Haircuts and Weddings

There’s more than one way to kill a chicken, but the most popular by far, at least in movies, is to grab the bird just below it’s head and rapidly swing it round in a circular and upward motion to wring its neck. When my barber in Lucknow performed a similar maneuver on my own freshly haircut head, I feared I might suffer the chicken’s fate. In swift and opposing movements he swiveled my head like I thought only owls were capable. But the feeling of absolute freedom of motion I experienced immediately after was wonderful. I felt like a bobblehead seamlessly twisting my neck back and forth, up and down, like a ball-bearing freshly lubricated with oil. Wiggling my toes and stepping up out of the chair I realized I was totally fine, and had lived to tell the story.

Everyone wanted to know, “was it my first Indian wedding?” and when I replied, “Yes, and it’s also my first wedding!” No one understood the second part, but was nonetheless happy that it was my first Indian wedding. And it was a fun first wedding. I ate chicken korma to my hearts content and then ate jalebis (fried mini-funnel cake soaked in syrup) past my stomach’s content. After that, the dancing started. The DJ bumped Punjabi and Bollywood hits, while a drummer banged out the percussion riff to each song. Everyone was dancing even a youngster whose mother kept him close to the sideline so he wouldn’t fall under foot.

Then somehow 4 or 5 hours later I found myself on the roof of a Gurgaon farmhouse, staring out over the smoky streets, the sky too shrouded with smog to see the stars, with a glass of Jack and ThumsUp talking amongst a circle of my new 10 best friends, reciting them ghazals of Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir. Singing commenced with the girls belting out all of the ghazals from Umrao Jaan from memory plus an intentional-unintentional mash-up of Dil Cheez Kya Hai and In Aankhon Ki Masti.

We made a move to go home and woke our snoozing driver, who had been waiting in the car. For the first about 15 minutes of our drive, we travelled a good 20 kmph under the speed limit, at which point I finally worked up the nerve to crane my neck around the front seat to get a look at the drivers face. Of course my worst fear was confirmed, our driver was as good as asleep. For the rest of the ride, we managed to keep the driver awake enough to arrive in one piece. Moral of the story: don’t wake your driver if it’s past 1 am.

Owen Sanders Jollie began studying Hindi during his freshman year of college at Emory University. Since then, his interest in India has expanded to include Urdu poetry, Indian politics, and U.S.-India relations. Owen comes to the fellowship from the Center for Strategic and International Studies where he was a researcher with the Wadhwani Chair for U.S.-India Policy Studies. Owen's most recent trip to India was this past summer, when he spent two months in Lucknow studying Urdu at the American Institute of Indian Studies. He plans to continue learning both Hindi and Urdu and to expand his understanding of Indian politics with a focus on the development of corporate social responsibility. Owen grew up in Seattle, Washington and is an avid baseball fan.

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