden horse-drawn carriage…
The boat ride offered a rare moment of tranquillity. We drank tea and we enjoyed the views. The polluted fog made the city look mysterious and beautiful. Once we got off the boat we wandered around the streets until we reached somewhere to grab a drink. We found a place called Olypub where you could eat “chicken ala kiev” but there was no female bathroom. I was absolutely bursting on the journey back!
The ceremony in which the bride leaves her house for the last time happened that evening. It was an emotional event and a couple of the women were teary. As the brother, my boyfriend had to push the car as the (nearly) newlyweds left the complex.
A coconut seller came the next morning and everyone enjoyed some coconut water. Dadai (grandad) knocked over the bike carrying the coconuts and lost his shoe! My boyfriend and I unsuccessfully attempted to find the tram stop to take a journey around the city and instead bought some presents in New Market. We ate some amazing food from Anand (amazing vegetarian dishes) and a Chinese restaurant. We exploited the ingenious booths for couples to sit in at the restaurant so we could hold hands across the table (haha).
The reception that evening was the final part of the wedding. Ma (mum) and I had our hair and makeup done at a nearby salon. I felt like a giant next to the women who worked there (I am only 165cm) but the experience was very relaxing. Even more presents were given at the reception and the night ended too quickly.
In the morning of the final day Dadai, my boyfriend and I visited the local market and drank mysterious salty lemon tea next to the “Standard Chicken Shop.” Sitting there and watching the world go by was one of my favourite moments. My boyfriend showed me his old schools and old house after lunch. I kept thinking about how different our respective lives could have been. The names of his parents were still written on their old postbox.
I felt very emotional (and tired!!) during the final few hours in Kolkata. We spent the time with the rest of the family until we needed to leave at around 5am. The city that had been strange and unfamiliar only a week ago now felt comfortable and inviting. Everyone I met was kind and interesting and I was sad to leave so quickly after arriving.
Until next time Kolkata ❤