Tomorrow marks the beginning of the month in which I will celebrate my 40th birthday. I’ve not yet decided upon a suitable present to myself. Currently, it’s a close call between a new motorbike (black, with big handles, obviously) or a new sound system. A drum-kit seemed too much of a cry for help.
In reality, I’ll probably settle for a new suit-case, as my two have both recently submitted to the perils of non-stop travel these past four years of hurtling around the region.
Truthfully, a large gin and tonic on the beach (I’ll be in Sri Lanka on the day itself) will actually suffice just nicely.
Forty years is a blink of an eye, yet seems significant nonetheless. What most excites me is the idea emblazoned on greetings cards and coffee coasters that “Life begins at 40….” or, perhaps, more practically speaking that one, aged 40, might begin to deal with life a bit better. Certainly, the dealings we entertain as we grow older do seem to take on new and interesting machinations. Some of which I deem to be worth documenting here…
And so it was to Bangalore, a few weeks back, that I took myself to ensure a ring-side seat at one of my oldest friend’s weddings. Maybe not your typical “interesting machination” on paper, but significant in many other ways.
Paul and I spent the last three years of the 20th century sharing a flat in Battersea, and it is fair to say that I know him well. Well enough to correctly assume that, as I pulled up outside our hotel in Bangalore late on a Friday night, fresh off my connection from Singapore, that I’d find Paul entertaining his three other mates who had flown over from Sydney (where he himself has been living for 15 years) with as much flare and banter as only Paul can muster after a day’s boozing.
I could have been back in a pub on the Queenstown Road in London with him, on any given evening twenty years ago, as he supped his lager and fired one liners to all and sundry – the bartender at the Sheraton could only manage a fixed grin and the odd, nervous glance in my direction, as Paul showed him why he was “the best dancer in Bangalore”. Seriously though (hat-tip), he really is.
It took only an hour of my arriving for the others to bail, handing me Paul’s room key and the mobile phone entrusted to him by his soon-to-be-wife, Divya, herself caught up in a melee of pre-wedding rituals, conversations, and all round family mayhem.
It felt, then, like I was in charge of the night-shift for some Irish-cum-Bollywood extravaganza, as Paul scuttled from one confused looking doorman to another, with a line of enquiry about the city’s late-night watering holes from which your average local from Cork would have failed to draw any sensible conclusion.
The wedding was officially kicking off on the Sunday morning and, over the two days following, would entertain four separate events and 1,500+ guests. Divya needed a way of being able to track Paul’s movements before the important stuff began, and the Nokia handset which was then passed on to me, and shoved deep into my pockets, at that moment, was more important an item than any other piece of wedding-related paraphernalia.
Paul had never before visited South Asia, and Bangalore’s locals for sure had never before met such an affable and comedic Irishman such as he.
In any case (and not to forget that this post was supposed to describe the wedding itself) for the rest of that Friday night, we made best use of the diminishing hours we had. To quote the fabulous Withnail and I, when given £40 spending money in the Cumbrian town of Penrith: “alright – we’re going to have to work quickly”.
We settled on a late-night cocktail bar, crammed full of Bangalore’s renaissance youth, with men clutching bottles of JB Whiskey and waving about their cigarettes in a fug of brylcreamed hair, sharp threads and the words “hey dude” dropped into every sentence.
It took Paul thirty seconds to score us some free drinks, based on the novelty of our being there and having a story to tell about why we were there, and (perhaps more reasonably) because the unwitting gang of blokes we stumbled upon at the bar saw buying us drinks as the easiest way to deal with the deluge unleashed on them by the, at this stage, incorrigible young bridegroom – “…so, Bangalore’s like this big IT hub, right? I’m no IT expert myself – just give it a bit of the old ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’ and that seems to do it…”
The man was on fire.
Fortunately, we left unscathed (old school friends reading this needn’t question what is inferred here) before negotiating Paul’s first ever tuk-tuk ride back to our hotel, where we finished off the contents of our mini-bar down by their infinity pool.
As the first rays of sunrise poked up from the horizon, we decided to hit the sack.
Saturday, and in typical fashion, Paul was up and raring to go with just three hours sleep under his belt, and the remnants of a barrel of Tiger draught directing his every whim.
To be fair to us, we nailed Saturday. Purchased Paul a tie. Visited a krisna temple. Swam. Ate. And then brushed up to visit Divya’s home to meet more of her family. I think bragging rights were justified for us that day. No doubt Divya will tell you that she carried out a considerable amount more tasks in the same time it took us to complete ours, but that is missing the point: Paul was still in Bangalore, walking, dutifully answering his Nokia every ten minutes that his new brother-in-law, Kiran, chose to ring him, and in general terms was being an all round brick. Yes, brick.
On his best behaviour, Paul left early from the evening visit with the new in-laws, and the remainder of his crew (two other guys called Paul and one called Mike – how diverse!) and I continued ploughing through the Johnny Walker Blue Label that Divya’s Dad had generously opened for us, and then even more generously encouraged us to inhale.
With the arrival of Paul’s parents the next morning from the UK, came the commencement of “the business end” of our long weekend…
A lunchtime ceremony back at chez Divya – involving blessings, incense burning, and delicious food – was then backed up by a “small” evening reception for three hundred or so close family and friends, during which there was more free-flow alcohol, tasty eats, henna painting, plenty of lively dancing, and a resounding version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” to which Paul and Divya were made to shuffle around in a circle. I think the instructions the DJ had received went along the lines of: “play something Irish.”
Already too many fabulous memories were squashed into these surreal few days in India, side-by-side (literally, as I was sharing a bed with him) with a best mate I’d not seen for two years since his previous Christmas visit out to Saigon.
And then Monday arrived, as did we all, dressed in full traditional costumes, a merry band of “tourists” joining the throng of hundreds and hundreds of well-wishers, to finally witness the climax of ceremonies that then officially bound Paul and Divya together in a colourful, noisy, magical, happy union.
There was just one more chance then to drink through the night, and consume more treats – the South Indian style lunch on banana leaves we had that day was the best I have ever tasted – before seeing in an appropriately timed St Patrick’s Day morning with a thousand Bangaloreans, and returning to the hotel with the happy couple around 3am.
Weddings are usually pretty special, and this one was no exception. It was simply the best weekend to which I could have hoped to be a part. There was a certainty to how every aspect of it clicked together.
In everything that each one of us takes on – day to day, Monday to Friday, January to December, in love, out of love, with friends, with our children, our families – we are never quite sure how things might turn out.
This, it seems to me, is one of life’s most annoying, yet potentially liberating, of dynamics, and there will always be occasions when you can freeze the frame, and steal the opportunity which comes with doing that.
Such a warm and genuine feeling of love for Paul and Divya resounded throughout every moment of their freeze-frame moment that weekend, that I left feeling certain that how we might choose to “deal with life a bit better” – whatever our age – is perhaps down to how we deal with life’s uncertainties themselves.