Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Southern Shaadi Shenanigans

In India, Shaadi or Wedding is a day of reckoning for the largely middle class and sparsely upper class communities. Indians plan their lives around this very day. Each and every decision they have ever taken in their lives is to make this once in a lifetime event a day to cherish.

In India, a marriage is a communion of two families rather than just the groom and the bride. A solid foundation to an ever lasting & fruitful relationship is laid by the two sides. Even in today's uber modern Indian society, people consider the happy approval of their respective parents, uncles, aunts, grannies, grandpas, nephews, nieces, some newly discovered far off relatives, second and third cousins as sacrosanct before considering the next big step i.e. to get into the marriage itself. This is an unwritten mandate for all marriages, irrespective of the fact that the boy and the girl have held discrete courting sessions either at college or at work or both.

In India, though it is fast changing, the trend is for 'arranged' marriages. It is still very much in vogue. It is a risky proposition for the incumbents as their haplessness knows no bounds. The whole process is quite amusing if you actually sit and ponder on it. You are part, (heck! not a part, you are the product) of a grand marketing strategy at work where experienced and skilled minds are in continuous brain storming sessions to come out with a proposal that is best for either side. Management gurus call it the 'win - win' approach of negotiating a deal!

You are so proud of your achievements at college and at work. Your peers and seniors openly laud your outspoken nature, your bold outlook and fast decision making capabilities. You are busy counting the feathers on your cap and suddenly when you are among marriage proposals, your feathers are all ruffled. All your hard earned skills and expertise are all of a sudden "Not Applicable"

Having gone through this whole process myself, I can assure you that when it comes to taking a decision concerning your own life, you have absolutely no choice! well not in the strictest sense, but our parents and relatives often carry the opinion that a kid straight out of college without a girl friend is a "Desparado" and nods his head in consent at the first sight of a prospective wife.

One often ends up puzzled when your hard thought decision about the "right" girl is mercilessly rejected by your elders. Where did I go wrong? Was it not a girl that I okayed? Am I right in the head cause everyone else seems to think in the opposite direction! You just do not say "OK" to the very first girl you come across!

In India, people put their trust in time. We invest our hopes in the constant movements of the Sun which moves time itself. The women folk especially, make the whole experience of selecting a wife all the more harrowing and complex. There are a certain number of criteria that the girl has to match before moving on to the next round. These are the contract prerequisites. Contract being the marriage itself. These covenants of the "bride qualification" process are handed down to Indian mothers from generation to generation. Even at the common deli or the flea market, an Indian woman spends an average of 30 minutes to buy a kilo of Okra and Lauki (Ladies finger and Bottle gaurd for the unfamiliar). This half an hour is invested in striking a most favourable deal i.e. to spend the least possible to gain the best commodity on display. Likewise, your moms and aunts believe in slowing down the process to hand you over the best "girl" on a platter. They are the unofficial business development officers who do a thorough market research and arrive at the right time to launch their most favourite product, U!

After coldly, rejecting half a dozen proposals (this applies to the boy also when the girl's family applies the same selection prerequisite) you finally zero in on your future wife. You are happy, your parents, uncles, aunts, grannies, grandpas, nephews, nieces, some newly discovered far off relatives, second and third cousins are all happy and lo presto! a decision is made ! The management has made the risk review, conducted the GO - NO GO gate review, discussed on the budget and finally issued the NTP (Notice to Proceed). 

Let me run you guys through the Tour de Marriage, beginning with the very first lap, the "Interview". Believe me guys, this Interview leaves the toughest of men shaking in their boots. I do not know if this ritual is restricted to South Indian households, but being a Southie myself, I have knowledge, ample enough to share on this subject. This ritual is actually a very civilised way of a show of strength and a battle of nerves. This is the original "Last man standing Wins" and the arena is either the boy's or the girl's place or at a neutral venue such as the neighbourhood restaurant. You are in for an array of preliminary questions framed by the girl's side. After dodging and tackling all of them, you are in for some home made treats (there is a standard for this too), you have the regular Upma, Sevai (Indian Noodles) a sweet and some spicy melange ('mixture' in the local tongue). Then, you have some cool aunties who crack some jokes to break some ice and the get the momentum up & running. The 'girl' is ushered in slowly and quite melodramatically by her mom, dad, sisters, friends etc and is formally introduced to you and your folks, who slowly start turning towards you to catch you blushing hopelessly.

You are on Bryan Adam's Cloud Number Nine (Sorry, but I like this Canadian Rocker) and you are imaginary - punch - fisting - in the air.

Somebody on the girl's side voluntarily discloses to everyone's surprise and bemusement that the incumbent is a trained carnatic singer. Surely, her high notes and deep understanding of the Ragas is bound to impress you.

You keep a straight face feigning an equally deep knowledge of the carnatic ragas and you start nodding your head in appreciation like that funny Raccoon (King Julien) in Madagascar!

After a volley of questions and answers and the much awaited private tete -  a - tete between the boy and girl (much of which is mired in silence and stupid smiles), your battalion leaves victorious. You have passed the interview with flying colours without having to say pretty much anything.

After both sides consult their respective "family astrologers" a date is set up for the Engagement ceremony. This is the familiar exchange of ring ceremony and it is that time of your life when you update your relationship status on your Facebook page from 'Single' to 'Engaged'. Usually, the date for the wedding is fixed during the engagement ceremony. This is followed by expeditions to the numerous outlets specialising in traditional Sarees specially designed for nuptial occasions. An entire lifetime's savings are mercilessly splurged on exotic silks embroidered with gold and silver. Then comes the over kill - jewellery for the ladies! There are the quick visits to the caterer who comes highly recommended by some uncle or aunt of yours. The menu for the big day has to be discussed and agreed upon mutually. After all, compromising on one's gastronomical delights is not part of the deal.

The humongous bills take the sheen out of your face and your bank balance but it is restored by the thought of a new life with your soul - mate.

Cut to D - day minus 1. Most middle class weddings in India are convened in a custom built marriage halls which sometimes have holding capacities of up to 2000 smiling relatives and friends. Brains are racked to recall names of all long lost and lorn relatives to invite them all to your personal life's biggest extravaganza! The Indian mind is the most enterprising of them all. South Indian parents plan the wedding reception a day before the actual wedding to ensure maximum utilisation of the wedding hall booked (one cannot let the previous night go idle when you are paying such an exorbitant price for it). For the first time in your life, you are the cynosure of all eyes and you bask in this moment of glory. You are dressed to kill and the hot topic of discussion. Where does he work? How much does he earn? Does he own a house? A car perhaps? Does he have an On - site opportunity in his company? so on and so forth. You being the groom 'arrive' fashionably late at the venue dressed in your best double breasted suit or the traditional Sherwani (both of which by the way would have costed you a fortune).

Me :) :) :)
You and your still - fiance - and soon to be - wife are literally in the spotlight, fixing a smile on the faces, shaking hands with hundreds of hands and posing patiently with dozens and dozens of families & friends. We are akin to the actor on stage who forever remains in character no matter how harsh the situation inside. We are sweating like pigs under the heavy bridal and bride groom make up, all thanks to the bright camera flash lights, the lack of ventilation and the CO2 piling up due to the constant nasal exercises of the hundreds of people that have gathered. The legs bear the brunt and are left a very tired pair at the end of this charade.

Wedding receptions provide the best opportunity to one and all to binge unabashedly on some really good food - all at somebody else's cost! It is also a God given occasion for the PYTs to show off their best costumes. It is an event to let your hair down and enjoy some good live music, to meet up with old friends and distant relatives. It is also the best place for mothers and fathers in the process of looking for a daughter / son in law for themselves. You see horoscopes exchanging wrinkled hands and photographs of the candidates going through an army of eyes.

D - Day: South Indian Weddings are always compulsorily convened in broad day light! It is for everyone to witness and behold without any ambiguity in mind. The day for the bride, groom and their inner circle starts very early. Traditionally dressed pandits chant out vedic hymns to invoke the holy spirits and the Almighty to sanctify the ceremony (Holy Matrimony). Both groom and bride are dressed in traditional wedding gear that includes a princely Mysore Peta, silk cloth over your shoulders and a silk dhoti for the groom and a heavy 9 yard Silk - gold embroidered saree for the bride with half a dozen kilo of jewellery from head to toe thrown in. The decked up bride is literally carried to the stage to join the waiting groom by her maternal uncles. After a series of mantras and some cheeky comments by the Pandit, comes the event which led to the term "Tying the Knot". The "Mangalsutra" which has been blessed by all elders is tied to the bride in 3 knots which symbolises love, trust and marital happiness.

The Ring Finding ceremony

One of the Acclimatisation ceremonies

The Dhaare ceremony (Kanya Daan)
The completion of this elaborate ceremony declares to the whole world that you are now a couple. Again, it is time to update your Face book status from 'engaged' to 'married'.

Since arranged marriages of yore did not provide much opportunity to the boy and girl to get familiar with each other, there were a lot of little games that were designed to thaw the freeze and acclimatize them to the institution of marriage. There is the well known exercise of finding the ring in a pot of milk, pouring rice on each other's heads, holding a fun betrothal for your future kids, feeding each other sweets. All this happens amidst constant giggling and gazes of your well wishers. It is a great day indeed and a day to remember your entire life.

Marriages are made in heaven they say. Man - Woman culminate to a uni - soul. No matter what circuitous route your fate makes you take, your destiny has already been established. Marriages in India are the greatest success stories and living evidences of how two strangers when brought together in this holy institution go on to become each other's best companions, confidants, guides and most importantly Soul mates in the spiritual sense. A happy marriage is a key to a healthy life and to an ever lasting peace of mind.

Marriage is a great place to be and I strongly recommend it once to everybody.

“Marriage is the golden ring in a chain whose beginning is a glance and whose ending is Eternity.”

- Kahlil Gibran

No comments:

Post a Comment