A Condensed Version Please!

I would hereby like to thank James Band and the Nadaswaram party for the sore throat they have gifted me with – One that reminds me of the thumping music at the wedding every waking moment. Any attempts at ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ sound like ‘Bray Bray Black ..’ almost a month after the proceedings.

The wedding hall was filled with people – small talk filled the halls, and James Band and the nadaswaram were playing at full pitch whenever they got the opportunity to perform. People had to shout to make themselves heard to the person sitting right next to them. One would have thought that the effort would have kept people quiet. But it takes sterner stuff to get South Indians to keep quiet. As the sound of the talk increased, the nadaswaram crew made the band sound louder. Apparently, the duty of the band was to drown out the cacophony or any unceremonious sound.

Fact: The band itself may be construed for cacophony was evidently not thought about when the tradition was “made”.

I have already mentioned about how the south indian wedding is high on the ritual factor – read, boring. Essentially, the average guest is left with the option of staring open mouthed at the wedding proceedings in Sanskrit, while the sastrigal & groom pound at the rituals. The groom mostly looks ready to flee given the slightest chance, while the priest is holding him back with an almost sadistic pleasure and gloats over the power he exercises over the couple.
It goes like this:

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Pour ghee into fire*

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Wash your fingers*

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Pour ghee into fire*

For 6 hours.
Not to mention the fierce fire we have going, in front of which the bride and groom sit. No fans are allowed for obvious reasons near the fire. Probably, that is the reason the groom sits with his chest bared and his transparent dhoti. But it beats me why the bride is seated near the same fire with the stuffiest of silks. These traditions had no mean point I tell you – either it was a bare-all or a wrap-all.

Malai Maatral
Description:The groom and bride, in those early days, were barely teenagers when they got married. The couple were carried by the maternal uncles to exchange garlands at one point. This was a chance for people to know who the maternal uncles were and the children probably enjoyed the break by throwing garlands at each other perched on their uncles shoulders.
Fact: This should probably be done away with, considering the couple is now in the prime of their youth, with glowing muscles and a couple of hours each day at the gym/dining table as the case may be, and the uncles are complaining more often about arthritis and moaning muscles themselves.

Description:The laddoo throwing is another part of the proceeedings that could be done away with. The purpose was originally intended to introduce the important lady-folk of the family. With 20 directly-related aunts and 35 indirectly-related aunts and 45 indirectly-direct-related aunts and 55 directly-indirect-related aunts, it was important to show who was who.
Fact: Now, this is no more than a laddoo squishing, bad bowling experience, not to mention the mess created by stamping one of the infernal things and spreading the joy.

Bullock-cart symbolism:
Sometime in the 6 hours on stage, one encounters a point when something like a stick is placed over the groom’s head and the bride’s head. What this symbolizes is this: just like a bullock cart can only be pulled when both the animals contribute equally, so too is marriage. Both the groom and the bride must shoulder their reponsibilities to carry on a smooth life.

The point being this: There are so many rituals, and non-stop chanting, that the symbolic ones, or the ones that bear meaning are either missed or glossed over. The “getti melam” could be used to identify the significant ones, if they didn’t keep asking for a getti melam every 2 minutes.

Kattu Saadam:
Those days, restaurants were rare and almost non-existent between villages, and carrying food for the journey was important.
Fact: No offense to the food really – but this tradition is an absolute must to be done away with. Who wants to eat dried up idlis when you can stop at Saravana Bhavan for a steaming meal instead?! Why can’t we wrap up the proceedings the previous day and get back to our lives?
Interesting aside:
We stopped for eating at a restaurant (since we needed to drink coffee and use the restrooms anyway!), and the younger generation was absolutely thrilled to find that in the melee of leaving, we had left the idlis & the rice behind – yippee! The fathers were privately happy too, but refrained from saying anything inappropriate, lest the mothers construed it as an offense to their own cooking! The looks thrown by the mothers to the children was clearly not one to mess with.

“What is wrong with idlis?” they demanded.
We chuckled saying – “Nothing, just glad they aren’t here!”

We tucked into naan, paneer curry and 8 different types of Dosas at a suave restaurant, and left quite happily.

After so many weddings, there wasn’t one person who was able to cogently explain the symbolism and meaning behind all the rituals. The ones who did attempt invariably love their voices too much and refuse to stop explaining! Soon, one’s curiosity to understand the proceedings is fast overtaken by an urge to strangle the person “explaining”. Finally, my mother told me to look it up on the Internet – which I did, and found a whole world of satirical writings on the South Indian Wedding. (But this link gave a brief explanation) http://www.sawnet.org/weddings/tamil_vedic.html

Since, each tradition has morphed into a status symbol, the unnecessary expenditure has increased manifold. If we were to tabulate the necessary vs unnecessary expenditure, the unnecessary far outweighs the necessary. 3 day weddings are the norm – even though it is not a village where the families use this as a chance to make merry for a week.

By the way, what do we say to the colleague who asked: “So, you guys exchange vows is it?!”

Happy New Year!

Gods, Animals and the Wedding

Chidambaram was cut off from the rains. The headlines for all of the previous week said nothing other than terrorist scares in airports and roads being washed off in the heavy rains. The venue of my brother’s wedding, Chidambaram, was marooned people said. It turns out that the roads leading to Chidambaram were little more than mud roads that were coated with tar. The rains washed the tar with them, and tiny bridges had disintegrated.

We found out around 2-3 days before the wedding that Chidambaram was accessible after all. Yet, the source of my brother’s apprehension had nothing to do with washed away roads, or the wedding itself.

He had been recently informed that his portraits were to be mounted in all prominent locations in Chidambaram. “WHAT? WHY?” my brother had demanded rather alarmingly, but he was brushed aside. This was to be grand wedding, and no embarrassment was to be spared! There were posters and billboards to spread his fame – replete with his degree, job title and office name. I can’t quite explain how much fun we had at his expense on this account.

He tried everything from growing a moustache in the last minute to pleading with his fiancee to take the billboards down. The moustache achieved little apart from making his nieces assume it was a fake moustache and making him look like a badger with cat’s whiskers.
And so, he was forced to shave and we arrived in Chidambaram bearing with us the man most wanted in the town by the looks of it. The billboards welcomed us all the way from the railway station. We helpfully pointed to the man in question everytime we stopped to ask somebody for directions while the groom squirmed in his pants!

The billboards were a little ghastly considering our family has never been anywhere close to fame. We revelled in the mundane and kept newspaper clippings in files accessible in the drawing room cabinets amidst a flurry of other papers, of the times when our names did appear in print. The less fortunate who blundered into the territory of how well the children of the house had done were treated to the frayed clippings along with a guided tour of the medals hanging in the showcase. But that was the extent of fame we had achieved. To see larger-than-life billboards with my brother’s photograph on it was a bit overwhelming. One thing I hadn’t noticed in earlier photographs was that the bride looked positively fat. Not that there was anything with being fat, just that I had had quite a hard time imagining her with the photographs and the various descriptions I’d received from everybody else – I was the only one in the family who had not seen her, and I was really eager to see her. When I did see her, there seemed a reel-real life disconnect on multiple levels. The photographs I had seen earlier looked nothing like the posters and the posters looked nothing like the bride in person.

I just had to reconcile the matter before I could immerse myself in the wedding. I mounted a mini investigation into the matter pronto. It turns out that the photographers of Chidambaram were quite bright. They had with them the latest tools of digital imaging and were waiting for an opportunity to showcase their talents. A perfect opportunity presented itself with the wedding posters. My sister-in-law had given a photograph in a salwar kameez. The photographer decided that the subject should have been dressed in a saree. Instead of taking the simplest route, namely asking for a photograph in saree, he morphed the image – he transplanted the face over the image of a person dressed in a saree. The saree clad woman’s image he had taken was on the larger side and resulting image was what had greeted me
in the streets of Chidambaram – and that my folks is the advantage of having folks with digital imaging tools in a town like Chidambaram.

Now that the photograph mystery had been laid to rest, I devoted myself to the remaining aspects of the event management. One thing that I really liked was that there was a poster at the local bus station manned with an information desk – all our relatives could find directions to the wedding venue as soon as they descended from their buses. An elephant was to garland the groom on his arrival. I was half expecting a band – except that the only available band in town apparently refused to be up in the wee hours of the morning. The groom’s nieces & nephew spent the entire 11 hour journey from our hometown to Chidambaram fantasizing about the elephant and the horse-drawn buggy that was to be used for the procession. The nieces confused the proceedings for a circus in their fertile minds, because
they asked if a clown would be available on the premises. I assured them there would – and what’s more, the clown would be their favourite Uncle. My brother wasn’t happy!

On arrival, they felt letdown when they were informed that it usually takes a week to bring an elephant from one of the nearby temples and because of the rains, this part of the proceedings had to be dropped.

Let me be frank – South Indian weddings are higher on the ritual factor than the fun factor. In fact, the grumpier elders frowned on any sort of merry-making. There was a solemn ceremony at a nearby temple. Every available God was petitioned to bless the couple in long-winding sanskrit phrases and at the end of the whole event in the small temple, everyone looked ready to cry. We were determined however to lighten up the mood as much as possible. The moment the horse-drawn buggy was available, we went crazy at my brother’s expense. To date, I have never seen a person look so embarrassed. He ascended the chariot looking extremely uncomfortable and tugged at his nieces and nephew for comfort. There was a band playing music. The music was even discernible once you cut out the noise. There was a jeep ahead with flashlights helpfully focussed on my brother, as though he needed any more attention in his life at the moment. To make matters worse, the traffic that was easing along were all
peeping through windows to take a good look at the subject. There were fireworks in front, and we were hoping that the firecrackers wouldn’t frighten the horses. I voiced my concerns regarding this to my brother on his perch in the chariot, and his embarrassment quickly mingled with an acute sense of foreboding. To add to his misery, the nieces and nephews on the chariot were egging the horses to go faster. It would have made a dashing sight to see my brother galloping along swiftly through the dense streets of Chidambaram, making the cows move aside in a hurry and have the elephant race the horses.

But none of that happened, that would have made things finish too quickly. The horses walked on slowly and the motorised chariot at the back was set to move at the slowest speed possible.

Because of, or in spite of the band, I had an overwhelming desire to dance. The band had christened themselves James Band and performed aboard a tram. The band sometimes confused melody with volume, and we found ourselves yelling over all the din to talk to the person right next to you. However, the band did its best to bring about a festive atmosphere. I started to dance with my husband, and discovered something. All people, old and young, the serious and frolicky, the men and women everybody had an urge to dance. The moment my husband and I abandoned all reservations and started jigging on the streets, hordes of relatives joined in. Our reasoning was that, no matter how badly we danced we can’t attract more attention to ourselves than the old bird atop the chariot with spotlights focussed on him and half a dozen brats for company! My mother, who was always a stickler for self-control herself swayed the crowds with her dance number and my father felt compelled to join in, once his sweetheart started dancing.

The only saving grace was that the entire camaraderie took place in a town where we were hitherto unknown. The preparations, the wedding atmosphere, the histrionics of the day before the wedding – something we will remember for a long time, and definitely not something we will let my brother forget in a tearing hurry!

The bride and groom were given the night to mull over the proceedings and prepare for the intense wedding ahead.

The maverick conforms!

I attended my brother’s wedding, and had a very good time. I have already been dubbed a black sheep by the rest of the extended family. While numerous maamis pointed out with displeasure that I was not following tradition, my close family was just glad to see that I didn’t pack a pair of jeans in my wedding wardrobe, and were absolutely thrilled when I wore some bangles! It is all about setting expectations.

The day I did wear a saree, dozens of people took it upon themselves to impress upon me the graceful look a saree alone can give. One particular aunt declared while pinching my stomach lovingly – “See! How beautiful and graceful a saree is? It is the most decent of attires too!”

Our traditional wedding attire is a 9 yards saree. If ever there was a more confusing manner in which to drape oneself with 9 yards of stuffy silk, please let me know. I would like to see it. My sister and I wore the whole 9 yards for the wedding. Our cries that the girl is the only one who should be in a wedding attire were obviously ill-founded because we found the gasp emanating while voicing such a sentiment the loudest of all. This gasp knew no economic nor educational barriers. So we relented. We dressed like road rollers and steamed about the wedding hall. It took us all of twenty minutes to traverse twenty feet because after every 3-4 steps, some lady would take it upon herself to “rectify” the saree. They would tug at the pletes near the legs, pull near the hip and clasp the saree near the shoulder. Within minutes of the proceedings, my sister’s saree had reached such a sorry state of affairs, that the only option open to her was to whisk my eldest aunt who was an expert at 9-yard-saree-tying to redo the effort.

Now for a bit of family background – my sister is the elder one between us. So, she gets to do the honours whenever a sister of the groom was called for. Since the 9 yard textile mill ream draped around her showed every indication of rolling itself back into a ream again in public, she went to the dressing room with my aunt. My brother, meanwhile, was looking quite harrassed during the proceedings and silently sent pleas for some company on the stage. I went up to the stage partly to give him company, and partly to save my own saree from the self certified 9-yard-saree-rectifiers. I must have looked quite happy chatting on the stage. Everytime I scanned the crowd from the pedestal, folks would mouth – “Where is your sister?” I would mouth something undecipherable and cock my head towards the dressing room. Immediately, they would shoot off like a bunch of rabbits. This got a bit boring after the 102nd time, and I decided to go the dressing room myself till my sister actually finished dressing.

I went in to find my great aunt looking very harrassed and upset. She was pushing past 90, and bustling around tying a 9-yard saree must have been an effort by itself. My sister and aunt immediately accosted me, and asked me how come the main event of the wedding was reached soo soon. The sister of the groom was mainly required for the 2 minute event when the groom ties the “thali” around the bride. The groom ties one knot, and the sister of the groom ties the remaining two. This event was usually preceded by an hour and a half of mantras and followed by another 2 hours. I explained to them that there were nowhere close to the thali event and my aunt could take her time and relax. Now remember, I mentioned all those people scuttling off like rabbits? All these people had taken it upon themselves to summon the sister of the groom. “Sister of the groom wanted!” they would announce loudly, and peek in to make sure things were going along smoothly. This had made my 90+ aunt extremely nervous and she was quite stressed that the wedding was being stalled because of the saree!

Finally, after half the folks had seen my sister standing like a passenger taken aside for checking at an airport terminal, with a 90 year old lady running around her, she was dressed and we ascended the stage together.

My mother glowed with pride – she had achieved the pinnacle of her dreams. Her maverick daughter had conformed! Her son’s wedding was a success.

“How does one use the restroom in this?” I asked.

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