Friday, July 29, 2011

The TAM-BRAHM wedding

Selected as BlogAdda's Tangy Tuesday pick, August 2nd 2011(click here to know more)

I hate attending marriages. I find them the most painfully boring way to spend your time and the only reason, I assume, for most people to grace these “occasions” is because they were coerced (or threatened). My parents have given up asking me to attend marriage functions and somewhere, I believe, they feel my pain.

So when Dharani, my friend from UK, informed that she would be coming down to Chennai to attend the marriage of her cousin, I could sense danger. My mind is designed to be on the auto pilot mode at such times and involuntarily it started digging into its gargantuan repository of excuses. However, it turned out that Mayank, another friend from school, whom I haven’t met for ages was coming along too and so, for the sake of friendship, I had to do the inevitable. Drama!

In Tamil Nadu, like in most of India, caste plays a major role in society. At the top of the hierarchy is the Tamil Brahman/Brahmin and they are the most revered of the lot. They are thought to be conservative, educated, good looking, egoistic and serve the best “pure” vegetarian food at their weddings. The conservative = boring equation was the major deterrent but it was defeated by the “best food” (so what it was vegetarian) and the friends factor.

So when I was invited to the “Sri Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal” (the venue), I gulped and hoped that food was served early.
The caricature at the wedding

I was met with a pleasant surprise at the entrance, where I saw a caricature(see pic) of the married couple in their traditional attire zooming away on a bike which I thought was “Oh so cool”. I later found out that it was made by the bride.

I met my friends and almost immediately we were engrossed deep in conversation. I totally forgot about the marriage I was dreading. On the occasional glance towards the stage, I saw a  familiar sight, one which I have witnessed through the ages. A heavily “decorated” bride stood beside the “suited up” groom (so what if it’s a Chennai summer), starving and sweating it out, forcing a constant smile while a spotlight enough to light up a basketball court was aimed directly at their face. Like this was not enough, the entire ordeal was recorded by still and motion cameras in an almost sadistic manner.    

This agony would continue till the hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of guests slowly walk up the stage, wish them well, give the gift (which they probably received at some other function), adjust the Saree a thousand times before finally clicking a picture and heading off the stage.

Our constant jabbering was interrupted by a sudden murmur in the hall. Was dinner served? No. It turned out that the “torture session” had ended and the groom had the microphone in his hand. This usually never happens because, unlike shown in the movies, the Indian groom is almost as shy as the bride, if not more. The groom got a guitar and started singing for the audience. It was followed up by a well rehearsed and choreographed dance performed by the cousins of the couple to popular foot tapping Hindi and Tamil Numbers and ended with a romantic duet by the couple themselves to the song, “pehla nasha”, which got the audience clapping and hooting; with a few jaws dropping too.

Wait a second? Wasn’t this supposed to be the most conservative of conservative marriages, almost like the apogee of conservativeness? Whatever happened to the whole “couples should not meet before the marriage or the heavens will fall” ritual? Here, they were actually performing an Indianised, Bollywood version of a fairly romantic ball dance which I’m quite sure they didn’t rehearse over Skype. After the initial shock, I was beginning to enjoy myself and this was nothing like I expected. I turned to my friends and told them, “Guys! This is actually fun”. That’s when I got to know that a lot of "traditional" marriages these days were getting innovative and enjoyable (how long was I in hibernation?).

After the dose of entertainment, it was time for what I was looking forward to the most – the food. This was as traditional as it could get: long rows of tables with chairs only on one side, set in such a way so as to discourage any social interaction and in turn ensuring one gives their entire undivided attention to the considerable number of delicacies strewn on a coconut leaf being served by men, each of whom is referred to by the name of the item they are serving. 

Standard conversation at the scene (translated):

Man serving Sambar asking the man serving rice: "Dai, whare is Rasam Da?"
Rice man replying: "He was with Vadai sometime back. Ask payasam. Maybe he would know".

At the end of it, you don’t even get time to sit and relish your meal as there would already be someone pulling your chair from behind, giving you a not so subtle hint that you need to get your ass off the chair ASAP.

With the traditional tambrahm elaisaapadu (Banana leaf food)

 Satisfied and full, we went back to the main hall for our next shock. We were informed that there was a DJ waiting and that the floor at “Sri Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal” would soon be open for a dance party. DJs at Punjabi weddings are almost a norm but at a Tamil Brahmin wedding was unthinkable. There just seemed to be no end to the surprises. The super traditional marriage hall whose walls were scattered with pictures of Gods, Goddesses and Gurus at every conceivable free space was going to turn into a nightclub?

Initially, the DJ got a lukewarm response with only a few deciding to take to the floor, mostly the cousins of the couple who performed initially. Honestly, it wasn't a real surprise as the audience didn't really comprise of people you associate with dancing and DJs, perhaps a Carnatic music concert. Boy, was I wrong. Things started changing in a matter of a few tracks as the DJ switched from “Jumma chumma de de” to “Bachna ae haseeno”. Dharani decided to leave us and join the rest at the dance floor while Mayank and I just stood shocked.

A bit of cajoling and pursuing did the trick and soon the dance floor was brimming with people of all age groups. All hell broke loose when the Sheilas started getting jawaan and the Munnis badnaam. Yes, all this and more at the Sri Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal. It soon went international when Akon’s hit number, Sexy bitch’s cleaner version, sexy chic (thankfully, otherwise it would have been too much too take) started playing and it went on and on as my friend and I gaped and gawked like fools. Never in my life before have I seen so many jasmine embellished heads dancing to David Guetta and the likes.

As the DJ announced the last song, the crowd booed and pleaded for an encore like at any popular nightclub. Young, old, conservative – doesn’t matter; the universal fact is that everybody enjoys having a good time. I’m not sure if this particular TAM BRAHM marriage reflects a trend but I had a ball of a time. Right from the caricature at the beginning to the DJ at the end, my expectations couldn’t have been more off the mark. This is one of the very few marriages, I don’t repent attending.