Hyderabad, India. We're guests at an extended family member's wedding. Belief in nazur (evil eye) -- instigated by envy -- is strong in these parts. To protect auspicious events, rites are conducted or else donations are made to the poor, to nullify the nazur. A small example: just before Babs's sister and I set out for the evening in our pretty saris, the wizened old housekeeper where we were staying, took a cast-iron pan and fanned us in long downward strokes and tapped the pan on the ground while we faced North, South, East then West. She was chanting the whole time -- I guess to extract nazur vibes and banish them into the ground.
To nix any potential nazur cast on the wedding couple, the groom's family bought a goat. Come the end of the wedding ceremony, the goat was to be hoisted and circled in front of the wedding couple in a ferris-wheel like motion. The evil-infused goat was then to be taken to the butcher and killed, and its meat distributed to the poor. (How poor do you have to be to be happy to eat accursed meat, I wonder?)
'Twas roundabout midnight when we bade farewell to the sacrificial goat in the banquet hall parking lot. I can't even make up what happened after.
At some point between midnight and 2.30am someone notices that the goat has gone missing. Panic ensues. The groom's family's driver sets out on foot to hunt down the goat.
He scurries here and there, and comes across a cluster of shanty huts. He describes the goat, and asks if they've seen it wandering around. They all say no.
Except a rather loud and incriminating "mmmmmm..e..hhhhhhh" sounds from one of the huts. (I suppose the goat was distinctly unimpressed.) The driver barges in, and whaddaya know, there's the goat, tied up, with its unmistakeable band of blue dye across its head between its ears.
Some kind of argument ensues. The driver manages to take the goat back to the banquet hall. He ties it to a car, and instructs his son to guard it with his life.
2.30am. The family photo shoot is finally done, and it's time for the nazur ceremony. The goat is trotted over to the wedding couple. Family members by now are exhausted. And perhaps too generous about their goat donation -- after a series of attempts, it seems no one in the family is able to lift the goat, let alone whirl it around the couple.
A decision is made, then announced to whoever's left at the banquet hall. Whoever can lift the goat to do the nazur ceremony can keep the goat.
The driver of the hired wedding Mercedes steps forward. He lifts the goat. The ceremony is conducted. Huzzah! Mr Mercedes pops his reward into the boot, the wedding couple into the car, then leads the wedding convoy to the local fancy hotel for the night.
Now, since Mumbai got attacked by terrorists in November 2008, fancy hotels have all ramped up security in a big way. This hotel, in particular, demands that all incoming cars pop their hoods and boots for inspection.
Mr Mercedes tells the security guard "I have nothing in my boot, but I cannot open it."
This doesn't go down well, as you might imagine. A back-and-forth ensues. And escalates. Until finally the security guard grabs the car keys from Mr Mercedes to open the boot himself.
The goat -- doomed to begin with, kidnapped once already, then used as a cosmic sponge for evil, then transported in a car like a kidnap victim all over again -- is by now somewhere between panicked as shit and mad as hell and lunges at the security guard. The guard apparently shrieks like a girl and falls over backwards. Wedding party reinforcements stop guffawing just enough to wrestle boot and booty back down. The rest of the convoy is waved through because the security guard doesn't want to know what might be lurking in the other cars.
The groom got a telling-off from his father the next day. Not because the goat got nicked. Not because of nearly botched ceremony. Not because of the late night palava with hotel security. What really, really got the father's goat, was the groom sleeping so late that he missed the hotel's complimentary buffet breakfast. Then ordered room service.