When we arrived at the KL stop, we only had to wait a few minutes for Soma's brother Daven, a local, to pick us up and drop us back to the hotel, where Soma was waiting for us. Dave bears a striking resemblance to Soma, so that if you catch one out of the corner of your eye, you could easily confuse him with the other. Van's parents had arrived, Binh and Sao ( I've just guessed the spelling). They are an open and friendly couple whose limitations in spoken English are more than compensated for by their charm. I settled into my new single room, and then we went back to the Chinese seafood place on the corner again for a meal, and some of the Grants that I had bought on the way in, duty free. Ramen ordered for all of us, and judged the quality and quantity just nicely. one interesting touch was sweet potato leaves. V nice. On return to the hotel Kuhan dropped in my new Indian shirt for the wedding and my good pants, that I had left hanging in his room while I travelled. I tried to iron everything using the communal ironing board and iron in the corridor, but the combination of the fact that the iron didn't get hot enough and the fact that the board was anchored to the wall in a way that made it impossible to reach the apex of the board with the iron, conspired to limit my efforts. I just hung the slightly creased garments up and hoped that the humidity overnight would sort them out! The 14th dawned, the big day at last. The plan was to meet in the foyer at 0830 and head to the temple early. As happens with the best of plans, we were delayed on a couple of fronts. Having gone to Soma's Mum's place to be ferried across to the temple by Daven, in the beautifully decorated limo, he was delayed in traffic. Soma decided to take us instead. We had gone a about a kilometre when Daven rang, so he met us where we were and Soma took his car. For some reason there was a warning light on in the car. It turned out to be telling us that the ignition key (which works on a proximity system rather than insertion) was no longer in the car. It was obviously in Soma's pocket! We were all right as long as we didn't turn off the ignition! Then began the most extraordinary experience. The temple had all the ornate features one expects of a Hindu place of worship. The towering roofs and gateways covered in bright pastel coloured figures, all seeming to jostle for space on already crowded surfaces. The ceiling panels all miniature works of art in their own right. The statues of deities familiar and unremarked by most of the guests, but exotic to these Western eyes. The priests, faces painted, bare chested, in their dhotis. The door decorated with banana trees (yes whole trees). Garlands and flowers everywhere. The guests gathering. (as I write, at 4.30, the monsoon rains and thunder have just rolled in). Van arrived early - some practices seem to travel. He and Soma's boys greeted guests. Soma was resplendent in traditional wear of cream and gold, and Viji looked lovely in an emerald green sari. Van's folks also wore a sari and a kurta respectively. The ceremony itself was a simplified version of what can, on occasion, last for days. As best I can describe it, the groom is blessed/purified, then he goes away. Then the bride undergoes the same experience. Then they both undergo the symbolic processes of union, including a touching process in which individually, and as a couple, Van and Shadhinee touched the feet of their parents as a sign of respect, and the parents gave a blessing. This brief and crude description does not do justice to the service, but touches on the main ideas. There was lots of anointing, use of flower petals, fire and incense, and a continuous accompaniment of music from an energetic drummer and the Indian cousin of the clarinet, with the customary drone being provided electronically rather than by means of a harmonium. The ceremony proper was followed by some further exchanges of garlands and prayers to specific divinities. Then there was a tasty vegetarian lunch, served in the temple complex as guests paid their respects, and a very tired Soma and Viji moved around attending to guests. Part one was over. Part two, the dinner at 7 was still to come. OK.
Binh and Sao and I took a taxi through KL traffic - actually pretty moderate - to the school hall where the wedding dinner was to take place. Being a school hall, there was no alcohol. The 7.30 start stretched on until a bit after 8 when the bride and groom arrived. They processed into the hall preceded by a pair of Indian dancers. Quite striking as a way of making an entrance. There must have been a couple of hundred guests who were treated to an excellent vegetarian meal, complete with mock meats that were practically indistinguishable from the real thing when covered in the spicy sauces - both Chinese and Indian. There were speeches from Soma, Binh, the happy couple, and some very witty MC work from Kuhan, although I suspect that some of the Aussie humour may have been lost on the audience of Malaysians. Things wrapped up quite early, and after dropping a few people off, Soma and I had a drink with Daven at our "local" Chinese. on this occasion we weren't the only rats in evidence, as the practically empty establishment, open to the street, attracted at least one of the four legged type. Saturday was a pretty quiet day. I ate at the local Indian, noting with the eyes of experience, that the portions were not as generous as many of the other places I have eaten in this trip. Taxi to the station and then spend most of the day in the "golden triangle" - moving between KLCC and Bukit Bintang, which seem to me to be the single biggest zone of conspicuous consumption that I have ever seen. It took me some time, but I finally realised what was bothering me. There was practically nothing for sale in the whole branded zone that a person could either not live without, or could buy more cheaply with a different logo on it. The only "normal " place I saw was Harvey Norman, where at least you could buy a toaster or a sewing machine! I spent the later half of the afternoon at Soma's Mum's place. The rest of the family had already left for Port d*** on, to spend some time with Viji's Mum, so we vegged out watching Australia TV, having showers, and then Soma dropped me at the LRT. I went to KL Sentral, then got on the 140 kph KLIA express train, which took 28 minutes to get me to the airport. Having checked in online, baggage drop was the work of a moment, then I cleared immigration, had a microwaved pie and a salad comprising 5 lettuce leaves the size of a matchbox, one onion ring one slice of cucumber and one slice of tomato. Was expensive by Malaysian standards at about 5 dollars Australian, but then breakfast on the street cost 1! As I close this chapter of the blog, perhaps it would be timely to make a few observations about my first visit to Malaysia. It was a real treasure, and a privilege to be almost a part of the family for a Hindu wedding. Not only did I get to know Soma and Viji and the family better, but I gained a deeper appreciation of the web of family relationships and obligations that underpins so much of traditional (and in this cae, present day) Indian life in Malaysia. Seniority and respect play a most significant role, and while I don't envy Soma the responsibilities that come with his role as head of the extended family now, there is a certain security that comes with this kind of arrangement. More generally, I gained an appreciation of the remaining strengths of a genuinely multicultural society, even though the stresses and strains caused by "affirmative" action are beginning to show. The combined factors of race and religion may prove to be a heady brew.