Sunday, December 25, 2005

Num(b) Bengaluru

Seeing that my brother was indeed treated very well by the Mallus, I decided to leave him in Kerala and move on with my life. His in-laws took him around temple to temple doing ‘Thulabharam’. Practice of giving offerings that equal your weight.

My brother being a staggering 110 kgs, had forced the in-laws to rethink their strategy. They put him on a diet and went from offering sugar in one temple to bananas in the next to cow dung in the end.

Pi and I went to Madras to my in-law’s place. I was looking forward to Madras- sleeping, meeting my friends, sleeping, shopping, sleeping, getting pampered my mom-in-law and getting a nice breather from my parents and of course sleeping.

My parents surely believed in-‘Spare the bahu and torture the child’

Let me explain. I just reached Madras and I got a call from daddykins, ‘Come to Bangalore ASAP.’ Fearing the worst, I was ready to cry. My dad continues, ‘Bride and groom are arriving and you have to be here to take their Arthi.’

What the heck?! What do they do in households without a sister? What about the million aunties in Bangalore? Do you even know I will have to come back to Madras tomorrow for my visa appointment?

Hmpf! I took the next flight to Bangalore all the time thinking if this flight met with an accident, my dad will repent. It was the costliest Arthi ever and my brother gave a measly 100 rupees for this. He doesn’t get a penny from my will. Also I was thinking of suing him for the post wedding trauma (not to be confused with the mental troubles that I already had before going to his wedding).

Some background about the festivities in Bangalore and how I got tortured so far- I passed up on a weekend of fun in London with Pi and friends to be home early helping out with wedding preparations.

When I landed in Bangalore in the wee hours of the day, my mom had decided to have a ‘Sumangali Puja’ in preparation for the wedding. It’s a puja where we commemorate the women who conked off before their husbands. That’s kinda auspicious in our culture. (Pi is so encouraging that he wants to see me in that honorable list soon)

So in this Sumagali Puja, a bunch of women whose hubbies are still alive are made to do certain things… like not have breakfast till the puja is done. I was dying! Jetlagged and hungry, I wasn’t the happiest Sumangali around. To think some moms pamper their home-bound kids with yummy food when they arrive! bah! I must have snuck into my room and had a dozen of those yucky Sugar-free chocolates I bought for my dad.

The house was swarming with people, mostly related to me in some way only the holy family-tree knows. The lunch was really late to arrive. “Saar, Banerghatta traffic saar,’ was the excuse from the catering service. Some of my relatives had already fainted and were wondering how I managed to survive. I smiled a sugar-free smile.

Then they asked me to go sleep seeing my blood red eyes and droopy (but sugar-free) smile . It was 3 pm then. I walked into the obvious place to sleep, the bedroom…it was invaded by 10 random aunts discussing something animatedly. ‘Come dear, sleep here’ they said..shifting their butts a little so that I had a 2X3 area to squeeze in. I tried sleeping, but was bombarded with questions like, ‘When are you taking me to the US?’ ‘What did you get for me?’ I think it would have been ultra rude to let her know that I seriously didn’t recognize who she was.

I decided to try the other bedroom. By Jolly Jove, this place was far more noisy. All the kids were jumping around fighting and video games were being played without ‘mute’ and my other cousin was fast asleep oblivious to the sounds. Some talent, that! Even though she lives in Bangalore, she is in the same time zone as I am (at least till now). She works for a call center in Dell and whenever I get to see her, she is sleeping. At least she doesn't feel the need to screw her sleep patterns because of certain cousins who land up from far away lands. We can catch up on MSN when I get to the US.

Maybe I should try the terrace. I took the mat and a few pillows and marched upto the terrace. Found a shady location under the huge mango tree and tried to sleep. It was blissful till I realized(a few droppings later) that I was sleeping under the neighborhood crow’s bathroom.

It was 11 pm and I still hadn't found a place to lie down after having tried the storage room, bathroom, broom closet and verandah. I longed for my seat in the economy class of British Airways.

Next day at 5 am was the Nandi function when I was ready to trade my life for some sleep. THIS WASN'T EVEN MY WEDDING!!!!

‘Yaaaawwn…(might as well sleep now and compensate for my next India trip.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Snippets & Snappets

At Mannapara, someone came up to my brother and asked, 'Sir, when do you prefer lens?'

A little confused and convinced that his inlaws were testing his power of sight, he said, 'hah! I rarely depend on lens.'

'Not good for you. You must have lens.'


Luckily for my bro, his bride walked by and told the guy, 'We will join you all for lunch now.'

Monday, December 19, 2005


Bride is all ours now to torment. *wringing hands with glee* We’ll take her home and make her cook at 5 am in the morning in kerosene stove and grab all that gold and stove it away in our lockers. Then my mom will ask her to sweep and swab the house and I will ride my Kinetic on the floors and she will have to start all over again. Of course, all this while she will have to be in her saree. *hehehe* Note to self: Buy kerosene stove and hide servant maid.

My lovely thoughts were interrupted by my brother’s panic attack, “Guess what, I will have to go to the Mallu people’s family home in the village and spend the first night there!!! They being matriarchal and all. Could you and Pi stay with me and see to it that they treat me well?”

‘What?! Do you have to get pregnant too?’


‘What about dowry? Shall I bring my check book just in case they push you in a kerosene stove?’ I was worried.

My dad obviously wasn’t concerned about my brother’s safety. All he could brood about was his family name getting wiped out completely. Any assurance that my brother wasn’t going change his maiden name didn’t seem to comfort him.

Pi was kicking himself for not marrying a Mallu. ‘I could have been inheriting property from both sides! And all that gold too.’

Pi and I stayed over with the brother’s Mallu in-laws in a pretty village called Mannapara. Rolling rice fields, huge ancestral house, lovely temple, great food (couldn’t recognize any of it), sweetest people, great hospitality… time went by quickly and gaps were bridged as if they didn’t even exist.

My mom talking in Tamil with a Mallu accent thinking they understood, was amusing. The weird part was they did understand.

Ammuma (the solid granny who controls everyone and everything in that house..every Mallu family has an Ammuma who is equally strong) wanted to know why I don’t have kids yet.

Bride’s mom asked me if I light the lamps for God everyday. I said ‘No’. Audible gasp from the audience, but she was quick to add,’ But you have a good heart. You did the Katrina relief thing and all. That is great.’

‘Easy for you to say, aunty. You are not my mom or mom-in-law.’

‘You are just like my daughter and I will bug you to light lamps everyday.’
Yikes! This bridging gap thing was uncalled for, seriously!

Pi was treated like God had himself descended in Mannapara. ‘I leve benana jibs.’

And lo, one fella was dispatched in a jiffy and there was 6 kgs of banana chips for him to nibble through the afternoon.

‘Pi cheta, there are a dozen more packets in your room for you to take home.’

‘Wow, Scooty!’ Pi crooned looking a normal Scooty which has become a novelty to us NRIs. The Scooty was handed over to Pi to whiz around in the fields till his heart burst. He was thrilled.

So was I, as we entered the ancestral home. A 400 year old ettukattu tharavaad, complete with furniture of the yore. Ammuma’s cradle, a dresser with tilting mirrors and ornate carvings. Teakwood doors that were 10 inches thick. Dark wooden pillars that could probably fetch thousands. Ladles, brass vessels, lamps, grandpa chair… this house was very grandiose with its 40 rooms. I was glad I got to see something like this so intimately.
I loved this system where they protected and cared for their women. *sigh*

Wait till you come to our house, girly!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Wedding Itself

Everyone’s heard about Nair weddings that last for five minutes only as opposed to Brahmin weddings that could go on till the couple is in their fifth month of pregnancy.

My parents were shell shocked at this prospect. ‘What?! Just five minutes? What about Mapilai alapu, Kasi-Yatra, Oonjal, Nalangu and the works? Why even have a wedding? You guys go and get yourselves registered in some place in the US and let us know if you feel like. It is so stressful that there is nothing going on.’

I was happy that the time I spend in my sari would be less than the time spent draping it. Being ‘paiyenda chechi’ (groom’s sister), I had not much of a role other than hanging out and smiling at the camera man. Pi felt like he got a real good deal in proving his worthiness as a son-in-law. Taking care of arrangements and running around had been cut ten-fold in this case.

My relatives were hanging around to have some fun and talk about the wedding that they almost missed while they were busy blinking.

On the D-hour, the groom’s side paraded from the hotel to the temple courtyard area where there is a mandap (stage) At the muhurtham (auspicious time previously set for wedding) the groom and his family (consisting of me) is ushered on the stage by a priest. The girl’s party is late to arrive by 10 minutes. So we wait as smoke started wafting out of my dad's ears. We see a huge glittering article moving towards the stage and are later to find that it is the bride (after we put on our sun glasses). If I went around asking my forty relatives to donate their gold for me to wear, the bride would have beaten me hollow. All those necklaces weighing down on you could have made Dara Singh neck less. Conclusion: Mallu women have strong neck.

So she arrives looking radiant, beautiful and all the mandatory bride adjectives. Just as she is being ushered on to the stage…some conch noise gets the priest all excited. He prohibits her from coming up and asks us all (except the groom) to get off the stage. Pandemonium ensues and it is gathered that the Lord’s doors have been closed for some offering and will open in 45 minutes. Only after that, can the wedding take place.

‘See ma, the Mallu wedding is lasting for more than 5 minutes. You were unnecessarily worried,” I tried. My mom couldn't see the humor.

My dad's ears were lit by a full blown fire now. Relatives reminded my raging dad every minute about the impending Rahu-Kalam. The time when nothing good should happen. Most of the good that is not happening in South India is because of this Rahu Kalam. People don’t embark on journeys, babies don’t get fed, children don’t write exams, shopkeepers don’t open their shops, films don’t get released during Rahu Kalam. To add to this, there is a whole month where nothing good happens. At least we have an excuse for the sad state of affairs.

Aah, I was talking about the wedding. Since everyone was suddenly jobless, they start looking for things to complain about. My granny tells me to go tell the bride to wear a bindi. I see a huge humungous bindi on bride's forehead from a distance of 50 feet and relay my findings to granny. Granny nods; but this is just the beginning of the bindi harassments to come. Note to self: Take her to eye clinic.

My mama complains it's too hot and I helpfully suggest removal of sweater. My kid cousins are bored and they don't hide the feeling. We play a game. Who ever guesses the correct number of gold bangles the bride is wearing will get an extra apalam during lunch. Ok fine, icecream.

So as Rahu was approaching, my brother was standing alone on the stage with his love-handles exposed to public during the whole time. He had managed to cover the unsightly protrutions in the front with his angavastram (cloth worn on top for purposes such as these- the priest needed to be reminded of that. In my brother's case, it could be used to wipe the drool too.). Pi's concern was that if the groom is jilted now, does he have to stand there forever?

Overheard my cousin having this conversation with the groom.

‘Gosh, you’ll have a tough time taking off all that jewelry in the night.’ *wink wink*

My brother is quick to reply, ‘Why bother taking them off?’

Aiyyo Bhagawane! What all I am hearing… that too in the temple premises.

Finally, Lord’s door opens and He is ready to bless the couple. Girl climbs on stage, we follow, tulasi garlands are exchanged, mangalsutra is tied, a lamp is circled three times and it’s done.

Next couple moves up. Before the camera guy could wind up, he managed to cover footage of the next three weddings performed in the same mandap by the same priest.

‘Great! Now can we eat?’ asks Pi.

A wedding to remember

I didn’t think I would live to claim that any other undertaking would be more challenging and hectic than the New Orleans trip. Just in a matter of months, I can certainly ascertain that my trip to India was far more taxing.

My baby brother got married to his Mallu mehbooba with all the fireworks leftover from Diwali. Being the first inter-caste marriage in my family, my brother had the pleasure of seeing a side of my parents that was cleverly hidden for so long.

My dad played the role of disgruntled hero’s dad to the tee. ‘Rahu-kalam is approaching…obviously we can’t make them (Mallu people) understand the nuances of our Brahmin culture, but at least they can be aware of time! What excuse do they have to be late to the ceremony when their women don’t even plait their hair? See, these are the problems that we will continue to face. Such grave times these are.’ *stomping and pacing*

My mom went from bouts of motherly love to a feeling of being betrayed. If she heard some Iyer in a far away temple reciting hymns, it would send a new set of tears streaming down her cheeks, ‘I was not gifted enough to see my son getting married in the Iyer style’. A girl draped in pure Kanchivaram silk would get my mom screaming in agony, ‘God only knows what these Malayalis are thinking when they wear a widow’s sari for their wedding. Mundu it seems’. *more tears*

One day, I went to the bathroom for a second and I heard some major screaming and shouting. When I came out, my brother was packing his bags to leave to God-knows-where. My granny was begging for him to stay back belting out movie dialogues, ‘What will everyone say if you are not present for your own wedding?’

I couldn’t help, but applaud at my granny's clear thought process and profound conclusion. I think my brother saw logic too and decided to stay back. Thank God he did coz he had packed up some of my clothes and perfumes too in a frenzy.

So my valiant brother fought all odds (including a terrible cold) to secure the bride of his choice. ‘You fall in love; you will be made to repent’- is the motto my family takes very seriously.

Somehow in spite of the somber atmosphere at home (there was more merry making among the Katrina victims, I tell you), all the relatives (I mean all of them) got together to attend my brother’s wedding in God’s own country, Kerala. Forty of them came in all shapes and sizes from all parts of the country to see what a Mallu wedding looks like. My brother still maintains that they came to see the temples, since the wedding was held at Guruvayur (home of the famous Krishna temple).

He’s probably got a point especially since my mom woke me up at an ungodly hour of 3 am. “Mom! The wedding is at least 6 hours from now. I am still jet lagged (excuse one can use for a month after the said flight). Good night!’

She dragged me out of bed, with no consideration, ‘We are going for the Lord’s darshan.’

‘What?! Do you think even He has woken up yet? Let Him sleep na. Didn’t you just go to the temple last night? You must be tired. Come mommy, let’s sleep.’ I tried hugging her.

‘Shee, don’t touch me, unpure creature. Go have a bath and here is your sari. You can’t wear salwars or pants inside this temple. We have to get as many darshans as we can. Why else did we come here from so far away?’

‘Er... brother’s wedding could be taken as one reason no?’ I asked, slightly awake at this point.

‘Stop arguing and get ready.’

So I was whisked, sari and all, to this ‘demble’ that never slept. An hour and a half of waiting in a queue to get a glimpse of the Lord for a second and a half. This even beat the Thirupati record by a whole second. If the forty relatives of mine had slept decently instead of standing in the line in front of me, I would have been done faster. After being dragged and shoved, pushed and prodded, I asked the Lord for one thing, ‘O Krishna, O exalted Guruvayur appen, please allow the donning of pants/salwars in this temple as we don’t want another Draupadi’s episode repeating itself. With the crazy sari prices, you'll find it hard to replenish saris.’