The trouble with being ‘fair’ in a country like mine is that the comments about your-daughter-is-so-pretty-get-her-married start early on. To be honest, I was never the girl you looked at in stunned silence for minutes on end because you couldn’t take your eyes off of her, I’m just fair complexioned. So, when I dressed in a saree, put some kajal, wore one of my mother/aunt’s necklaces and smiled a lot at people at someone’s wedding, they all thought they magically acquired the impropriety to tell my mother that she should keep a close eye on me and find me a boy soon! I’d stand there smiling and contemplating the many ways in which I could prise their tongues out of their mouth just so they’d stop talking.
When I was 18 (before November 2003), a distant cousin of mine was getting married. As is the case with pre-wedding-dressing, my mother, two aunts and I went through a rather rigorous process of deciding who would wear what. My grandmother, owner of some beautiful sarees herself, was not part of this decision-making process, what we picked she wore; old age and an utter loss of memory were not conducive to her being active in such conversations. Besides which, my grandfather had passed away recently and she was in her I-will-dress-only-in-widow-clothes phase where she would wear only cream sarees and so on. Somehow, at the age of 70 the concept of widowhood seemed more spiritual than social to me personally, and no one really cared if you were a recent widow at 70 and wore a coloured saree.
Moving on to the occasion itself and me - I picked a bright blue silk-cotton saree with a broad orange border and jewellery to go with it. I was in the final year of college and had decided that I’d quit wearing salwar kameezes to weddings and switch over to wearing sarees because at home, there was plenty to choose from. All I needed to do was get blouses stitched to my measurements and I could wear any and all sarees from four wardrobes! I won’t get into details about numbers and variety at this point. Once clothes had been picked and so on, the day of the wedding had dawned and we were all ready to go. At the venue, my mother, my aunts and I were talking to a bunch of our other relatives ranging from other aunts to cousins to great aunts and so on. So much so that we missed the ceremony itself. I need to digress a little at this point into traditional Malayalee ceremonies – they last around 10 minutes. The groom walks in, ushered in by a group of pretty young women after having had his feet washed by his brother-in-law. The bride, accompanied by the older women in the family and aforementioned pretty women, comes in after. A small prayer is said. The groom ties the thali (sacred thread signifying marriage) around the bride’s neck. Father of the bride hands her over to groom. They walk around the mandapam thrice. Wedding done! (Intricate details like exchanging rings and gifts from one family to another and falling at feet of elders also happens in this time frame.)
It was in the midst of this chatter of gossiping aunts and grandmothers that someone had dropped a line that went along the lines of – “Suma, Chinku is growing up so fast! It’s time you started looking out for her,” in my native Malayalam. That was also the moment I lost my temper with the world that was hyper obsessed about my wedding.
When we were leaving, I was helping my grandmother into the car we’d hired for the morning and someone, again in passing, threw something in our direction about how I was such a good-natured girl with such good character and how I’d make for someone’s ideal bride. It pissed me off like nothing else, again. Since that day, the more family gatherings I went to, the more people kept talking about how supposedly pretty I was and how pretty girls like me should not be at home for long and how I should get married early. Thankfully, a series of life-altering family events propelled conversations of that nature to another direction. Thankfully, my grandmother was aware enough at that time to tell other people that I was only 18 and that I had more degrees to acquire and that I had a job to get before I became someone’s wife. Thankfully, my parents were obsessed with me getting a master’s degree. Thankfully, the people closest to me were obsessed with keeping me in their lives a little longer. Thankfully, Trivandrum Malayalees are more matriarchal than most. Thankfully, a few of my aunts hadn’t married yet and until they all did, I was just going to be the so-called pretty girl they spotted at weddings.