Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Great Mallu Wedding

It seems to be wedding season everywhere. On Facebook, there are endless wedding albums being uploaded. In my GMail inbox, there are at least half a dozen wedding invites from batchmates and seniors. At least four people I know got married last week. So I decided that, even though I wouldn't be able to attend any of these weddings, I would not get left behind. And since I couldn't find anybody to marry me at such short notice, I had to be content with just attending a relative's wedding.

Now, I haven't had a particularly close relationship with weddings in my life. The last one I attended was six years ago - my class teacher's. It was my first Punju wedding, and I was completely scandalized by the fact that they actually served alcohol! I was also surprised that the guests were off having fun dancing and gossiping, while the poor bride sat obediently and listened to the pundit muttering the 'last rites'.

So for various reasons, the one I attended last week was my first Malayali wedding in over seven years. I dug up an old silk salwar-kameez (last worn at the teacher's wedding!) and tried to pretend that I was an old hand at such things. Unfortunately, the wedding proved to me how much of a fraud mallu I am, so I'll describe it from a complete outsider's point of view.

The first discovery of the day was that dressing up for weddings takes much longer than normal dressing up. So, post the usual late-ness related bickerings ("Hurry up! You're  making us late!" "Why did you hog the mirror for so long?" etc), we reached the hall just in time for the ceremony. Amma and I hurried into seats somewhere in the middle, while Achan hung back to talk to the relatives standing around outside. The hall was restless with the sound of voices, above which flowed the rather nasal wedding music. I looked around, and saw that the back of the hall was filled with men, while women occupied the seats in front. Wow - gender division even when a man and a woman were about to be united in holy matrimony!

Soon, the groom, clad in the traditional outfit of white shirt and mundu, climbed on the raised stage with his father. He greeted the audience with folded palms and did a couple of rounds of the pandal. He prayed to the Gods, represented by a tall lamp standing on the pandal, and sat down. Considering that it was the day of his wedding and that he was never going to enjoy the fruits of singledom ever again, he seemed remarkably jovial, talking and laughing with his family and friends. A buzzing crowd of videographers recorded his every move, with assistants shining bright golden light whenever required.

This was when I noticed that something was wrong. "Amme!" I hissed to my  mother. "He's not facing the audience!"

"I know," she whispered back. "Must be some design flaw. The bride and groom are supposed to face East - I guess the builders forgot that when they put the audience on this side."

After a while, the bride came onto the stage, her father leading her by the hand. She was wearing a red sari and about a hundred kilos of gold. Bangles to her elbow and necklaces to her waist, a belt of gold around her hips and more around her wrist. It seemed to me that she could barely move; her father had to drag her around the stage. First, she had to take the blessings of every family elder on the stage. Then she had to do a couple of rounds of the pandal. Finally, somehow, she landed up beside the groom.

And now the real wedding began. The music rose to a cresendo as the groom put the gold taali around the bride's neck. They exchanged flower garlands, even as I suppressed an insane urge to clap loudly. Then she stood up so that he could give her the kalyanapudava - the sari that the groom's family gives the bride at the wedding. And that was that - I do love how short the great mallu wedding is!

Of course, we couldn't see any of this. First of all, the pandal was sideways. Secondly, the view was blocked by the bevy of videographers. Apparently, these days you can't really see any wedding. You can just sit blindly in the audience while the bride and groom tie the knot under the lights of the camera.

Suddenly, I heard a tremendous roar from the back of the hall. I looked back, afraid that the ceiling of the hall was caving in. Indeed, I saw that all the men who had been seated at the back were now fleeing. But when I looked up, the ceiling seemed perfectly fine. Confused, I looked at the stage again. But no, the wedding wasn't over yet; the groom and the bride were performing some complicated maneuver around the pandal. So where were these people fleeing?

I craned my neck, and saw that an untidy queue had formed outside a smaller hall to the side of the building. Of course - the lunch! The main event of the day, even though it was barely eleven. They were running to eat at the first sitting without even waiting for the wedding to get over. Nice! Though the women seemed to be better behaved; only a few were leaving.

Next, it was time for me to meet all my long-forgotten relatives. They were all agog to see the girl they had last laid eyes on some ten-twelve years ago. "Ayyo, ente moley! You've become so short and thin!" seemed to be the universal cry. Eh, I wondered. How fat had I been as a child, if they were saying I was thin now? And how dare they call me short! I was a healthy five-five and a half, thank you very much! Anyway, all these women seemed to be at least one foot shorter than me, so I decided not to accept their opinions. It was probably the angle they were looking from.

After a while, their focus shifted from me to the bride and how much gold she had been wearing. So I quietly escaped in search of my father. I found him having a heated discussion about the recent elections with my grandfather and granduncle, both of whom had been grassroot soldiers of the Red Party in their days. "It serves them right," my grandfather was saying. "They needed it. The core believers, they've been turned away by the party. And without them, the party is nothing." To have a loyal worker like my grandfather say that - that shows you how low the party has fallen.

After a while, it was our turn to have lunch. I went in with some trepidation. I'd had a healthy breakfast in the morning, and it was barely eleven now. So the thought of eating so much food almost turned my stomach. But the sight of the green banana leaf, with the multi-coloured accompaniments already laid out, enervated me. A sadya is a sadya, no matter how full you are.

The rice came, thumbapoo choru, as the poetically inclined put it. First round was parippu - that's dal for all you Hindi-speakers. Second round was sambar; it arrived even before I'd finished the first round. And I'd barely finished that when the payasams came.  As far as I'm concerned, payasams are the best part of a sadya. Adapradhaman, paalpayasam, and some sort of sharkara-and-dal combination. There were two more after these, but I had to feebly wave the man away.

And so ended my first mallu wedding in seven years. Probably my last proper mallu wedding too, come to think of it. I've heard that the high society weddings in Kerala have become 'modern' - the groom wears a sherwani and the bride wears a lehenga. And the women wear shiny saris with thousands of gold sequins on them, instead of proper Kancheepuram silk saris. Other people ape the West. We are different - we ape the North.


And may I also use this opportunity to humbly congratulate Shr1k 'n' Sumana, XL seniors who got married last week. These two  make me jealous, but also give me hope. :)
• • •


naween said...

i think this was a roundabout way to write about the lunch [:P]

Static Variable said...

the part where the people desert the ceremony to catch seats for the lunch is one thing i really hate, and i see it at every hindu marriage. the christians have found a way though, they either serve lunch after the entire ceremony is over, or they don't have seats at all !! people stand and eat !

Jade said...

Naween: Hehe... Maybe it was the only part you read. :P

Static Variable: Christians have less people anyway, I believe. Much more disciplined that way!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Re the videographers deciding what we can see:
Attended a nikaahrecently and had very very minimal interference from the video-photo-grapher gang.
Even post-wedding maram chuttyphoto sessions were non existent.
Guess Mallu Hindu weddings should try aping these things from nikaahs instead of having the Northee Sherawanis and likes.


Jambavan said...

Nice description, the run for the food is just one to be seen. Its amazing how so many people are fighting to be in the first round of food served :).


Jade said...

Nikhil: My mum recently attended a wedding where there was a separate dugout in front of the pandal for the photographers. So that's a possibility, too.

Jambavan: A. Nice name. :) B. Well, yeah - it's the reason they come to the wedding, after all!

Hameeduddin said...

Awesome, as a child in lived for about 3 years in Chennai with our family friends who were Mallus too, and in that time I got to spend 3 summers in kozhikode, and attended about 6-7 of such weddings.

Right now reading this post I almost feel like i am in that old tharavadu house were we all...15 or cousins..getting ready to attend another cousin's wedding...

They were Muslim wedding though...but brilliant time...

And yeah, I totally get the running off to the lunch queue thing....especially when it is Biryani :)

Jade said...

Hameed: Nice! I have to confess that I've attended only one nikaah ever. Back when I was staying in Malappuram, a district bordering Kozhikode. I was only seven or eight at the time, but I can still taste the biriyani I had there! ;)

Ninja a.k.a. Talli said...

"These two make me jealous, but also give me hope."

I can't believe u r actually eager to get married! :-O :P

as for the buildings and stuff, wait till u come to bangalore!

Jade said...

Ninja1: I'm not talking about the marriage part, obviously! :)

About Bangalore - exactly! I don't want my Trivandrum to turn into another Bangalore!

mathew said...

talking of wedding i guess u have read the fun before that...check out this and the second part if you havent..http://poomanam.blogspot.com/2005/07/bride-seeing-part-i.html

mathew said...

forgot to mention...really enjoyed this post...makes me feel like wanting to attend one!;-)

N A R I YA L C H U T N E Y said...

Nice Post :). BTW this is the stage in life when you get a chnace to attand maximum weddings all across India especially if you have been to a B-School. Enjoy while it lasts!

Rajiv Mathew said...

Soopar post!

Jade said...

Matthew: Thanks for the comment and the link. Enjoyed the post. :)

NC: Oh yeah.. Very true! I've missed a few cuz I was in Kerala, but plan to catch up now. :)

Rajiv: Thanks! :)

Lux said...

Nice write up on the mallu wedding. You desribed a typical nair wedding . I love eating the sadya, it’s like being in a race….everything flashes in glimpse of an eye.

Btw, It’s not true that girls wear lehenga for hindu weddings, but for muslim weddings.

Jade said...

Lux: Heh. I liked that sadya-race metaphor! :D And apparently, even Hindu brides HAVE started wearing lehengas! :O