Pheras

Continued from Baraat

The groom processes through the reception, where Dana is standing, though apparently she’s not supposed to be. She gets sent upstairs, then down again with most of the same friends. Andre, Ryan, Jack, and I lift the four posts of the canopy Dana is to walk under, with the friends trailing behind. There is a too-narrow doorway, so we have to turn the canopy sideways to get through, but the staircase up to the terrace is suitably wide and grand for Dana’s entry. Gautam pulls her forward and leads her to the Pheras so they can be officially married.

In the weddings I’m used to, everything would be perfectly structured, all guests would be seated and silent for the entry of the bride. But this is an interesting mix of solemn and relaxed.

On the platform, the ceremony is fairly solemn. Bride and groom and both sides’ parents are seated on regal couches. There is a sacred fire, and the priest chants in nonstop Sanskrit. Gautam’s parents lean over to keep Rick and Eileen informed: this part is for Vishnu, this part is for Ganesh.

There are seats arranged for an audience, but it’s pretty optional; wedding guests are in conversation in little clumps all across the terrace. It’s far from silent, and snacks and bottles of water are being passed around. Dana is trying not to catch my eye from her seat in front of the priest; she can’t keep a straight face.

Kari and I sidle up right at the beginning to steal Gautam’s shoes. We have it all set up. Margaret has spent a good part of the day sketching locations around the hotel grounds, to use as visual clues in a seven-part puzzle hunt. She has inscribed “Totally Gautam’s Shoes” in Sharpie on a pair of spa sandals, and placed them where Gautam’s shoes used to be.

We’ve prepared a bag and rope to dangle from a nearby balcony window so that when the ceremony ends, Margaret can showily place the shoes in the bag for Kari to reel up.

We’re running around, murmuring and smirking, passing Gautam’s shoes between us. One of Gautam’s little cousins has eyes on us, watching us pass the shoes from person to person. Jennifer does a fake handoff to Aaron, who bolts. The ruse works, and the child is thrown off the scent.

We’ve been trying to count the number of times the couple circles the fire in order to make sure our timing is right: at seven circles, they are officially married. I lose count, so am surprised to be called up for a family photo.

I lean over to Dana. “So, I take it you’re officially married now?”

She confirms.

Since it’s comfortable to be barefoot, Gautam has to be reminded that his shoes are missing.

“Oh no,” he playacts. “Where could they be?”

Margaret holds up the shoes and slow-walks to where the bag is being lowered. But the little cousin is back, and rips the bag from the string before they can pull the shoes up, so I sprint over to grab them, run them up the stairs to Kari.

Down in the courtyard, Ryan is beginning the bargaining process:

“We need to make sure you can provide for our sister. So the price of your shoes will be…”

The audience is expecting a number. I’ve heard $500 USD is not out of the question. The cousins have encouraged us to milk it.

We will, but in our own way.

Ryan’s proposed price?

“We want three bear skins, a twenty-foot aluminum skiff, and fifty pounds of smoked salmon.”

“Alaskan bear skins,” I clarify.

Gautam, for his part, negotiates gamely. “But I could go to jail for bear skins. There must be something else I can do?”

So we offer him the first clue.

Margaret has designed the puzzle hunt to cross back through the main reception as many times as possible. Each time, the uncles and aunts ask him if he has earned his shoes back yet, and he has to show his bare feet. A couple of Gautam’s younger cousins accompany to solve the clues with him.

Dana is physically attached to Gautam, the marriage scarf pinned over her hair still tied to Gautam’s scarf, so she’s along for the ride until she manages to get detached.

It’s good fun, chasing all over the castle in formalwear. Eventually, after visits to stone camels, the aviary, various courtyards, and a wooden monkey sculpture, the hunt ends with all of us “sisters” assembled at the end of an overlook above the valley.

We give Gautam his shoes back, and I pull him in for a hug. “Welcome to the family.”

Previous: Baraat

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Kelsey Breseman

Kelsey Breseman

An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.