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I don’t know why but I remembered a wedding story that Appa always narrates and we end up cracking up hysterically.
Now this was 1977or thereabouts. I don’t remember the principal character. But let me use a generic Iyengar name – Seshadri. Seshadri was a dashing young man, all of 23-24. He worked along with Appa and my maternal uncle in Bangalore. With a B.A. degree and a job in a government undertaking, Seshadri was the most eligible bachelor in the Karnataka Iyengar community.
It looked like even in those days Seshadri had a rebellious streak. Seshadri might have had a body that resembled a beedi (according to Uncle), but he was extremely fastidious when it came to keeping up with current fashion trends. Bell-bottoms, shirts with huge geometric designs and collars that resembled the wings of a Boeing 777; and of course shoes with heels to make up for his short height. Seshadri had even tried to grow side-locks a la Elvis, but he had crossed the line this time as a Sri Vaishnava. His strict father and uncles had put their foot down made him ‘come back to line’ – absolutely no facial hair was the rule.
Anyway, Seshadri’s wedding was ‘settled’. The wedding was to take place in the bride’s hometown, Mysore. Seshadri was generally happy, but mildly angered by the fact that he won’t be allowed to wear ‘cooling glass’ during the ceremony – he wanted to look maadren on the most important day of his life. Apart from that skirmish, the wedding preparations had proceeded extremely well.
Appa travelled to Mysore on the varapooje day. The wedding hall was close to the bus station I believe – perhaps 15-20 minutes by tonga. It was a regular wedding hall – I mean it was just that. A big cement-tiled hall with two rooms – one for the bride, and one for the groom. Separate toilets for ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ were situated at the rear of the property, outside the hall but within the compound. A huge cement thotti served as a water storage tank.
The varapooje itself was a success. Many elders had nodded with satisfaction – they had noted that the bride resembled a young B. Sarojadevi. Rumour had it that the bride also played the veena with aplomb. But more importantly, the bride’s family had given the groom a fat gold ring and a HMT watch.
The ceremony was done, and everyone settled down for the night after a hearty dinner. The bride of course slept in her own room accompanied by her mother and a few elderly ladies. The rest of the congregation slept on the massive jamkhaanas (a colourful cloth mat) spread in the hall. The muhurtha for the wedding was after 10 AM – so there was not much tension. Or so they thought.
The next day, there was a frantic movement of the elders hither and thither. My uncle, a man of action, caught hold of one such oscillating elder and wringed out the news. Seshadri was missing. Now, once Uncle got involved in anything, he usually took charge. “Don’t create panic here. Come out!” he commanded. So a group of elders congregated outside the wedding hall to discuss the harrowing situation.
Now, there had been an invasion of mosquitoes the previous night: the result was that everyone had red, itching spots. So the Case Of Missing Groom was dissected with some vigorous scratching of hands and legs. Ultimately Appa and Uncle, being close friends of Seshadri, were recruited for the role of offender profiling. So both of them thought, “If I were Seshadri, where would I go?” and set out for the search and retrieve mission.
Seshadri was a coffee addict so Appa and Uncle naturally stopped at the nearby hotels. Then they expanded the search to as far as Devraj Urs road, barging into every open hotel yelling, “Seshadri! Seshadri!”
Then Uncle got it into his head that Seshadri, the fashion freak, may have snuck into he-who-must- not-be-named’s salon. It was considered ill omen to even utter the word ‘barber’ just before a good occasion such as a wedding. This being the case, it was too radical even to think that someone would actually go for a hair cut on such an auspicious day. In fact Appa said, “I don’t think he will do something so drastic.” But Uncle sagely observed the stress of the wedding might have driven Seshadri overboard. “As it is, he is a madcap,” Uncle surmised thoughtfully. (I believe the exact Kannada phrase used was “heLi keLi thikkal nan maga avanu”).
By then it was nearing 8:30 in the morning and the two profilers decided to return to the wedding hall and seek reinforcements. They needed more people to go and check in the bus station and railway station. Much to their joy they saw the slippery groom saunter towards the wedding hall from the opposite direction. His gait was lazy and he waved at them cheerfully, completely unaware of the panic situation.
As soon as he entered the threshold, all the elders pounced on him like hyenas. “Where were you, you monkey-face?” his father thundered.
“The mosquitoes here were horrible,” replied our groom, scratching his back viciously. “It was like sleeping in swamp in Kakana Kote forest.” Poor Seshadri was so distraught because of the vampire mosquitoes that he rented a room in a lodge next door at 3:00AM.
There was stunned silence on hearing this. The risk this silly boy had taken...che! Stepping out of the wedding venue on the night before the wedding was a dangerous thing. Had Seshadri not heard about evil netherworld beings such as yakshas and yakshinis and even pishachies who go around specifically looking for fresh would-be grooms and brides? There was much berating of the young generation's lack of respect for our traditions and culture (sounds familiar?). Eventually, Seshadri went for his traditional oil bath.
Just when things had fallen into place, someone yelled the favourite Mysore Iyengar curse, “I’ll rip you apart and drape you across the doorway as a thorana!” (shiginj thornu kattudre paathkyo!)
As usual Appa and Uncle reached the scene of crime first. Seshadri’s father, who had been controlling his anger at his son’s lackadaisical attitude, had finally exploded. He had asked Seshadri to get ready quickly so that they can help wrap Seshadri’s panche in kachche style. But instead of combing his hair, Seshadri was caught scratching his legs with the comb, thus wasting precious time. Upon seeing this spectacle, Seshadri’s father nearly had a conniption. The soothing voice of Uncle eased things and Seshadri was literally gift-wrapped in the kachche.
As a final touch-up, the all important Sri Charanu (tilak) had to be drawn on Seshadri’s forehead. One of the elders was assigned this task. The Sri Charanu was to be drawn using a thin silver stick dipped in a kumkum solution. Now this silver stick had been gifted by the bride’s side and was as sharp as a needle.
“Stop squirming!” the bespectacled elder commanded Seshadri as the latter tried to reach an itchy spot on his back. “This is very sharp, if you shake this will become raktha tilaku instead of Sri Charanu.” But the gentleman’s thick glasses resulted in parallax error and apparently the tilaku started near Seshadri’s left eyebrow.
At once a Council Of Elders gathered to remedy the situation. The tilaku was erased – but the kumkum was some chemical combination and it would not go off very easily. So some castor oil was rubbed on Seshadri’s forehead. It now looked like he had a bruised forehead. But there was no time, the priest was already calling. So another elder attempted to draw out the Sri Charanu.
This gentleman was quick and steady I believe. But not many were happy with the starting point of the tilaku.
“It is very high on the forehead,” one of Council Of Elders observed critically, “it should start right at the bridge of the nose.”
“His nose is like a potato – he has no bridge,” the artist had taken offence.
“Just extend it a bit, it is his marriage, why the carelessness?” the first elder queried and this ensued an argument.
“I’ll do one thing!” yelled the artist, “I will draw the tilaku from his hotte (belly button)!”
“Why are you behaving like Durvaasa?”
And so on and so forth the fight went on, while Seshadri sat quietly scratching his back and stomach.
The priest was restless. He had to start the proceedings. “What is taking so long? Are you people drawing a naama on his forehead or a map?” he shouted. That brought an end to the fight in the Council Of Elders. Seshadri’s nose was indeed globe-like, and it was difficult to extend the starting point. But it was managed, albeit a bit crookedly. It now looked like Seshadri had a throbbing vein on his forehead.
But there was no choice. Poor Seshadri sat on the hasemaNe looking thunderous and the wedding went on smoothly.
I guess they lived happily ever after!
© Sumana Khan - 2012