The Bullock cart race to a wedding

The year was 1959. The rural areas in India at that time had poor road connectivity, and no automobiles to speak of. The village folk depended on the bullock cart to take them on the paths leading to their villages. This story is a true one, and is about the wedding of one of my class mates from Medical College, Dr B S Chauhan. He was the first among us to get married, as soon as he graduated from Medical College. All of us had an open invitation to attend his wedding.

Three of us (we called ourselves the adventurous ones-Rishpal, Shivdev and I) decided to take him up on his offer to partake in the festivities.
The wedding procession from the boy’s side (baraat) had to assemble at Jagadhari railway station for the onward journey to the bride’s home, which was in a village that was at least five miles from the nearest railway station on the Saharanpur line. When we landed at the station, we were warmly greeted and welcomed by the brother of the bride, accompanied by his friends who had brought their bullock carts for the onward journey. We were served a refreshing cold drink, not one of the aerated drinks but a very special ‘thandai’, consisting of diluted milk with sugar and spiced with Shiv booti (extracted from the cannabis plant, which contained opium and opioids).
We, the special friends of the groom, were given the honour of occupying the best bullock cart, driven by the brother of the bride. The procession of carts started towards the village, on a dirt road. The journey was pleasant, though bumpy. Soon enough, the thandai kicked in and the latent competitive spirit of the cart owners took over, leading to a bullock cart race. Of course, it created an adrenaline charged atmosphere, with the occupants of the carts shouting and urging them to go faster, we all joined in with our full throat baritones. This created a dust storm which rose from the stomping of large hooves and wheels on the dusty track. Since we were in the best cart, we came first, thanks to the fastest and strongest bullocks. In our sheer enjoyment, we did not mind ingesting a pile of dust. When we disembarked, our faces, especially my mustache and hair and the beards of my companions were plastered with sand, so much so that we looked at each other and pointed, and laughed since we were unrecognizable.
Though we were all newly qualified suited-booted doctors, we all hailed from a rural background and found this state enjoyable. We wanted to wash up, for which we were taken to the village well, where two strong young men were deployed to pour buckets of water over us, while we donned our inner wear.

The village children followed us as though we were pied pipers or aliens. There were no cameras or mirrors, but we must have looked a sight, walking through the village streets, dripping wet, in nothing but our inner wear. The groom was given a covered area to bathe. When we were ready, we were taken to the bride’s home. Outside the main door, the groom in all his Rajput finery, complete with a sword, unsheathed his sword and touched the tip of it to the main door, indication that he had won the hand of the bride by virtue of his valor and bravery. The rituals and festivities wen on till mid-night, the return journey was a solemn affair, since the bride was with the groom now.

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