Upon waking up this morning, I went downstairs to find Mom and Dad both awake, despite the early hour it was. Dad invited me to go on a walk with him, which I excitedly agreed to! I quickly got ready and we made our way over to Akota Garden – a beautiful public park that was located just down the street from the house. Here, we walked along the trail (which is a circle pathway) a few times, stopping to say hello to all of Dad’s friends (AKA basically everyone in the park!).
The park was very lush, super green and full of people, despite how hot it had already become so early in the day. It was really nice to see so many people out and about, getting in some morning exercise. Additionally, it was very entertaining to see the confused looks on people’s faces when they saw me – a white person in a residential area located deep within a small Indian town is not something that these people see everyday!
When we returned home from the walk, I found chai and breakfast waiting for me. Moni (my wonderful fiancé) had cooked some scrambled eggs for he and I to enjoy, doing so just like how we do at home: using plenty of Maggi Magic Masala seasoning. The morning was otherwise very slow moving, which is typical in India. Shops don’t usually open until 11am or later, so there really wasn’t much for us to do until later in the afternoon. We spent the rest of the morning just hanging out, which is Moni’s favorite pastime. Myself, on the other hand, would rather be busy doing some sort of activity, so this was something I would have to get used to throughout the remainder of this trip.
As the afternoon finally approached, it was time for Moni and I to get ready for our first dance practice as we would be performing a dance at his cousin’s wedding in two days. For those not familiar with Indian weddings, there’s often an event called the Sangeet where the bride and groom’s families and friends come together to sing, dance and celebrate the upcoming wedding. This event occurs before the Shaadi, the actual marriage ceremony. Sangeets have evolved over the years, and nowadays they typically involve close relatives and friends of the couple performing choreographed dances to popular Bollywood songs on a stage. The bride and groom will often perform dances of their own, which adds to the fun! Moni, myself, his sister, Tanvi, and his brother-in-law, Jigar, were scheduled to perform a dance together. Tanvi and Jigar were still in Mumbai at this time, so Moni and I were learning the dance with the choreographer alone for the time being.
Before heading to dance class, I was introduced to a new “toy” – Moni’s scooter! In India, they refer to all Vespa and Vespa-like vehicles as “scooters”, motorcycles are considered “bikes” and bicycles are called “cycles”. Even though it was super hot out when we left on the scooter to go to dance class, I loved it! I’ll choose to ride on the scooter in 100+ degree weather instead of in an airconditioned car any day as it’s that much more fun!
Practice was BRUTAL for this American who was accustomed to having comfortable air conditioning wherever she went! So not only did the room we were practicing in not have air conditioning, but it was also located upstairs…and heat rises! Sure, there were some fans to help circulate the air, but with the temperature being over 100-degrees at the time of practice, these oscillating fans were not enough. Not only did our choreographer have to open the windows and doors to help with the air circulation, but we also had to take many breaks for me to stand in front of the fans and chug some water. I ended up making it through my first practice without passing out, so I’d call that a win!
After dance practice, we went home to get Mom (meaning we had to leave the scooter behind and take the family car instead) so that we could go shopping! We needed to purchase a couple sarees and/or chaniya cholis for me to wear to the wedding events that we’d all be attending later this week. I’d been excited about this since first learning that I’d be attending Moni’s cousin’s wedding because fashion has always been a passion of mine. Although there were four events in total that we’d be attending, we technically only needed to purchase two outfits for me as I brought my own western-style dress to wear to the reception and Tanvi gave me one of her chaniya cholis to wear to the Haldi. That said, we went out with the expectation to find one chaniya choli for me to wear to the Sangeet and one saree for me to wear to the Shaadi (marriage ceremony).
A few fun facts about these traditional Indian garments to help you better understand what I’m talking about in the event you’re not already familiar with these terms… First, “chaniya choli” is often called a “lehenga choli” or just “lehenga” for short. In Moni’s home state of Gujarat, they are referred to as “chaniya choli”, which is what I will always refer to them as, but in other states/regions of India they are referred to as “lehenga choli”. So what’s the difference between a chaniya choli and a saree? A chaniya choli is a 3-piece dress that includes a cropped blouse, a long skirt and a dupatta (a shawl-like scarf that is draped over the body). The blouse usually allows the midriff to be exposed and the skirt is typically floor-length, though sometimes it’s a tad bit shorter to minimalize tripping. A saree is one large rectangular piece of fabric that will be draped around the body in a dress-like fashion, covering the entire bottom portion and finishing with a drape over the shoulder that resembles a draped dupatta. Just like a chaniya choli, a saree will be worn with a cropped blouse, though there are two major differences. A petticoat (a thin skirt) will be worn underneath the saree which allows the saree fabric to be tucked and pinned and no separate dupatta is required as the saree “creates” one when draped.
Why would I chose one over the other? Great question, my friend! Sarees are typically more difficult to walk in as the fabric is wrapped around your legs, while the skirt in a chaniya choli allows for free movement. That said, if you’re planning to bust some moves on a dance floor, a chaniya choli is a much better option. If you’re attending an event that doesn’t involve dancing, choosing to wear a saree makes sense…if you’re able to pin it up yourself or if you have someone ready to help pin you up. Now that you know all about sarees and chaniya cholis, let’s get back to where we left off!
We started by going to SIA Sarees to check out their selection of sarees and it was an interesting yet fun experience! Upon entering the store, they sat us down at a table in front of a wall that was covered from floor-to-ceiling in folded fabrics. Next, they asked us what we were looking for, and Mom gave me some recommendations on what colors to consider since I was planning to wear this saree to the Shaadi and the color choice matters. We told them what we wanted, then a few gentlemen appeared and started pulling fabric after fabric from the shelves. Even though we told them what we wanted, they tried pushing other things on us instead. It was overwhelming, to say the least! This is a very common practice with salesmen in India, so I learned that you just have to be firm and tell them “nahin chahiye” (which means “I don’t want” in Hindi) and continue to direct them towards what you actually want. Because I’d never worn a saree before, the men offered to “mock” drape me in a few of the sarees that I was considering to purchase. They even let Moni take pictures of me being draped in them, which Mom later told us is usually not allowed. Moni thinks they allowed it because I was an American and there’s an uncomfortable privilege that sometimes comes with that when traveling through India.
In the end, I settled on a beautiful navy saree that included a red blouse. I also ended up getting a second saree, a completely red outfit that Mom labeled as a “party saree” that could be worn to parties or celebrations, such as Diwali. Mom bought this for me to bring back home as I would not be able to wear it to any of Hetvi’s wedding events. This is because the bride traditionally wears all red on her wedding day (Shaadi ceremony). Just as guests attending a wedding in the U.S. know not to wear white as that’s what the bride wears, the guests attending an Indian Wedding should not wear red as that is the bride’s color. Although nowadays, brides have started wearing other colors, such as pink or gold, but it’s still best practice to not wear red.
After purchasing the sarees, we walked next door into RIA Boutique where we would be able to browse their selection of chaniya cholis. SIA only sells sarees, but RIA sells chaniya cholis as well as some casual-wear garments. We were guided upstairs where the chaniya cholis were, and I began to look for something that was dark green so that I could match what Moni would be wearing to the Sangeet. His uncle had a dark green jacket custom made for him to wear and the rest of the gentlemen in the close family had the exact same jacket made, but in different colors. This does not always occur at weddings, but it was a very nice gesture from his uncle.
Trying on these 3-piece dresses was also an experience! A lady accompanied me to the dressing room where she told me to remove my bra so that she could help me try on the blouse, which has a built-in bra sewn into it. This was unexpected and a bit uncomfortable at first, but there was no way I would’ve been able to get into this outfit by myself as it required some tying and snap-closing in the back. Therefore, I just followed her instructions and let her dress me up like a Barbie doll.
The first one I tried on was very sparkly, which I loved, but it was also very expensive due to all of the sparkly embellishments. I tried on a second green one that I actually liked more, despite the fact that it came with a red dupatta. I typically don’t like pairing red and green together as they are considered “Christmas colors” back home in the U.S. and, having been born on Christmas, I’m not head-over-heels for this holiday like the rest of my fellow Americans seem to be. But, red and green are complementary colors, so it actually looked great together, especially with all of the gold embellishments that were added to both the blouse and the skirt. Therefore, I bought this second green chaniya choli, completing our mission of buying me two outfits that were needed to wear to the two wedding events. As we were leaving, I spotted a poster that contained a beautiful casual-wear dress. Moni, being the wonderful man that he is, noticed this and encouraged me to try it on. I loved it, he loved it, Mom loved it…so Moni bought it for me. I truly was so spoiled while on this trip!
The next task at hand was taking the new sarees and chaniya choli to the family tailor, Rajubhai. Fun fact about purchasing sarees: the blouse actually comes as a piece of cloth that contains an outline of what the blouse should look like. Upon purchasing the saree, you must take it to a tailor who will take your measurements, then stitch it into the blouse shape. Additionally, the tailor will make the petticoat that you will wear underneath – this piece does not usually come with the saree when purchasing. What’s more, when the tailor sews your blouse, he will create a few extra rows of stitches in the excess seam allowance and he will not cut any of the excess seam allowances in the process. This allows for a row (or two) of stitches to be easily removed, making the blouse larger in the event you gain a little weight or let a friend who is a size bigger than you borrow your saree. It’s so genius! I love that traditional Indian clothing is designed to be easily adjusted so that it can be worn time and time again.
After dropping off the clothes with the tailor, we picked up some dinner then made our way back home. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. My first full day in Vadodara was definitely one to be remembered!