Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Travels and travails

We're on the train. This time, we know about the bed bugs and cockroaches lurking behind the curtains of a A/C 2 converted into an A/C 3 bogey. (As per the Indian Railways a bogey is, in Indian English, is the entire carriage, and a compartment is where you sit/sleep.) This time the food was packed for fewer people, so there was lesser chaos. This time, it was just us and the people who were seated in the same compartment who were also going to the same place. This time, we set the alarm for 4am (that was my mother) to make sure that we got off at the right station. The trouble with travelling on the train to an in-between destination is that you have to know at exactly what time the train will arrive at your destination and what the previous station is so that you can get your luggage out.

Except at the first and last stops, trains don't wait at in-between stations too long, unless they're loading food or they're running late.

That's how my mother, two aunts, cousin and I went to Palakkad. This time, I was there for my younger cousin's wedding. S's wedding was fixed in September, we got the call on Vinayaka Chathurti telling us that she was getting married in December in Guruvayoor. My mother announced this piece of news with a very heavy heart. Not that she was resentful, just that she was really hoping to organise a wedding before my father's younger brother got the chance. As was my mother's sister no1. She actually told me one night, "don't worry, we'll make sure you get married before S does", yes, this is a race and I really want to win it, thank you so much for understanding the inner workings of my mind!

In Tamil, there is a saying - "Veedu katti paaru, kalyaanam panni paaru" - or something to that effect. It means, try building a house, try organising a wedding. These two are some sort of definitive events in the life of every average human being and will, in some way or form, add to one's life experience, or so they say. Organising a wedding, in a country like mine is a pain to say the very least. The entire family gets involved at some point and just about everyone who can articulate their thoughts will have something relevant to say about it. Whether it is about how much gold the girl will wear, to what saree she should wear, to which beautician she should go to, etc. But the second you announce that you intend to get your daughter married in Guruvayoor, the process takes on a whole different direction.

To begin with, Guruvayoor weddings, like all Malayali weddings, are blessedly brief. They don't take too much of your time. But Guruvayoor is also the place where you have to wait in queue for about 5 hours if you wish to see Krishna, the presiding deity at the temple. The place is a pilgrimage spot of sorts, so it's crowded almost every day. If you're there during Ayyappa season, then you will be dealing with an insane amount of humanity! On a good day, aka, when the stars are aligned to ensure that the bride and groom will live happily ever after, at least 300 weddings happen in Guruvayoor.

Thankfully, the weddings happen in these tiny mandapams built outside the East Nada or the door that Krishna is looking out of. However, since 200 other people are getting married in the same venue, chances are you could find yourself exchanging garlands with the wrong person! It has happened to a few people, almost happened to a few others. We knew this and made sure my cousin and her fiance were the ones who got on the mandapam. Thali-tying and garland-exchanging later, we went to eat.

See, eating at an Indian wedding is about as sacred as getting married itself. It all hinges on the food, if the sadya/meal is bad, rest assured that your wedding is an epic fail. Never mind how pretty the bride or how much gold she was wearing or how many people showed up. The sadya is the key factor, I'm sure the food at a wedding is the key factor everywhere. I don't think human beings are charitable enough to come to a wedding just to bless the couple and take a few smiling photographs and leave. Everyone wants to eat!

In the midst of all this, my parents managed to sweet talk one of the wedding photographers to take some pictures of me that could be circulated in Shaadi.com/to marriage brokers/ and other assorted marriage-related people. Me and my Copper Sulphate blue saree. The guy was taking pictures like there was no tomorrow. I refused to pose, of course, so half the pictures look like my facial muscles are convulsing of their own volition.

The worst part is the relatives. My father has 8 other siblings, which means I have some 20-odd first cousins. Then, both of my paternal grandparents, who are thankfully not related, also have a huge number of siblings, which means my father has his own share of the cousin market, meaning I have way too many aunts and uncles who only have one inappropriate question for me - "enne ariyo?/ do you know me".

Dear relative, especially you, who I don't know how I'm related to. I live in Chennai. I come to this part of the country once a year and only meet my immediate family, how on good god's earth am I supposed to know who you are if we've never met, and more importantly, have never been introduced. Tell me? Seriously, tell me!

My parents won't be around at such opportune moments and then I have to go looking for them, with unknown relative in tow, find them and deconstruct the relationship, and then smile a big smile and answer questions.

After plenty of this the next round of my trip involved going to one more temple to book one more pooja so I get married. We also went to my cousin's husband's hometown. All of this by car and on Kerala's lovely two-lane, undulating highways where everyone has this weird habit of driving exactly in the middle of the road and dodging one another at the last moment. Not to mention the buses which are all racing one another to get to their stops first. I was ill the whole time. Phlegm and cough and fever and what have you. Shruthi's Annual Mega Sinus Blowout was in full swing and there wasn't a damn thing I could about it except hide it under make-up, which didn't work.

By the time we got back to Palakkad, I'd spent too many hours in a closed vehicle. I needed some Chennai dust, as delivered by auto rickshaws. Of course, on the morning of December 13, the day I reached Chennai, or yesterday, to put it more succinctly, Chennai vaguely resembled some hill station (that's what the Brits created when they couldn't handle the heat/dust/humidity of India). There was dew and a mist for effect. To think of a mist floating above the Cooum is just bizarre! The auto ride from Central was a bit of a shocker, my mother and I were stunned for a few minutes while driving down Spur Tank Road.

I like Chennai like this. But this won't last for too long. Humidity (Humidras [humid+Madras] as a friend T re-christened this city) is the hallmark of this city. My next mission is to find a way to get me to stop hocking all the phlegm that seems to have replaced my blood. Turmeric and milk apparently does that or what is known as "masala pal" (pal [pronounced paal]=milk). My mother only had this to say about the combination "if you're brave enough, try it".


  1. woah that's one interesting wedding trip. Of late I've been attending too many weddings(everyones getting married!) but then just attending, posing for pics and having food. And that has reached the saturation level.

  2. @Grad - I've got back-to-back weddings to go to until June. Sometimes more than one a month and they're all in Chennai. I guess some years are like that.

  3. Your story about the relatives 'minds me of my Momma's family reunions. There were seven children in her family who all got married and had children of their own. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, some of those cousins were old enough to have gotten married (or not) and have children of their own. Of course, we grew up in a different area than the rest of her family, so every reunion was a new adventure in meeting folks I was related to that I had no idea who they were. It's only gotten worse over the years with new generations of children, divorces, deaths, remarriages, step-children added to the mix, etc., but I've become a master of the understanding nod and the knowing smile, even when I have no idea how I'm related to this person or if I even am related to this person.

  4. @arandomchild - Please pass along those nod and smile lessons. I need it

  5. That sounds overwhelming! I think I might understand the uncountable relatives aspect. I grew up in Alaska, where I saw my (very few) aunts, uncles, and cousins only once every 5 years. Now I live in Sicily with my Italian husband. I swear half the city is related to him, and I'm finding it nearly impossible to keep all the names/relations straight.

  6. Fa, I can so empathise with your situation...

  7. Apologies, but I find your misery extremely hilarious. I'm sadistic that way.