February 17, 2012

It Happens Only In Burhanpur

I rolled into Burhanpur's railway station a couple of hours before my friend Himanshu's wedding. He had sent his roommate to pick me up. As we rode to my hotel on his motorcycle he briefly explained Burhanpur's claim to fame. Mumtaz Mahal, the favourite wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, had expired in the town while delivering her fourteenth child. Burhanpur was to be the site of the Taj Mahal, but due to logistical issues the world's most beautiful building was built in Agra instead.

I was sharing my hotel room with another wedding guest. After introductions, I freshened up and got into my ethnic gear. The hotel was on the main street of Burhanpur, as was the wedding hall, so we strolled there just as the baraat was beginning. The baraat is a procession where the groom sits on a horse while his friends and family members enthusiastically dance along to the music of a marching band. There is also much waving around of rupee notes in the air.

The baraat can take many hours to complete, regardless of the distance traversed. In this particular case it was a hurried affair, as we covered around a hundred meters in little over an hour. I followed at a safe distance, careful to not get caught in the middle of the gyrating crowd. I was still occasionally pulled in for some dance lessons by the revelers. The dancing was so frenetic that a dust storm was kicked up outside the entrance of the wedding hall.

Now it was the time for the actual marriage ceremony. A couple of Himanshu's friends came up to me and inquired "Do you booze?". "A little." I cautiously replied. We headed out and one of them threw me some motorcycle keys. I do not know how to operate a motorcycle, so soon four of us were on another bike headed to the local watering hole. There I was plied with whisky, beedis, and a famous Burhanpur dish made from a mixture of lentils and rice.

The groom called his roommate to summon me back to the wedding hall, as I had not yet met his family. His other friends kept ordering more drinks. "Stop, else he will be completely out." pleaded the roommate, who was limiting his intake. "It does not matter if he has killed one man or many, he is murderer either way." was the supporting argument in favour of getting more drinks for me. The roommate was able to extract me from the bar after a while. "You don't drink much?" I asked. "It is a small town. One has to maintain a good image." he responded.

The marriage functions were winding down now. I met Himanshu's father and cousins, before posing for a photo with the bride and groom. The fellow sharing my hotel room was leaving the same night, so all the friends got on a couple of motorcycles again to drop him off. On the way back, another motorcycle was approaching the one I was sitting on from an acute angle. "What's going on?" I asked the driver of my motorcycle. The man on the other bike took out a bottle of whisky and handed it to me like a baton. "Put it in your pocket." my driver calmly said.

I was back at the wedding, standing rigidly so as not to disclose the concealed bottle of liquid sin. It was time for the newlyweds to say good night. Once the rest of the guests had also departed, the remaining guys gathered around me. I reached under my kurta and slowly revealed the whisky bottle. Everyone roared in approval and we headed to my hotel room for a nightcap. On the way a rather large ass stood in the middle of the street, unperturbed by the bright lights or honks emanating from the two wheeler rapidly approaching it. We swerved around it at the last moment, with the driver remarking "A donkey in the middle of the road. It happens only in Burhanpur.".