Coming to think of it, it’s been ages since I’ve attended a wedding. But I do know that there is a general ‘bollywoodisation’ of the event. Even the generally quiet and sombre South Indian wedding, has been modified to include the mehandi, the sangeet and other fun ceremonies that I don’t know about. Thankfully, the fathers and uncles have not (yet) started to dance in their thiruman and veshtis! The last tamil wedding I attended was a couple of years ago. It was only then that I realized the role of the ubiquitous vadyaar (priest) has expanded along with the waistline – the vadyaar not only sets the wedding date, but he’s turned into the wedding planner too! He can take care of the cooks, the flower fellows, the volga and damte fellows – the works.
That reminded me of the weddings I’d attended as a child. I remember the hysterical excitement I felt when a wedding was announced. For one, I would miss school. Secondly, it meant unfettered freedom from parental control – I could whoop and scream and monkey around to my heart’s content. As a norm, the excitement in the ‘wedding family’ peaked six months before the actual date. Sisters and brothers were consulted, chores distributed. I remember sitting on Amma’s lap as a puny 6-year-old while such discussions were in progress. I would be busy with some scary-ass drawings, but all the while listening to the cacophony. It always started with ‘how the boy is related to the girl’s family’ and ‘how he was found’. Invariably, in the close knit Iyengar community (those days), the boy would be someone’s someone’s something on the girl’s father’s side (or mother’s side). If the boy was employed in central government, then it was nirvana – no one could ever lift a finger against the choice. Then the conversation would veer to the cook. So-and-so wastes a lot of oil. So-and-so siphons off coconuts meant for the tambula. Finally, after a lot of debate and lot of votes, the cook would be zeroed upon. One of the elderly gents would then take off to track down this specimen of a cook and book him. Looking back, the dirtier the cook and his team, the more ‘experienced’ they were considered; and when I say dirty, I only mean the degree to which the veshti has yellowed, and of course the number of stains on it!
I think I had two silk pavades which had three or four folds hemmed into them. With every incremental increase in height, one fold would be ‘un-hemmed’. The pavades were reserved for the wedding muhurtha and vara puje. For the reception, it would generally be a hideous, frilly frock bought on instalment from T.D.Shah angadi on Malleswaram Sampige Road. Later on, thanks to Disco Dancer and other gems, the frocks went out of fashion and we were into ‘midi maxis’.
For one such relative’s wedding that was to take place in Malleswaram, my home became the eye of a tornado – it brought in sweeping storms of aunties, all talking simultaneously in different pitches – shrill, but different. Usually a late riser on holidays, I was literally dragged out of bed early in the morning – I had to take the dreaded ‘oil head bath’ – to look smart for the vara puje to be held that evening. One aunt told my mom not to use seege pudi because the hair becomes rough. Aah! I thought I had escaped. But the aunt had another remedy in mind. She made my mom prepare some gloop using methi leaves and antvalada kayi (I don’t know the English equivalent). The gloop looked like the bile-puke from Exorcist. They smeared this horrible thing on my head. Of course, the hair becomes absolutely soft and lustrous. And it did not sting the eye. But imagine the humiliation of sitting with that stuff on your head for two hours. My sister was a crawling pumpkin of a baby at that time – and she was cooing away happily as everyone cuddled her while I sat in misery. I was so cross that I wanted to pinch her butt! There! After three decades, that’s off my chest now. But the situation was remedied by providing me with Tintin from the library and a couple of kodubales; and non-violent thoughts returned.
We were supposed to head to the kalyana mandapa by six. By four, the coffee rounds had been done; the men had finished their siestas while sitting on the aluminium chairs, oblivious to the thunderous noise around them. The women had started combing the hair and comparing length and thickness of the plaits. Then everyone changed into their kanchivarams, still yelling and laughing. Someone had discovered something called as ‘lip gloss’. It was passed around. Almost everyone was a fan of vicco turmeric, and the house smelt of turmeric and sandalwood. Ponds and Emami powder was slapped on the face liberally. Kajal was smeared on and in the eyes. The end of a comb was smeared with some more kajal and this was used as a ‘pencil’ to draw out the line at the corner of the eyes – giving the Sharmila Tagore look. Not to such a pronounced extent, yet, visible. As a finishing touch, jasmine strands were passed around. With a final tuck here and there, the ladies were ready for the wedding!
Gifts were never a big deal. Almost everyone shoved in fifty-one or hundred and one rupees in a crumpled envelope and gave that as a gift. Or, we would go to the steel shop and find some fancy tray, and have our names inscribed on that. Most came with wall clocks, or Ganesha idols.
The photographer and his assistant were some local boys. I remember one Chitrakar studio on 10th cross Malleswaram. This team was quite popular. Now and then they captured only hands and legs, but by and large, they captured most of the events quite well. Their studio, the size of a match box, had Hema Malini and Rekha welcoming us. Hema Malini as Dream Girl and Rekha as Umrao Jaan. For a long time I thought the ladies were actually photographed in Chitrakar studio.
The biggest attraction to me was always the balloon fellow standing at the entrance of all wedding choultries. I had some bizarre liking for the coloured plastic sunshades that was sold by this person. Every wedding that I’ve attended as a kid, I have made my parents buy me a pair of garish sunshades and a balloon with sand inside it (so when one shakes it, there’s a horrible scratching noise).
Of course, as I grew up, attending weddings became a pain in the ass. Those days, we were all openly racist and did not think twice about discrimination based on colour. It’s only now that we hide these qualities behind politeness. So yeah, there were vexed debates about my dusky complexion. The way some of the old hags used to stare at me, you’d think I’ll have to make do with a one-eyed man with webbed feet as a husband, because I am dark. Finally I found the perfect remedy. It always helps to make an imperfection as perfect as possible. I complimented my dusky complexion with a crew cut. In some cultures, I would be labelled as ‘chic’. So for one relative’s wedding, I blazed in like a punk version of Indra Gandhi – short spiky hair teamed with a kanchivaram. The old hags shied and neighed like horses whose rumps have been whipped. And I was never ever bothered by them again. I went back to enjoying weddings!
So! Who is getting married next? Just let me know the date and place – will be there!
© Sumana Khan - 2011