After I finished university, I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a tiny Punjabi village in northern India. It was truly a life changing experience for the sheltered middle class boy from suburban America. I continue to feel very connected to India and can still speak a smattering of Punjabi – though very badly.
It was this knowledge of the language that inadvertently led to me shooting a Punjabi wedding. I had taken my photojournalism students to document the lavender harvest in Kent, and as many of the harvesters were Punjabi, we began chatting and before I knew it, I had agreed to photograph the wedding of Raj, the daughter of one of lavender harvesters. Strange how these things sometimes happen.
Raj and Ajay’s wedding day was absolutely wonderful, truly one of my most memorable wedding shoots. It was exuberant, colourful, noisy, crowded and at times chaotic – really, a bit like India itself. It seemed to go on forever, but I was told that the day of the marriage was only part of various days’ ceremonies and celebrations before and after the actual wedding day.
Much of the day was like theatre, with very specific ceremonies and rituals that had to be observed, with family members having very specific ‘roles’ to play. There were lots of crying and tears, some orchestrated, some very genuine. There was the departure of the Barat (the groom’s side of the family); the Milnea (the introductions); Anand Karaj (the actual ceremony); Kirtan (the singing of the Holy Hymns; and so on during a very long day.
Food was served throughout, and it was as good as anything I had eaten in India. The reception was joyfully raucous, with a DJ playing Hindi pop music at industrial strength volume. And what a lot of dancing! After the formality of the ceremony, it was a chance for everyone to blow off some steam and have a good old bop. Men and women, young and some very old, got out on the dance floor.
I charged Raj’s family a lot less than I normally do because I knew they were itinerant harvesters and not rich by any means. When I delivered the album to the parents, the mother broke into tears and kept hugging me. The father, a handsome elderly Sikh with a flowing white beard and starched blue turban, paid me cash – and then gave me a £50 tip.