Thursday, October 15, 2009


No, I am not talking of my own wedding (first, and only) here.

I mean the first wedding I have any distinct memories of.

It was my Didibhai's (cousin-sister) wedding, and I was all of seven, innocent-child-on-the-brink-of-precocious-giggly-girlhood.

The marriage was an 'arranged' one, in the traditional Indian fashion, but my Jethun (uncle - the bride's father) was not too conservative, and so, the groom selected was not a Brahmin like us, but from a different (supposedly lower) caste. Caste has always been a complete non-issue with me, but many regarded Jethun's decision as a bold and unconventional.

But for us, the groom hardly mattered. We were more caught up in the preparations made for the bride and by the bride.

The daily ubtan (scrub-cleaner) of milk and turmeric, which magically gave her dark complexion an amazing caramel glow.

The endless rounds of trousseau shopping - the blue-silver tanchoi benarasi (heavily embroidered North Indian silk saree), the yellow-maroon kanjeevaram (heavy South Indian silk saree), the tangails (Bengal handloom cotton sarees), and the piece de resistance - the dazzling red-and-gold Benarasi that Didibhai would wear to the wedding.

The careful but lavish purchase of gold ornaments - the patterns chosen so that the necklaces and bangles would cover her entire neck and arms ("gaa jeno bhara bhara dekhaye").

The more reckless spending on cosmetics, after endless debates as to matching shades and such like. Lakme was the company of choice, there being no L'oreal on the horizon in the 1980s.

The painstaking paisley alpana (designs) that Didia (my other cousin, Didibhai's sister) did on the two piris (low wooden stools) where the bride and the groom would sit while the priest performed the marriage rituals. Gold and red paisleys for the bride, black and silver for the groom - those lowly piris were proof of the detailed preparations made for the wedding.

The excitement over the tatvo (the display of the gifts sent to members of the groom's family and gifts given to the bride). Each tray was lovingly and uniquely decorated. Sarees were tortured out of shape to construct fantastic flora and fauna. And it was quite a disappointment to see that the groom's family had made no such effort - they had only cellotaped their gifts for us on to the trays. But perhaps their tamper-free sarees were easier to wear than the ones we gave - all creased and crumpled from being forcefully shaped like a peacock's tail!

The debates and detailing of the guest list and the subsequent selection of the design for the wedding card. And when the invitation cards came, I did my first postive work for the wedding (till then, I had been a very passive if passionately-eager witness of the ongoing bustle). I was deputed to put the auspicious sindoor-halud (red and yellow) mark on the envelopes.

The planning of the menu, the hiring of the marriage hall (it was a huge three-storey school building which they rented out for weddings - in the mornings, we played on the grounds, there were swings and slides and a huge expanse of green grass), the arrival of many of our relations, the gradual countdown to the...


I remember the self-absorbed excitement of wearing a saree for the first time on a social occasion - it was an old maroon heavy silk saree belonging to my aunt, and it was so sturdily wrapped around me that I could barely walk. And the unfamiliar lipstick on my mouth made me so self-conscious that I could barely talk.

But the lights and the food and the hoichoi (excitement) and the novelty of everybody getting all decked-up and happy and shiny-faced made me also bubble over.

I remember my Bhai, all of three, too young to get excited or to understand fully, falling asleep in the middle of the ceremonies. Maa took him to an empty room where he could sleep comfortably, but he woke up after some time and, seeing nobody around, got extremely annoyed and came running down the stairs in his chaddies (underpants) crying loudly for my mother and disrupting the priest's ritual intonation of the mantras.

I remember Didibhai fainting during the bidaai (bride's leave-taking of her maternal home) and how Kartickda (her husband) joked later that she pretended to faint because she was embarrassed at not being able to cry.

I remember realising then that weddings were salt as well as sweet.