We didn’t get an invite to Harry and Meghan’s bash but we did get to our first Sri Lankan wedding last Saturday. Our housekeeper Rani’s sister, Gowri, was getting hitched and Rani was very keen that we attend. So on with the best tropical suit, only to discover that in the years since it was last used (a) my waistline had grown so the trousers were very squeezy (b) a mysterious stain had appeared on one sleeve of the jacket, requiring the attention of the dry cleaners. Undaunted, holding jacket over arm and doing breathing exercises, I headed off.
We’d been invited to both the church service and the reception (the family are all Tamil Christians) but our suspicions that the service would be conducted in Tamil proved correct so we told Rani and her husband Martin there was little point in going to the church. “No”, insisted Martin, “If you are there the pastor will do the service in English”. “But then almost no-one else will understand it” we replied. “Ah, there will be a person to translate into Tamil.” Not wanting to be put in the position of making life difficult for the vast majority of non-English speakers who would be there we politely but firmly declined the church bit of it. Though a bit of me would have liked to have gone, just to see what a Tamil Christian service was like. I’ve recently traced a distant relative who was a Methodist missionary in Ceylon from 1936 to 1970 and read something she published which unwittingly explained how the missionary movement simply took on local customs and traditions and convinced the people that these were in fact Christian religious practices. As of course the early European church did with pagan rites such as the winter solstice.
Being British we arrived at the hotel – a gloomy and cavernous pile temporarily transformed with drapes, lighting and flowers but where as always the toilets indicated the underlying reality of the building – ten minutes early for the reception. We assumed we’d wait somewhere until the party arrived from the church up the road but we were ushered into the reception room as if we were the focus of attention. We spent a short while observing various technicians doing their stuff with music and lights before the newlyweds entered via the staircase with a vast retinue and the reception began.
In a standard UK wedding reception there is alcohol followed by interminable speechifying followed by food then more alcohol and dancing. A Sri Lankan wedding reception, based on this sample of one, dispenses with all but the third element in that list. No booze. No speeches. No dancing. But there was plenty of food. Eating aside, the reception consisted of putting the happy couple through an ordeal by camera. Official and unofficial photographers armed to the teeth with anything from simple mobile phones to kickass lenses forced the couple to pose for what seemed like hours, sweating and grinning under the lights, as every conceivable combination of guests took their moment in the spotlight with them. Given that a week or so beforehand they had had to undergo the “pre-wedding shoot” in some local beauty spot to provide mementos to hand out to the wedding guests and that a couple of days later they would be subjected to more photographic oppression when they had their “homecoming” one really understood the level of commitment it must take to get married in this country. At least in between they would have a couple of days’ honeymoon, but I seriously would not be surprised if there was a photographer on hand in the bridal bed to record the first night of bliss.