Friday, September 10, 2010


The Tam-Brahm wedding will have to wait- partly because it's a formidable package to fit into a single blog post. And partly because I have just attended another wedding this weekend. And too many weddings are a fast-track for your funeral. So as a short breather let us look into another frame.

The 'Offer' phenomenon is a product of of modern retail which has successfully harnessed the inherent human something-for-nothing instinct, better known as 'greed'. The words 'Sale', 'Discount' and most importantly 'Free' are sparkling lures to bait willing wallets.We would probably even accept steaming barrels of toxic waste if it came free. "It might come in handy at some point of time..." we reason, as reason flies out the window.

The Freebie Fetish was drilled into me during a shopping expedition into the savage territories of Big Bazaar. One of the hazards of getting a single room is that there is a lot of expenditure on infrastructure and no one to delegate work to. And thus I found myself marooned in a vast retail jungle hunting for curtains, dustbins, wash-cloths, bottles, cups and the like. And needless to say I amassed a bill that could support the primary education of three children in the LFC convent. While I struggled under the weight of the receipt, valiantly holding back my tears at the looming financial crisis, the billing attendant magnanimously declared "You get 1kg sugar free!" Please consider that at that point of time I had had enough of Big Bazaar and all it entailed. All I wanted was to nurse my sorrows in a comfortable horizontal position. Mumbling an incoherent mutter I headed towards the exit. "Madam! 1kg sugar, Madam!FREE!" he yelled, seeing that I wasn't heading towards the freebie center. "FREE!" he repeated rolling his eyes in consternation that I was actually saying no to a free item.

Let me make my case. What was I going to do with 1kg sugar, free or otherwise. I didn't have any cooking facilities and lived in a hostel. What was I supposed to do with 1kg sugar?? But in the face of the billing-guy's desperate exhortations I wavered. "Hmm.. it's free.. and I just might need it.. and it's FREE... it's FREE...FREE" Logic blurred. I heard myself say, "Where can I pick it up." The guy gave a relieved smile, the world was right again. "The Customer Service Centre."

Finding the Customer Service is a task in itself. And it becomes herculean when you are lugging three shopping bags at least 2kgs each. I went all the way to the third floor only to be told it's in the first floor. And since the escalators were too full, the ramps were the only way down. A trundling descent later the customer service center was located- at the end of a queue as long as the Nile. Reason reasserted itself.'Go back home you twat! It's not as if you have nothing better to do! You don't even need the sugar!'The mental-slap revived my flagging intellect and turned my feet purposefully toward the nearest exit. Self-flagellating under my breath I handed the billet to the security and prepared to stomp my way back to hostel when a voice stopped me. " Amma, 1kg free sugar." The guard had taken it upon himself to actually do his job and check my bill and could not believe that I would let a free deal pass by un-reaped. Once again I tried to explain that I really didn't want the sugar. And yet again my protestations fell on deaf ears. In fact the guard was so astonished at my disinterest that he called another of his bretheren to augment his case. "It's free Amma. It's Free. FREE..."

I believe I suffered a black out because the next minute I found myself at the end of the never-ending line of freebie-grabbers. An hour later with aching feet and screaming shoulders I shuffled up to the front of the counter to get the godforsaken sugar. But the universe conspired to make me pay for my greed. The only packet they had at the counter had a hole in it. Another half an hour wait ensued in which I endured the glowers and glares of other customers and learnt several varieties of swear words. Finally sugar-laden I escaped to freedom only to realise that the sun had set and consequently the autos were refusing to stop. The end of the day saw me paying double to get back and encumbered by an extra packet of sugar with no place to keep it. Ah the humanity! But such is life- even the free must be earned. Even if it leaves you feeling dumb. And in all fairness the sugar isn't a waste! I bought coffee and milk to go with it and a nice dabba to keep it in and...
I bow my head in utmost defeat.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Wedding Chronicles 2: Pre-Wedding and Post-Wedding Stress

Disclaimer: Long Post dead ahead

The Wedding is supposed to be one of the most important days of your life. Probably because it takes off several years out of your life in the process. The Wedding Day is the culmination of several mini-madnesses. While the locus of all the Wedding madness is the bride and groom, they are greatly exempted from the background drama. The minor characters have the responsibility of bringing together the various aspects of the giant chaos called The Wedding.

It begins with the Inviter-Invitee tussle, kicked off by the Invites. The design of the invite takes on as much importance as the blueprints for the newest space-shuttle. Prototypes are selected and rejected. Blood pressures ping pong off the walls and stress levels hit the roof. The family is driven to the brink of insanity, haunted by the memory of the nasty comments they had hurled at other invites and are spurred on to avoid a similar fate. Just when the design gets finalised, the extended family decides to give their 'constructive criticism', successfully destroying any previously established consensus. And when the invites are finally decided there comes the task of actual invitation. Armed with packets of murkus and laddoos (chips and jalebi is another favorite combination) the inviters trudge along to do their dreary duty. The Murphy's Law of Wedding invitations states that regardless of how hard you try to remember everyone, you will always end up forgetting someone. And that someone is most often the most cantankerous kin in the fold. The appeasement process is penance for all the sins you might have committed in your past life.(Come to think of it, the Wedding as a whole is like that.) Finally, when everyone has been more or less mollified, the process of clothes shopping is initiated.

The Shopping Saga is an epic tale in itself. And it is a painstaking process not just for the females. In fact it easier for us women because we have the advantage of choice. Men have it harder because there simply isn't enough variety. There are only so many decent borders for mundus or colours for kurtas. And one must remember that in the drama that is the Wedding, everything is a topic of gossip. Insignificant details like where the bride/groom's clothes were bought, how the sari bought for aunty A is the same colour as aunty B's, how cousin X's dress was not of the same quality as cousin Y's, uncle P's mundu has more kasavu that uncle Q's- become hot news and are discussed at length. In the course of the Wedding there is always going to be at least one member of the family bursting into tears for reasons that barely brush against reason. As you can see, drama is an integral part of The Great Indian Wedding. Another caucus race is the process of housing all the migrating family members. Unknown aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins of cousins, the friends of said cousins etc. congregate for the wedding relying on the family for domicile. And Dubai uncle and family cannot sleep without an AC, Madras Aunty must have dinner at 6:30 because she is diabetic, crusty Calicut uncle wants his dinner piping hot even if he comes late, Bangalore cousin has an army of brats that need to be baby-sat and Delhi grand-uncle wants fresh milk in the middle of the night. Suddenly the unpredictable bouts of crying make a lot of sense. But all this is worth it- After all, they are all here to celebrate the joining of two individuals in a hopefully life-long relationship.

Speaking of the two individuals, the wedding preps guarantee that the couple do not get an undisturbed moment together. If it's not aunts barging in to feed them sweets then it's uncles cracking dirty jokes with complementary whacks on the back or other parts of the anatomy. And then of course there are the annoying cousins who have a habit of walking in at exactly the wrong time with an unrepentant 'oops' and to drag either one of the parties in question for some interminable errand. It's enough to make the lucky couple want to elope to the nearest register office and get it over with. But then again I guess abstinence is good for the soul. Or perhaps they their eagle-eyed guardians detain them from making an escape. Either way, by the time the preparations end the couple are pretty much worn out and decide there is no point in resistance.

The wedding itself is, as previously discussed, madness. The lunacy of this program is underscored by the fact that the female members are necessarily dressed in saris/dressy salwar kameezes or churidars and most often are shod in high-heels. Between all the thalam carrying, the errand-running and engaging in the general obstacle race that is a wedding, your lower limbs begin to hate you, your feet decide that you are the devil and your toes will never be the same again. Besides this physical pain there is also mental trauma. One is constantly waylaid by unknown kin who demand that you recognise them. It does not matter that you only saw thrice when you were still in your diapers. It is a curious trait that the regular attendees of the weddings circuit always remember each other. This feat of memory is accomplished by keeping track of wardrobes. Observe the logic:"Oh yes she is XYZ, PQR's sister's husband's cousin's grand-aunt's neighbour. Remember? she was wearing the same red sari for LMN's wedding as well..."
The wedding arena is also the scene for the planning of prospective weddings as well.Single individuals within the age range of 19 to 30yrs are subjected to painful matchmaking. The popular "you're next" makes its rounds. The 'you're next'-at-funerals routine fails miserably because most of these spiritually inclined matrimony.moms (and dads too, mind you) will only smilingly reply, "And then we shall bless you from above" It is enough to drive one to distraction. Thankfully they are easily distracted by the story of a distant cousin who got divorced or another one who refuses to marry.

And of course, the great Sadhya discussions. Every minute detail ranging from the degree of green-ness of the banana leaf on which the food is served to the over sweetness of the perfect payasam comes under the microscope and God help you if there is a shortage. A Mallu wedding, as discussed earlier, revolves around the food. Considering this, one would think that eating wouldn't be too difficult a task to manage. But for the close members of the Family getting a taste of the Sadhya is a formidable goal. For one thing, there is the general edict that you get to eat only after the guests. But then again the human body is programmed to handle only so much hunger. The Murphy's Law of lunch eaters states that even if you spent the entire afternoon waiting around, it is only when you put the first morsel of food in your mouth that they call you for the family photo. The photo session itself is fraught with pitfalls. Someone is always left out, or someone else is convinced that the photographer deliberately clicked when they were in their least flattering avatars. And once the album comes out, an unending stream of shrieks and humphs follow in the wake of every leaf turned. The photos are always an entire skeleton of contention.Be that as it may, the one thing one must always remember about Indian weddings- and the South Indian Wedding in particular- is that everyone is too full to hold a grudge. "So what if I look like a zombie in that pic," muses aunty M "at least I look better than Aunty N! Orange?? What was she thinking?!" And aunty N thinks " Ah Orange was always my colour. But what is wrong with M? I think she forgot her medication..." And then their thoughts blend as they sigh in unison ".. let's get some betel leaf and head home." And this is where everyone heaves out a sigh of relief.This does not apply to immediate family of course. They are most likely scrambling to get the harassed bride into her nth sari and matching accessories while simultaneously organising the welcome ceremony back home. The mobile phone is a wonderful thing.

The sun finally sets on the Wedding day and the bride and groom are ushered into their private scented chamber- where they probably sleep like the dead considering how exhausted the wedding left them. And the other players in the drama exit stage wherever to get some of their own much needed rest. The rest, as they say, is history.

Next up- the Tam-Brahm wedding.