Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wedding Hooplas Of Yore

Courtesy: http://www.myweddings.com/

I was chatting with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. His daughter is going to tie the knot towards the end of the year, and his excitement was such that it managed to explode from the chat window! In fact, just the other day, I was browsing through a professional photographer’s website. She had showcased her coverage of several weddings. The photos were out of the world. I don’t know anything about photography, but I can say that the angles, the lighting, the moments – they all had been captured with the skill of Picasso no less. And I spotted a new trend too. ‘Out-door shoots’. The couples were installed in places bulging with natural scenic beauty, and some amazing photos had been taken. No, there were no naughty ones – just the pair gazing at each other, or staring away into the sunset – those kinds. I could not help but think of my own wedding. The Husband and I, never comfortable in any kind of limelight, were all fidgety and restless. And yes, we both look like something out of Terminator Salvation in all the photos.

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


  1. Attending weddings was, is and will always be a pain in the ass. Even my own, I'm sure. That is if I ever get married. Either ways, long, long way to go.

    So back to humour, eh? ;)
    Ashwin Raina out of your mind finally?

  2. Can't forget Ashwin Raina man! I felt a bit empty after I finished the story..LOL!

  3. Ha Ha. Good one. I remember such weddings. That is the way my mom would dress up too for a wedding. I wonder when that kajal line that used to be drawn next to the eye went out of fashion. I remember doing that too when i was very little like 6 or 7 since I always would copy my mom.

    I used to hate attending weddings too when I was a teenager. One horrible aunty would always pinch my cheeks and say "Swalka kappu adare paravagilla lakshanavaagidale". ugh! Translaton: a little dark but not bad looking. Hearing all these comments, even I had thought I would have had to marry one horrid looking guy.


  4. Gowri, thank you for stopping by! For me the observation would stop at 'swalpa kappu' LOL! This would usually be followed by 'sikkapatte sanna!'

    That kajal line...yeah..I used to do it too! From comb, I improvised to a match stick. I think it went out of fashion in the eighties, with the advent of eye-shadows.

  5. You could not be more right!

  6. An all round great article...

  7. This post couldnt be more precise..

  8. Antvalada kayi is shikakai (so says my Kannadiga senior!). Good work.

  9. Very well described! :) kaNNige edge ge kappu apply maaDokke, especially eyetex, a small white plastic stick was provided. I enjoy everything about south indian weddings whether they are a single "hothu" one or the ones stretched over many days .. the hustle-bustle, the preparations, the endless discussions about the chatra to book, menus (especially baksha), which saris to wear for which occasion - varapuje ge ondu, varapuje aadmele ooTakke ondu, muhurthakke ondu, muhurtha aadmele ondu, reception ge ondu, beegara outhaNakke ondu..and so on, floral decorations, which gift to give whom, arishina+kum-kuma patna, puri-unde + chakli (Dunno why the ones distributed in weddings are so anaemic) & blouse-pieces for distribution, who will stand in the verandah at the reception counter to sprinkle rose water and offer roses tied with panneeru-yele to the guests, who is going to take up which task, who will stand behind the groom or bride to collect the gifts given (especially the envelopes filled with cash) :).. kids are usually maha-excited & feel very important if either the groom or bride talks to them or asks them to get some milk (badam milk only, nothing less!) or some water, as if the hero or heroine has finally noticed them :)... the elders are all usually decked up in their finery (some of them would even wear their own wedding sarees which would look oh-so exquisite) and occupy the front row all ready to shower their blessings on the new couple as well as whoever stops by to enquire about their well-being.. often times the 2nd generation would drag their unwilling and reluctant kids to meet & seek the blessings of these elders....some of these elders would talking so loudly as they would be hard of hearing with the blaring "vaalga & dhoLu" adding to the noise levels....and in some corners there would women gathered making eyes at each other & gossiping about someone or the other in the hall... in some others corners we would see a "gang" of cousins teasing one another and generally having a good time... and certainly one group of men would be invariably be holed up in a room somewhere in the 1st or 2nd floor of the wedding hall, playing "caards" with an unceasing supply of "straang kaapi" directly from the kitchen.... some infants would be crying their guts off due to the din or the heat or their new dresses or due to all of them, with their mothers making futile attempts to calm them.... the cooks and the men who would serve food all bare-chested (glistening with sweat) and dressed in thick checkered white towels which would have turned brown with constant smearing of ingredients..... and the delicious aromas of various sweets and savouries mingled with the heady fragrance of jasmine, sugandharaja and the various perfumes and that typically smell of silk saris.... and then the queue of guests to "dump" the gifts into the hands fo the bride or the groom, "fose" in attention for the photo all the while shielding their eyes against the glare of the video light..... reception andre innondu thara maja.... U. Srinivas du mandolin sangeetha haaki they add to the din....it seems to be a favourite amongst almost everyone for receptions... :) Oh!! Our South Indian weddings are an amazing treat for all the 5 senses by themselves, without the addition of the mehendi, sangeet, etc, etc. :) Sorry to take up so much space... :)

    1. ah 'eyetex'!! such a lovely comment...thanks for helping me relive a chatra :D