“The make-up is too dark, makes her look artificial”, said the bride’s aunt. “How many bangles are you wearing?”, said another aunt – counting the gold bangles assiduously without waiting for an answer – perhaps also making correlations tolas the bride is wearing. Another one buzzing in takes a look at the bride and adjusts her hair gives her another look and says – “that’s better!”, the magical touch? Lakshmi, the bride smiling appropriately through all this – finely subjecting herself to judgmental evaluations. “Where is the ‘boy’?” – mother of the bride piped anxiously – more a statement than a question. It is amusing, however old the groom is – he is termed a ‘boy’ for all the events around the wedding – and almost everybody at least a month older suddenly becomes the responsible elder. The small kalyanamandapam set in the temple town of Triprayar – Kerala was buzzing with anticipation. The reigning deity Shiva was consecrated by Sri Narayana Guru Swami a known social reformer from Kerala who worked tirelessly – with reasonable success - to abolish the caste system in South India.
Outside the bride’s room – with its uncomfortable temperatures – stood the multiple ‘marriageable’ cousins, all girls. The rest of the hall was occupied by clusters of men – dressed in white dhotis of various textures, demonstrating varying stages of restlessness. The cluster of cousins at the door of the kalyanamandapam was getting restless too. Most eyes were on the road eagerly awaiting the groom and his relatives. The ubiquitous autos were in waiting too - shaking their legs rhythmically to a tune in their head and half on their lips….
Some eyes noticed them and some recognized them – ‘ahem, look there’ – said the cheeky cousin to his cluster. All men turned and looked – the target of their attention - a young couple. The guy was dressed in a new but cheap shirt and a white cotton dhoti with brown border. The woman quite lanky, a couple of inches taller than the man, short hair – a string of jasmine flowers – loosely framing her hair. She was dressed in a settumundu (the traditional two piece kerala saree) simple cotton one with brown borders. Some of the men understood while some looked askance at those who did. One of them explained sagely, ‘This is ‘that’ kind of couple. Sree Narayan swamy established temples and kalyanamandapams to allow ‘these kinds’ of weddings to be formalized. They have eloped from home!!’
Meanwhile one amongst the crowd noticed 4-5 cars, turning into the courtyard from the road – ‘Here comes Shalin, wonder why he is late – the muhurtham is almost over……’ voices of concern and curiosity rose over the medley group. One of the elders self-appointed as the officiator of the ceremonies directed the young girls coming from within the mandapam with floral welcome and diyas. Quickly the groom was welcomed and ushered on to the stage. The priests were accommodating – they chose to concentrate on the main ceremony rather than bother with the frills. The taalikettu and the pheras happened in succession. The sindooramchartal (or maangbharna) was particularly memorable – as the groom suddenly had tears in his eyes – perhaps overwhelmed by the significance of the moment. His doting mother took out her handkerchief and thrust it into his hands. It was truly a poignant moment – with most guests deciding that Shalin is sensitive and this means he will take good care of Lakshmi. The relatives present showered their blessings on the bride and the groom symbolically by throwing rose petals.
As one gazed outside the window to the temple quadrangle – the curious wanton couple appeared again. This time with a stark tulsi leaves garland being held on to fastidiously in one hand, the other being entwined in each other’s clasp. The ‘girl’ was chatting excitedly to the ‘boy’ – the couple significant in their solitude – not that they noticed or cared. The priest came from within the sanctum sanctorum with blazing aarti, sandalwood paste and sindoor on a thali. Some mantras followed and the ‘boy’ tied a yellow string taali around the girls’ neck. She adjusted it herself, her now husband serving as a mirror and approver. Almost as if in haste or perhaps in complete abandonment they both turned and walked – the priest called them back and asked them to take a pradakshina of the deity. That evoked embarrassed laughter, mumbled apologies and due compliance.
The couple stepped into the courtyard found their way to where they had kept their footwears safely, behind a small rock! The ‘girl’ retrieved her floaters - a strange accessory with a traditional settumundu. The hangers on sniggled at the footwear – turned and joked ‘She will need it of course, she needs to run!’. The listener had to contribute back ‘the ‘boy’ is decent looking, wonder why he fell for this girl, she seems a lower background’ Sri Narayana Guru would have turned in his grave – ‘background’ being a metaphor for caste in respectable circles.
It was time for the bride to leave for her husband’s home. The car with Lakshmi and Shalin started cruising through the courtyard, with the cluster of relatives staying back, some wiping their tears while others craning their necks to catch the last glimpse. Lakshmi and Shalin were waving through the window and later the rear window panes. At the gate the other couple was departing too…….hands entwined, tulasi mala in their free hands a victorious spring in their feet – yes adorned in floaters. The white car reached the open gates and honked – the couple turned and looked in and their eyes visibly brightened. Although both the weddings were poles apart – there was a commonality – the love they felt, ‘we can change the world’ attitude and unmistakable strength springing from synergy. Lakshmi and Shalin waved to the couple who waved back and smiled – ‘We are with you’, they seemed to be saying. The swaying coconut trees and the temple bells celebrating the solidarity!
India today is in the cusp of transformation – where the caste and class differences do exist but it is fast acceding to the young a dynamic energy that promotes equity and magnanimity. Rabindranath Tagore’s dream for India fast becoming a reality -
……Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit……
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Priya Vasudevan @uniquePV
The author works on gender issues in society and organizations. Views expressed here are of the author.