Thursday, April 24, 2014

Culture of Colour: Part One

Asha and Dharmesh

"I thought I'd be nervous," Asha says, smiling as she stands before me, draped from head to toe in jewels that make up the most beautiful dress I think I have ever seen in my lifetime, "but I just feel normal." And it strikes me that even on one of the most important days of her life, she seems like her normal, bubbly, friendly self. While some brides turn to monsters on their big days, Asha has kept her cool throughout the journey to her day, and it's been a long journey.

Yellow, red, purple, blue, pink, yellow, red.

From the outside, the house looks the same as always - the only visible difference is the garland that dresses the patio's doorway, the main thoroughfare for the guests who will be coming for the first of three ceremonies. Once inside though, the lounge has been transformed into a small temple and it lends an air of excitement to the day.

Though the room is empty when I arrive, within minutes it is filled with friends, family and neighbours, more people than I would have thought the room would allow for, who have all come to celebrate with Asha and to wish her well by joining in to paint her skin with a mixture of chickpea flour, turmeric, rose water and other natural bits and bobs that make up the Pithi paste. Though it starts as a solemn and serious affair, the room is soon filled with chatter and laughter, light and colour as each of the guests takes their turn to adorn the bride with paint and pass on their few words of sage wisdom.

Green, pink, yellow, red, blue, orange, white.

The Masonic Hall is mostly empty when I arrive. I'm a little early, but it's worth it for the chance to take in the details - the statuettes and bright garlands, the salts and spices, the powders and string - before the hordes of people begin to file in. It's time for the Grah Shanti to begin.

"I drove from PE," one of the guests informs me as I wait for the bridal party to arrive.
"It's only right," he continues, "that she has family here."
His words hang in the air, his thought uncompleted, but I know what it is that he isn't saying. The memory of Asha's father hangs heavily over the festivities, a constant reminder of the pain of loss that comes from love. But the Daya women are strong, and today is about celebration, initiation and family. I'm reminded of this as the family come forward towards the end of the ceremony to be bound by red string, as they stand together as one with Asha at the centre, a uniting source of mutual joy.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Lifetime of Happiness

Lolita and Tshepo
The Monument

Grahamstown is quiet on Sunday mornings. There are no cars lining the road or stopped at the traffic lights and few people mill around the streets, especially at this kind of time. But there is one house, on this particular day, that is filled with hustle and bustle, noise and excitement. It's an environment fitting for a wedding day - the energy is contagious and though I'm not used to being up quite this early, I am wide awake and ready to capture those moments that Lolita and Tshepo will remember for a lifetime.

I have always considered Lolita to be beautiful, and myself lucky to be her photographer, but this morning she is glowing as the bright morning light shines through the windows and falls on her, wide-eyed and nervous, but filled with excitement and expectation for the day ahead.

Just a few houses away, Tshepo is quiet and calm as his friends celebrate around him. Already dressed and anxious for the big day to begin, I can see that he has no doubts.

In both houses, cellphones ring and voices echo from room to room as the friends and family members run around putting together the finishing touches, until finally it is time. Ribbons and jewels, gloves and shoes are slid into place, and Lolita emerges in a gown that would be fitting for any modern-day Disney princess while the men pile into cars and make their way towards the Monument.

People slowly trickle in, starting with Tshepo and his groomsmen, followed by family and friends and finally concluding with the bride and her bridal party who are greeted once more with exuberant singing and dancing, smiles and well wishes. It is a day for celebration, and the celebrating rings through the hollowed venue and fills it with joy, laughter and song. As Lolita arrives, it starts and it continues throughout the ceremony, throughout the reception, throughout the day - a truly jubilant occasion, filled with happiness and laughter making for a wedding unlike any other that I have had the privilege to capture with my camera.

Nerves which have been written across the bride and groom's faces throughout the morning are forgotten as they stand before each other, knowing that this is where they are meant to be, and that they are meant to be here together with the backdrop of Grahamstown to one side and their friends and family behind them. From the moment they are joined, they are inseparable - they are truly one - and it comes naturally to them.

It is a beautiful day for a wedding in Grahamstown, and the quiet of the morning has been broken with sounds of celebration and love. Things are the way they should be. Lolita and Tshepo are married, and have a lifetime of happiness ahead of them.