Being a Woman
Reams of newsprint have been spent on the Big Fat Indian Wedding. What about the Small Cosy Indian Wedding that happens in the majority of households and that are no less interesting. I come from Kerala in South India where our weddings are not very elaborate but the fun, frolic and inherent confusion are as abundant as anywhere else. Unfortunately the poor bride and groom seem to have the most boring roles in a wedding. Not only do they have to look suitably solemn for the occasion but they also cannot indulge in any of the background revelry 🙂
Weddings in our family are like mini soap operas with a little bit of every kind of emotion thrown in. Whenever I think of family weddings a collage of moments comes to mind – a ton of relatives with uncles, aunts and assorted cousins of all shapes and sizes; copious amounts of food; parents making merry and catching up on all the gossip, kids running wild without too much interference, and animated discussions on the most varied subjects and on which everyone insists on giving their opinions ! The anticipation starts right from the time the wedding was fixed. Lengthy telephone conversations happened between all the major players viz the aunts and uncles of the couple and each aspect was thrashed out to the last detail. Then followed the elaborate process of issuing invitations and also shopping.
In my childhood, relatives would start descending days before the wedding and the houses of the bride and groom would be overflowing. The kitchen was the most happening place with a bevy of aunts holding court. I enjoyed curling up on their laps and listening to the interesting tidbits of information and advice being doled out. Kids ran all around and through the house with stopovers at the kitchen for fuelling. In the midst of conversations, mothers hardly noticed sneaky hands making away with food. Teenage cousins, reveling in the freedom of the moment laughed and whispered excitedly. The gathering of men was more boring since politics was usually the main topic of discussion. I’ve never felt any sense of chauvinism here because the women were so happy to be left to themselves. Well-wishers drifted in and out of the house and the kitchen spewed out endless cups of tea and snacks. The children delighted in ambushing these trays and making off with the snacks 🙂 Any child who landed up that evening, even if it was for the first time was quickly assimilated in the group. There were no barriers, and now when I think about it, those were essential lessons of social interaction.
Of course the parents of the couple would quietly be going crazy in the background ! Organising any event involving so many different characters who insist on voicing strong opinions is not for the faint hearted. I’ve often felt that one of the criteria for selecting Indian Ambassadors to foreign nations should be conducting a son’s or daughter’s wedding. The tact and diplomacy required for the smooth conduct of such affairs is mind-boggling.
Another favorite memory is of bedtime when any available flat surface was in great demand to be used as a bed. The dining table was the most sought after since it was directly under the fan, the only drawback being that the kitchen had to cease functioning before the space could be occupied. The paucity of pillows also saw us stealthily filching pillows of the unwary few who slept early. In spite of all the physical discomforts that may have been there, I remember feeling a beautiful feeling of love and belonging that used to fill me and I felt cherished.
The day of the wedding started in the wee hours with the intoxicating aroma of coffee wafting in the crisp cool air. There was a rush for bathrooms and the earlier you were, the more undisturbed the bath and more the chances of getting towels and soaps . Tiny tots were generally herded in and out in groups. Hapless uncles trying to enjoy their morning cuppa at leisure were hounded by strict aunties who had to finish the washing up before they themselves got into their finery. Dressing up was such fun and there were a few cousins greatly in demand due to their competence in draping the sari beautifully. Parents dressed the kids first and threatened them with dire consequences if they dared dirty their attire.
The parents of the bride and groom were total wrecks by this time. I’ve seen an aunt frown so ferociously that her bindi kept falling off her forehead ! There are so many things that do not go according to plan. The flower garlands that had to be exchanged between the bride and groom, went missing for a cousin’s wedding. The car in which it was carefully stored had departed for unknown locations with the said garlands still in the boot. I still don’t know how they solved it since none of the flower shops were open that early, but the garlands were at hand at the time of the ceremony. Yet another cousin had to wait to go to the mandap since her father who had to hold her hand and lead her went missing. A bit of pandemonium ensued until the poor gentleman was located outside where he was busy welcoming some guests who had arrived late. There are so many of these stories which have become a part of the weft and weave of our family anecdotes.
The evening of the wedding saw a weary group of relatives in various stages of repose. I always associate the smell of wilted jasmine and lemons with the aftermath of weddings. Mostly everyone had a lemon in their hand which would be handed over to a young aunt for making juice. But in spite of the weariness, there would be a detailed postmortem of the event which occurred. The sadya was always the prime topic and usually every single person had a different opinion. Then would come the discussion on which relative was absent on that day. Suddeny someone would remember the names of an elderly aunt or uncle who was omitted accidentally from being invited.
I personally hated the post-wedding spell since everybody would be packing their bags to return home. The only consolation was that as long as there are young cousins, nieces and nephews around, there would surely be another wedding in the pipeline to look forward to 🙂