Taieri dairy farmers celebrated a wedding of one of their own in late December, but it was a world away in Palia Kalan, India.
Harjinder Singh Chander, 26, known as Harrie in New Zealand, married Pawandeep Kaur, 23.
Harrie is a Sikh and, as is tradition, his bride was decided for him.
“My mum chose her. She did well,” he said. The couple were engaged for a year and got to know each other talking on the phone and Skype most days.
When Harrie went to India for the wedding, she picked him up from the airport.
A nurse, she hopes to get a job at Dunedin Hospital in a few months when she has a visa to come and work in NZ.
Harrie’s employer Mark Adam, his wife Tracey and their three children Lilly, 14, Isaac, 12, and Krystal, 9, were among the 15 mostly dairy farmers from the Taieri who travelled to Harrie’s home town on the border with Nepal for the wedding.
Harrie has worked for Mark since spring 2012. He has a diploma in computer programming from India but worked mostly on kiwifruit farms after he came to Auckland in October 2010.
‘I had to go home, get a new passport and then a new visa. I was meant to back in late January after the wedding but it was early March when I finally got here again.’
Wanting to try dairying, he answered an ad and arrived in typical Otago spring weather just as calving was starting.
His parents farm 10 hectares in Palia Kalan, growing mostly sugar cane and his mum hand-milks three cows and a buffalo so he thought he knew a little about farming.
But milking Mark’s 320 crossbred cows in a herringbone dairy with automatic drafting proved very different.
“Mark has taught me everything,” he said.
The high rate of unemployment in India made him decide to leave and he’s still happy with the decision.
As well as tramping the Milford Track and playing cricket for Taieri (he now supports the Black Caps when they play India), he ran the Queenstown Marathon last year and is off soon to run the Hawke’s Bay half marathon in May, his travel sponsored by the Sikh community in Hastings.
Although a Sikh, Harrie has left some of his religion’s traditions behind. He doesn’t drink alcohol but now eats meat and he cut his hair the day he arrived in Auckland in 2010, something that caused a problem when coming back to NZ after the wedding.
“In my passport photo I’m wearing a turban and in Hong Kong they said that wasn’t my photo because my hair was cut so I couldn’t keep flying to New Zealand.
“I had to go home, get a new passport and then a new visa. I was meant to back in late January after the wedding but it was early March when I finally got here again. And I’d been using that passport for years.”
He prays weekly in the Sikh temple in Dunedin but also goes to the East Taieri Church with Mark and his family and helps out at the Henley Youth Group.
“It’s okay. Sikhs believe there is just one God.”
The wedding took three days, although some Sikh weddings can take up to six days, and ended with 800 people attending on the last day.
“We’re both from big families so there were a lot of people.”
It was the first time in seven years all of his family were together as Harrie has a cousin working in England and all of one of his uncles’ family lives in Italy.
Mark and the other guests from the Taieri dressed in traditional clothes for the ceremony after they decided on a quick shopping trip to the closest mall to Palia Kalan in Bareilly, 150km away. They were taken there by Harrie’s cousin and sister.
“Harrie’s family really looked after us well,” Mark said. “We did a lot of sightseeing as well and even played cricket with the locals. We managed to bring home some cheap cricket bats.”
Harrie hopes Pawandeep will enjoy living in New Zealand.
“She left home several years ago so she is used to living away from her parents and she has met lots of people from here now so that has been really good.
“And they have seen our culture as well so it all helps.”
He has returned to India every couple of years since shifting to NZ and hopes to keep it up so both he and Pawandeep can stay in touch with their families.
However at the moment, he is more interested in planning a honeymoon for when the cows are dried off and Pawandeep is living in NZ.