Wedding part 2 + Panchgani

In the morning, friends and relatives of the bride gathered in Gaurvika’s parents’ apartment in Pune. We were joined by a pandit (priest), who led various family members through a 2-hour long pooja ceremony to bring blessings upon the couple and their family. The small altar filled with gold statues, fruit and marigold flowers looked familiar from another Indian friend’s wedding the year before.

One element was pretty hilarious—they were planning to have Neil ride in on an elephant (!)… but then the creature and its owner were found walking through a part of the city where elephants are allowed. (Elephant zoning laws perhaps? haha) So the owner got arrested (because apparently he also didn’t have a proper license), and while he was being held up at the police station, the elephant was tied up in the parking lot. PETA then showed up at the scene and took the elephant away. Only at an Indian wedding!! 🙂

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Impressive! Impossible haha, but impressive 😉

That night, the guests began arriving at the hotel, dressed in a dazzling array of saris, kurtas, etc. When Neil and his family marched in to the beat of the same booming drums, we were supposed to block him entering till he paid up (to show his bride is worth it, I think). We also took the guys’ shoes and hid them! Then we gathered outside around a temple that had been set up as the symbolic elements of the ceremony took place- putting garlands of flowers over each other’s necks, walking around a fire seven times, etc.

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Later was the reception, and after a yummy spread of food was served, a few people came up to give speeches. When it got to Gaurvika’s parents and brother, they poured forth such an effusion of love. At the end of the day, regardless of the fanciness level people choose to celebrate with, the universal joy of weddings always comes through.

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Panchgani

After saying goodbyes in the morning, I hopped on the rickety public bus to Panchgani, the small town which holds the New Era Baha’i School! A woman saw me looking confused at the bus station and was going the same direction, so she kindly showed me which bus to take, and we sat together the whole ride. The drawings below are from her sweet 7-year old daughter Vidika… who, I might add, sat patiently through a 3+ hour bus ride without a single complaint or needing to be constantly entertained! I knew the question wouldn’t make sense, but I was so curious to know how her parents ( / the culture?) can raise a kid that way!

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The bus clattered over the bumpy road and lurched around curves that looked over high mountain passages. Finally, at a nondescript corner, I got off and headed over to New Era. There are two parts – a boarding school and a development institute. The former was set on a large expanse of property (and apparently its cornerstone is a brick from the fortress of Maku where the Bab, one of the Prophet-Founders of the Baha’i Faith, was imprisoned). The latter is on a peaceful maze of paths and gardens with an abundance of flowers and trees. The combination of the cultivated natural beauty, and the cool air from the high elevation, produced a serenity that was so refreshing, especially after the noise of Pune.

They’re doing some inspiring education programs here, including a social action curriculum that integrates math, science, agriculture, etc. with hands-on applications of how to use them in daily life. For example, you might learn about the science of soil, then go out and plant some crops. But what impressed me even more when I sat in on a session was the collaborative, encouraging style of learning. It was pretty much the exact opposite of the punitive, exam-driven rote memorization education style. The facilitator was guiding the students but also learning himself, and the students helped each other instead of competing. And the focus seemed to be on learning a few practical, fundamental concepts rather than detailed, abstract theory. Very exciting implications!

The folks taking this course were such a sweet group of people… the kind you feel connected to after just a short time together. We went for a walk together in the early morning, ending up at a lookout point displaying the misty hills for which the town is named (Panchgani = 5 hills). We soaked in its beauty, prayed, then rambled back to the campus in a ritual that was akin to the sweetness of the morning walks at Gadchiroli. In fact, there was a lot in that brief sojourn at Panchgani that made me reminisce about SEARCH – a devoted core of hardworking staff and volunteers; the measured simplicity of the living style; and the courage to pioneer development ideas that are profoundly beautiful but haven’t yet reached the mainstream.

Some pics from the morning walk of friends from New Era!

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View looking over the hills
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You know when the simplest food tastes the sweetest? Poha (a Maharashtrian dish of flattened rice) + chai = heaven!

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Until next time, New Era!

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