Here I sit in the international waiting area of the Birmingham, UK airport. It is a bizarre microcosm of our world of hyper-stimulation. In front of me is the Duty-Free store; full of perfume, liquor, and makeup. To my left a bank of stores crammed next to each other; shoes, gadgets, clothes. Behind me there’s a bar, a cafe, and…another cafe.
Don’t get me wrong! I was in the Duty-Free shop for, like, half an hour smelling every scent that had a fancy label; I was happy to buy a plug adapter for my voyages to France and India; and I was happy to buy a croissant and a cappuccino at the cafe as I’d missed breakfast.
I’m not one of those that denounces modernity and commerce as the end of culture and the degradation of society. It’s just all a bit tiring after a while. My time in England leading up to today has been tiring, but in a different way. I was here for a wedding. My good friend and Khalsa sister Jatinder Kaur married a young man named Kashmir Singh. In England, among Sikhs, there are a few different categories of weddings. On one end of the spectrum are Punjabis who are more culturally Sikh. They are not very observant beyond attending gurdwara on Sundays and for special occasions. Receptions will usually be grand affairs with liquor flowing, chicken tandooring, and people dancing. In these weddings, cultural traditions are very important. They last for days leading up to the Anand Karaj at the gurdwara and they continue a day or two after.On the other end are the Amritdhari weddings. They generally dispense with the cultural traditions, especially stuff involving dance, because those traditions often include alcohol. Receptions are lower key, often langar, and the pomp is not really there, it’s more about the spiritual significance.Kashmir and Jatinder’s wedding didn’t quite fall into either of the above. On Kashmir’s side, as I understand, the preparation was very understated. On Jatinder’s not so much! As I knew Jatinder going in, I attended her family’s events. They were awesome.First you had the Maiyan where everyone rubs this paste made of flour and turmeric on the bride’s arms, feet, and, if you have any rowdy cousins, in your ears and on your face. All the while, the ladies of the family sing boliyan, which are couplets about marriage and the family.
After the maiyan was the Jago, where the ladies of the family danced down the street singing boliyan before settling in the backyard to dance for an hour with everyone else in the family. I can’t hide my love for all of this. There is something so sweet about it all. Say what you will about gender normative cultural institutions, this was just plain fun.
Then there was the food. Throughout all of this, there is an endless supply of delicious Punjabi food flowing from the kitchen. Chai, samosas, pakoras, paneer spring rolls, and that’s just the appetizers!
The day of the wedding started at 8 with Jatinder’s family gathering at her home to help her get ready and accompany her to the gurdwara. She looked incredible in a gilded ivory suit and white turban.
The anand karaj was beautiful. The ragis in attendance were excellent. They were unique in that they sang in harmony with each other and were brothers. They sang the lawan as the couple rounded the Guru and bam! Married. It’s amazing how so much time and effort lead up to a sweet simple moment where two people sit before their Guru, bow, and commit.
I spent the next days getting to know the groom and his family. They were lovely as I’d expected. We spoke of philosophy, religion, and culture while eating even more delicious food.
After a somber yet loving goodbye, my mother and I came here, to the airport, where we munch croissants waiting for our plane. It is painful to leave such lovely sangat to come back to all of this over stimulation. While we were up early and in bed late at the wedding events, we were tired, but not in the same way as the endless barrage of publicity and stimulation as this waiting area. We were physically tired, but our surroundings were simple and comfortable. People visited with each other to celebrate the beauty of togetherness. This, the ads, the music, the sounds, all beckoning and asking for your energy, is truly tiring.
The sangat we shared was the opposite. It asked for naught. It gave without question and loved just the same regardless of whether they were amritdhari, short hair or long, vegetarian or not. They just gave like the Guru we all bow to.