Yeah! My sister is married! (BH:D32)

September 4, 2011

Noticed two different advertisements featuring the very talented dancer and actress, Shobana in the Vanitha women's magazine yesterday. But by the time she went from selling curry masala powder on page 90 to home wall paint on page 130, she had aged by 15 or so years. I don't know if an older looking Shobana implies the long lasting nature of the paint or a younger looking Shobana conveys the spiceness of the curry powder. Women's magazines can do wonders with the female image.

The same magazine had a feature on rituals in various temples in Kerala that have been reserved till dates far away into the future: years 2046, 2050, 2057 etc. The article had a bizzarely proud tone as if the idiocy of people guaranteed for the future is something to brag about. Many fateful women were seeking divine intervention for their marriage using a special ritual in a specialist temple that assures arranged marriage success. The only trouble was that the rush of devotees meant no free dates for this ritual till 2024. I am pretty sure women of arranged marriageable age now will definitely be out of that age bracket by that time. This is the only kind of dating that precedes arranged marriage. May be I am wrong and parents are reserving a date for the ritual as soon as their baby girl is born today. Sharath B & Chalamy, are you guys listening?!

Both the newspapers that are delivered home, Mathrubhumi in Malayalam and The Hindu in English, carried lead articles of their Sunday supplements about farmers. Mathrubhumi had a wonderful article on Mr. Chandran from Kodungallur, an award winning teacher in Kuwait and Kerala, who retired into his first love of farming 16 years ago. In his 18 acres of land, he grows plants and animals exclusively of the native species. 15 varieties of guava, 20 types of mangoes, more jackfruit species and so on. He believes grass and weeds must be allowed to grow freely to keep these native plants and trees healthy. Earthworms are solely responsible for tilling his land. He collects native species from all over India. A species of dwarf cow he bought from tribals in northern Kerala was mentioned twice. He was quoted as saying that for people who think money alone is wealth, he appears to be a fool who pumps money to maintain a farm of native species but they don't realize that what he has in his farm is more precious than Sri Padmanabha's treasure. He makes Rs. 30,000 a month from Heliconia sales alone. Of this he has to pump back Rs 15,000 to maintain his plants and animals. The article had no mention of a family. I was pretty sure it is impossible for a man or woman to fully exercise his or her love for nature if a family is around to split the attention.

But the article in The Hindu supplement on Mrs. Britisha Alexander proved me wrong. She is happily married with the quintessential 'Kerala husband in gulf' and has three kids who help her out with the farming along with the three regular laborers. The article was rather unfortunately titled "Hey Hoe" with a full page picture of Mrs. Alexander carrying a turkey! Besides chicken, goats, cow and turkeys, she also farms pearl spot (karimeen) fish in three artificial ponds in her land. Betel leaves and arecanuts are her main cash crop. She won the state government award for best female farmer last year. She was upbeat about the help that the banks, the improved logistics and market conditions are offering farmers.

A two and half year old boy, one of Ajith's nephews, was here for the lunch along with the other family members. He is fascinated by cars and can identify most brands on the Indian roads. Seeing him point and name the cars parked on our street, I remembered that six or seven years ago, Dusty, while we were driving down University Drive in College Station, had asked me a question that appeared totally bizarre to me. A shiny, head-turner big MAC 18-wheeler had just passed by on the opposite side of the road when she asked, "If you were born as a vehicle, what would you like to be?" 
Having grown up in India, I had an imagination which could come up with answers for what animal, what tree, what musical instrument, what bird etc that I would like to be. I could even come with what curry I wanted to be born as. But this prodding for an automobile association stumped me. Vehicles had never really invaded my childish consciousness. Now, in 2011, I can see that wheels have become a prominent part of growing up in India. This baby boy, Aditya, full time car enthusiast, stole all our hearts by singing the famous old Malayalam film song "Aliyambal kadavil annarkyu vellam" in its entirety!!! His mind is a unique blend of passions for Honda, Hyundai and Malayalam melodies of yesteryears. Hats off to his parents for keeping his world open to the present and the past. Perhaps grooms of future Indian marriages will have their brother-in-laws wash the wheel caps instead of their feet in the wedding welcome ceremony!

Since Sindhu chechi (cousin) had to get some medical scanning done, she, Babu chettan (her hubby) and their elder son Vishal came very late in the afternoon. "We have already eaten," they said as soon as they walked in. They assumed that since they came late, the food was already over. Hence the lie. They didn't know that when we order for 25 people, the caterer assumes these are 25 Madhvacharyas with yoga-powered "Jattaragni" metabolism that allows enormous consumption. So if normal human beings are eating, the food lasts for 40 people easily. Such white lies are very common here. Amma went ahead and served them on banana leaves. All three of them happily feasted. 

While they were leaving, I noticed the mating dance of two butterflies in the garden. A wonderful sight! As is the case with the rest of the animal kingdom, the male had more physical beauty. More stripes, more colors. Among animals, it is men who have mane. Like in the female human species from most Indian states, the female was larger but plain. Saw one of the newscasts mention a new survey stating that Kerala women lead the nation in obesity. I have seen some otherwise lovely women struggle with their weight here. Some of them are big enough dispense the hassle of seeking another person for menage-a-trois. 
Back to the butterflies.Only a row of white spots for her at the bottom of the wings. He had some added reddish charm. The mating dance simultaneously had fast and slow elements that make it a visual treat. They were flapping their wings franctically but this was keeping them hovering over specific leaves and buds. The movement in the three dimensional space was graceful and slow but the wings were almost vibrating. They would ascend,descend and move sideways with captivating grace, but closer inspection shows the relentless motion of the wings. 
A motion powered by the tiny hearts racing in their tiny bodies. 
Hearts pumped up of amore. 
Like humans in love, they were blissfully unaware of other life around them. 
Only she mattered to him. 
And he was her whole world.

Slowly, it is sinking in that my little sister is married!
Alliyambal kadavil annarkyu vellam: http://youtu.be/-7ULWiFf_YQ

Stuff Happens on Saturdays (BH:D31)

September 3, 2011

Those astronomers who seek evidence of the preplanetary stardust ejected at the time of the Big Bang should, before they spend millions on sophisticated telescopes and rocket launches, run their fingers on the top surface of the blades of the ceiling fans in Indian homes! 
I was tasked this morning with the gathering some this primal powder. Though this clean up operation might appear as a preparation to welcome, as the legend goes, the old King Mahabali on his annual rounds to see the people of Kerala on Onam festival, the real reason is that Ajith and Tara are coming home tomorrow. They'll be here for a couple of days before taking off to Kumarakom resort. Ajith is our Mahabali, sans the paunch and the mustache, for the time being. 

The ceiling fans on the ground floor are reachable, but the high sloping roofs keep the fans upstairs beyond me even if I double-stepping stool. Pirouetting on my toes leaves me feeling like an inadequate ballerina on whom the audience is showering insulting cobweb confetti. So I created a fake clean environment by increasing the smell of Dettol in the rooms. 
In this land of beliefs, at times, the illusion of sanitation should do!

My Tahsildar cousin explained this morning that it is not caste but religion that the city corporation is seeking evidence for before issuing the marriage certificate. This is because later on, this certificate will be used to see which Marriage Act in the constitution can be applied. I presume there are as many marriage acts as there are religions in India. 

We managed to find a college transfer ceritificate from Chennai for Tara in which her religion is mentioned as Hindu. This should serve the purpose. I wonder if further evidence will be required. Perhaps a 24-hour video surveillance of Achan to prove that he did not do Namaz on any of the five stipulated Islamic times. May be a Corporation inspector can come around to verify that there are no images of Jesus Christ in our house. Even if there is an image, it must be ensured that it is placed below in the idols and caricatures of the Hindu gods. Will Achan be asked to read out a statement with deep Hindu fervour stating that Muslims and Christians have no hope for salvation?! 
And this is a "free" country. Just that one is not free to have no religion. Only the couple that prays together, stays together! Others don't have a prayer!May be that makes sense!

I am happy that the government doesn't require citing caste in one's passport. Otherwise the hair removal capacity of the thousands of "Nair" folk landing in US and Europe will be overestimated. I wonder if the presence of the famous hair removal cream brand is the reason why some insist on spelling their surnames as Nayar. I am talking about Malayalees here, not the north-Indian Nayars. Now that I think of it, these are people who have had some family member travel abroad in the previous generation. They must have surely been shocked to see the 'barbar'ic association of their caste on the beauty product aisles of supermarts in 'phorin' lands. 

Major laundry disaster awaited me in the bathroom. In an international effort to promote racial harmony, I had soaked the maroon kurta with the white&grey kurta overnight. A little too much exchange of fluids happened overnight. Like Seema after a night with Jayan in the movie Karimbana (sorry for the overly mallu-specific reference, you can insert your favorite 80s actor and actresses and the first night song featuring them instead), the white&grey kurta displayed numerous red blotches when I de-bucketed it for scrubbing. 
Blemish on the culturally preserved purity of the bicolor! 
The red marks, less like blood stains, more like the ones that lead to extra three or four episodes of weeping and wailing in a tele-serial if the wife spots them on her husband's clothing. 
That suspicious coloration! 
To be fair, these were too large and too randomly placed to imply amorous possibilities. Unless it was an overheated, abundantly lipsticked female chimpanzee who was responsible. But then again, this is Kerala! 

Achan and Amma are engaged in major preparations for Ajith's first home visit. This is mixed with the race to get all the clothes dried in the few hours rain has been staying away. I went with Amma to Spencers grocers in the morning. Only when I reach the check out counter with the easily accessible packets of various brands of condoms, I remember again that I have forgotten to take the camera. It is a picture I so badly want to take. The ultimate symbol of new India: Condoms arranged in the racks where America still sells chewing gum. 

Padmapriya, Navya Nair (with her kid) and Karthika Nair (with her overarching eyebrows) were staring at shoppers from plastic wraps in the magazines rack. I wondered how all three of them were featured in Vanitha, the premier women's magazine from the Manorama group. Is the same magazine printed with different covers to appeal to different segments of the population? I wondered. It is quite possible. This is the state that had the same movie with two different endings: one climax had Mammotty marrying the heroine screened in the Muslim dominated north Kerala and the other had Mohanlal marrying the heroine shown in the Hindu majority southern Kerala. Amma brought the magazine and we figures that it was a 3-in-1 Onam special deal. All three cover girls on three books come in one see-thru plastic cover. 

The one with Padmapriya on the cover had a great feature with poet laureate O.N.V Kurup's favorite 10 songs from the 1000 odd that he has written for movies. I didn't flip through the two books with the Nair cover girls. But the one with Navya on the cover said she is coming back to movies. Why?!

The beautician-cum-neighbor came to settle her bill this morning. She had done a spectacular job on Tara for the wedding. The official photographers are busy till Onam, so the photos and CD with the proof of her work won't be available till next week. She does a pretty good job on herself too. Her daughter is a fifth semester undergrad but my astrologer uncle, when he first saw her, got all excited thinking she could be a prospective bride whose destiny he can chart. 
Once again, like the caterer's bill yesterday, the price of beauty has surprised us. I wonder if we returned to Thiruvananthapuram after living in other cities too well-prepared for exorbitant amount and ruthless extortion.

In one of the intial notes, I had menioned about Venu 'chettan', the headmaster, being nominated for best teacher award. Yesterday evening, cousin Kala 'chechi' called to say that he has won it. This morning's Mathrubhumi newspaper had the news with his photo. Him and 13 other teachers from the other districts will receive the award on Teacher's day on Sept 5th. 

It was wonderful to be on the rocking chair post lunch listening to the 10 great songs from ONV's pen. 

Achan and Ajith's achan, as dutiful Indian parents, went to the corporation office in the afternoon to finish up the marriage certificate deal. Bell ringing pleases Indian gods. Demi-gods can be invoked by telephonic bell ringing. Few such contacts were manifested and appeased this afternoon to see if any favorable influence could be exerted on the Xanadu of red-tape otherwise known as the city corporation office. Turns out a muncipal council meeting and saturday afternoon spirit had already engulfed the whole office. Nothing can be done before Monday.

But then Menon uncle aka Menon sir aka Ajith's achan (too early for me to finalize how I am going to address him) came by in the evening to enlighten us that my entire earlier rant was a blaze of ignorance. Apparently, different grade workers sitting in the corporation office state different things and put forward different requirements. He said he has confimed that only the date of birth evidence needs to be provided. This information sets the stage for a fantastic argument with my Tahsildar cousin when he shows up next time. 

I have been reading R.K.Narayan's "A writer's nightmare: selected essays from 1958-1988" since yesterday. For 30 years, he wrote a weekly column for The Hindu newspaper in the style he calls personal essay! Hopefully some of that grandmaster's genius will rub off! Just as in hospitals, hope tends to run high on a rocking chair when monsoon struts her stuff right outside the window.

ONV's picks

For the Onam edition of Vanitha magazine, Jnanpith winner ONV Kurup picks 10 songs from over a thousand he has written for movies. Though all of them are in Malayalam, even if you don't understand the lyrics, the music is melodious.

1. Manikyaveenayumayen: He wrote this on the train to the then Madras. Devarajan, the composer and his college days friend, was waiting for him at the railway station. Pretty soon the tune was ready. Since it wasn't legal for ONV to work as a lyricist in those days because of his government service restrictions, he used the pen name "Balamurali". After their initial collaboration, ONV and Devarajan did not work together for a long time. This was the time Vayalar-Devarajan team peaked. ONV says their reunion song "Arikil nee undayirunengil ennu njan..." was semi-autobiographical in spirit about the rekindling of their friendship

2. When M.B.Srinivasan was traveling from Kozhikode to Thiruvananthapuram to compose for the movie Ulkadal, there were some untoward incidents in the train. Though he was very distraught on reaching Thiruvananthapuram, friends helped him calm down and composing "Sharabindumalardeepa..." was part of the relaxing process. ONV fondly recollects MBS jumping with joy on hearing the line "veruthe ee mohangal ennariyumbozhum veruthe mohikkuvan moham"

3. ONV was still depressed and his mind restless about Vayalar's death when Salil Chaudhary hummed the tune to him. "Sagarame Shanthamaka nee..." was born.

4. M.T and Hariharan introduced the Bombayite Ravi to ONV. Superb songs in Nakhakshathangal and Panjagni from that combination. ONV's favorite: "Neeraduvan Nilayil..."

5. ONV compares Johnson's tunes to inviting nests into which birds of poetry happily fly in. So ONV enjoyed writing for Johnson. Great songs like Aadivaa katte, oru naal shubharathri nernu poyi nee (Gulmohar) and Ente manveenayil koodayan oru. Though it is difficult to pick a favorite, ONV chooses Pavizham pol pavizhadharam pol

6. Venu Nagavally was a teacher's pet for ONV. And Raveendran a great friend. Now both of them have passed away. "Sukhamo devi" born from their combination makes it to the list.

7. Raghunath Seth was a Bansuri expert and worked for the films division. ONV says it looked like he was meditating when he was composing. Wonderful songs like Olichirikkan vallikudil onnorukki vachile were his compositions. ONV lists "Aathmavil mutti vilichathu pole"

8. Ghazal expert Ramesh Narayan composed "oru narupushpamayi" for Kamal's Meghamalhar.

9. Dakshinamurthy stayed away from movies for 20 years after composing Vaathilpazhithilude for the movie Idanazhiyil oru kalocha

10. Aadiyusha Sandhya song from Pazhassiraja. ONV says Ilayaraja personally told him that he has never criticized that song as it was mentioned in some media soon after the movie release. I love this song and am happy to see it in his list.

Back to Flora & Fauna (BH:D30)

September 2, 2011

"Ayyo...Pambeee" (ayyo....snakeee), a cry had pierced the neighborhood few days ago, around noon. It came from the servant of the home that shares the northern wall with Rema aunty's house. The servant was washing clothes when a rat snake went over her feet. It must have been enjoying the coolness of the perpetually wet area around the big washing stone in their backyard. Washing stone is a smooth stone usually set in cement or concrete on which clothes are beaten to cleanliness like the character of Indian kids of the previous generation. 

The possibility of a serpentine passover on the feet kept me alert as I was gargling my mouth with hot salt water this morning in the backyard. I had sheltered myself under the low coconut tree seeking protection from the higher coconut trees from which coconuts, underdeveloped small coconuts (kochanga in Malayalam) and dried fronds have a chance of dropping. Many unsuspecting Malayalee heads have been cracked by such falls. This love-hate relationship laced with fear is the reason why falling of a coconut never inspired a Malayalee to speculate on the theory of gravitation. Apple is a sissy fruit compared to the heavy, hard coconut. It is the habit of having an eye on the sky to watch for possible coconut attack that has made Keralites aim high in other spheres of human endeavour. This psychological impact of the great tree must be acknowledged today, Sept 2nd, that is being celebrated as International Coconut Tree Day. 

Mathrubhumi newspaper had a full page dedicated to coconut today. I learnt that the name coconut comes from the Portuguese word 'cocos' meaning monkey-like. The un-husked coconut with its "eyes" and "nose" must have reminded Portuguese explorers of monkeys. The newspaper is launching a project to make school children plant more coconut trees. It is a good move as more construction all over the place comes at the cost of coconut trees. Amma's friend had remarked yesterday while we were struggling in the traffic on our way to drop her at the railway station that Thiruvananthapuram is a developed village. She appreciated the rustic, green feel but lamented the pathetic infrastructure and the political apathy towards development. 

When I woke up, I found a lizard on the bathroom wall. I still have a baseless fear of lizards losing their grip and falling on me. Achan had told me that good old disinfectant Dettol instantly kills lizard if a drop falls on them. I had no intention of carrying out an execution. I have already murdered two cockroaches in the bathroom. They were squashed with the shoes I brought from US. Perhaps they were some reborn Hindu souls who had died with the unfulfilled desire to touch American soil. For the lizard situation, I cleaned the bathroom and wiped the walls with Dettol. Hopefully the smell will serve as a deterrent. 

After so many days, got some time early morning to look at the vegetable garden in the backyard. The "Muringa" stems brought back on 'Botany Sunday' are showing signs of life. Exciting! Two brinjal (egg plant) plants have also come up. 
One of wedding greeting cards that Tara received came in an envelope affixed with a Rs. 5 stamp that featured Sonneratia Alba. I had no idea what this tree was. Googling led me to the wonderful site mentioned at the end of this note. The Malayalam name for S. Alba is Chakkarakandal. In English, it is commonly known as mangrove apple. I should learn more about the stamps from Indian postal service dedicated to flora and fauna. They don't get as much press as those dedicated to famous people. But I am sure they are licked just as often.

I went with Achan this morning to get the venue certificate from the marriage auditorium. We went walking through the back lanes. What used to be a swampy open area and some fields while I had been here last, is now a densely crowded housing colony. It being a working day, the road in front of the marriage auditorium was crowded. We had once again been lucky because Tara's wedding day was a school holiday. Gangs of school girls in their white salwar and green dupatta uniform were rushing towards Cotton Hill school. 

While we waited for the cerfiticate, the young man at the auditorium office asked us to check out the decoration of the hall that had been done for the wedding being conducted today. It was a neat and simple arrangement with a curtain of floral garlands as backdrop and two kasavu (gold bordered) sarees arranged like huge Chinese fans. "This is 45,000" he said. That is less than half of what we paid for a different design. May be my astrologically predicted intercaste marriage can use this one. I will tell my astrologer uncle to find me a same caste girl when I meet him next just to see his reaction!

When we got back, Amma suggested shopping for fish from the Matsyafed stall. We had been on a pure vegetarian diet for the last three days. So I jumped at the chance. We got kingfish heads which transformed into a wonderful curry by lunch. 
The catering manager came by to settle the bill. He enquired about my marriage. Amma and Achan were all praise for the great food which had pleased all the guests. The manager was very happy. Perhaps that happiness lightened the settlement amount. It wasn't as high as we had expected it to be. We asked him for the recipe of the second dessert "payasam" that was served for the wedding feast. It was easy to detect ripe plantains, gram and jaggery in the payasam but we couldn't quite figure out what the fourth significant ingredient was. "Dates...dates mashed up in a mixer," he revealed, "we won't make the recipe public till the wedding season is over." Wedding catering service is an intensely competed business here. 

Achan is a man of very few demands. One of them i.e. not liking everyone's dirty laundry getting mixed together has led to the absence of a washing machine in the house. Everyone in the family does their own washing. 
Amma cheats by getting Rema aunty's maid Omana to do hers. I don't blame her. Amma's childhood was one of neglect and malnourishment which has led to many ailments now. She used to walk 8 kilometers each direction every day to attend the only school 'near by'. My oldest uncle recently said that he respects Sri Narayana Guru because if Narayana Guru had not started the high school in Sivagiri, all the brothers and sisters in Amma's family would have been forced into manual labor after primary schooling. My astrologer uncle recalled how he used to complain to the sun in his childhood if he could not get enough grass from the fields to fill a basket. Going home without a full basket meant empty stomach and punishment. Considering how much Amma has risen in her career from these rock bottom beginnings, my PhD, which is the ultimate result of top grade baby food, scrumptious meals every single day of life and best possible schooling in town, pales in comparison. Yesterday all of Tara's wedding jewelry came back for safe keeping in the bank locker. Amma laid them out on the bed and was happily trying them on. All of them were bought over the years from her savings and Achan's. She had a childish delight while doing this. Achan had mentioned about this earlier to me. Such luxuries were surely beyond her imagination when she was a child. There is no need for Amma to wash her clothes now, if Omana is not around to do it, I am going to be around. 

Also, I have realized that washing clothes the traditional way is a great physical exercise. 
Lifting and scrubbing tones delts. 
Squeezing (i.e. kuthipizhiyal in Malayalam) works the pecs. 
Wringing them dry is great for biceps and flexors. 
Beating clothes on the stone for triceps and lats. 
Repeated bending and rising for abs and spine. (except for lower abs which are always at the mercy of the planets and shadow planets and zodiac stars) 
Putting clothes up on the clothesline again flexs the delts and lats.

Seenu called this morning. She wanted a write-up called A-Z of Onam festival for the Delhi edition of Times of India. 2-3 sentences about one word that can associated with Onam, starting with each letter. It needed to be done by today. She cleverly carved up A to O for herself and assigned me P-Q. I used words like Xenophilia, Zaftig & Zapata. Afterall, it is soft-porn publication called Times of India and she assured that my name won't appear. While working on it, found some interesting links talking about different legends of Onam prevalent among the lower castes and tribals and the possibility of the prominence of yellow color hinting at Buddhist origins of the festival.

Ajith and Tara couldn't submit the marriage certificate application because the officer at Thiruvananthapuram Corporation asked for caste certificate. Ajith has a proof of caste because Kerala government puts this useless label on the Class X passing certificate. Tara doesn't have it because she studied in CBSE syllabus. It is ridiculous that such a thing is being insisted on. I wonder if Lokpal will deal with such nonsense as caste certifications. 

Achan said he cannot remember hearing any music at Tara's wedding. His attention was always elsewhere. He said this was the third wedding where he didn't hear any music. The earlier ones being his own and his younger sister's. By contrast, I did hear all the different music at my younger sister's wedding!

While we were having tea, I smelled cooking gas and rushed to the kitchen. Only then Achan remembered that he had kept water for boiling. The water had boiled over and extinguished the flame. Gas continued to flow freely. This dangerous forgetfulness is something I have to become careful about with both Achan and Amma. Amma drives the car simply by looking straight ahead of her with little attention to the sides. Its only because speeds are generally low and other drivers are careful that she manages. Thankfully both of them don't mind admitting that age has taken a toll on their capacities for attention. We've decided that from now on, the stoves will be kept on only if there is someone in the kitchen.

I'll do a dry run of my new work schedule today. Markets open in US when it is 7pm here. Much of the action should be over by 1am.

In the evening, Rema aunty came by to give me an Onakodi. Onakodi is the traditional gift of dress given by elders to younger folks during Onam. I haven't been around to receive an Onakodi for the last 15 years. So this 'mundu' has a special place in my heart where it will need no retying!

A great link: http://www.flowersofindia.in/


The Day After (BH:29)

September 1, 2011

Yesterday during the wedding, I got a chance to talk to Parvati aunty, Amma's friend. She works in Bangalore now and has always been encouraging about my literary misadventures. I told her about this journal. She was keen to read it. I told her it needs a round of editing, censoring and selective information blackout before it gets to Amma and her friends. Will have to take up that project soon.

Today was another day of wedding related activity. As soon as I woke up, I downloaded a pdf version of Paramasiva Iyer's The Riks for my astrologer uncle. This book originally was priced four rupees in 1911. The 4 rupees of those days is worth a 1000 today. Though this book is legally free online, some publishers still sell hard copies for prices ranging from Rs. 150 to Rs 1500.

The 32 GB USB drive he had given me was corrupted. Formatting also failed. I told him that I will write him a CD later. This uncle seems to have written my 'jatakam' (personal horoscope) based on my birth time. He has given it to Amma who refuses to show it to me. Well, she hasn't refused outright, she keeps semi-ignoring me and postpones it every time I ask. Achan told me that three major revelations have been shared with him by Amma. Apparently, I will get married in this life despite my deeds in the past lives as amoeba, bacteria, centipede, house-fly, leech etc. Achan didn't have any details whether it will be a gay marriage. 
Secondly, and much more seriously, this is going to be an inter-caste marriage. This explains why Amma doesn't want me seeing the jatakam. She must be reasoning that seeing my intercastexistential destiny might inspire me to seek out out-caste girls. I think this is also why she has been very relaxed about the parade of young Nair girls at the wedding. 
Third revelation: I have a tendency to suffer from diseases of the lower abs. I assume this means I should stop worrying about the bottom cuts of my future six pack. They are not in my destiny. This prediction explains why Amma has been asking me to eat more bananas which are supposedly good for digestion. She must be just as concerned about this bit of horoscope as she is about my breaking of the caste barrier.

Had to rush to the railway station this morning to drop off one of the wedding guests who had come from Mumbai. Today being Ganesh Chaturthi, there was an old elephant being forced to stand beside the heavily congested road in front of the railway station where there is a Ganesh temple. The railway station was crowded.

Some engines were being shunted. Aircraft are magnificent engineering marvels, but there is something impersonal about their finesse. Railway engines are rugged reminders of hardcore engineering. It is impossible not to stare at the full metal glory of a super heavy engine driving by. There is a coach factory in Tamil Nadu in a place named Erode that must be pronounced as E-road. Most engines serving in south India carry this place label. When one sees the word 'erode' written on a railway engine, it confuses the mind.

Just as I was typing this out, Amma came to show me the horoscope. Much to my disappointment, it just had two matrices with Malayalam letters written in the different squares. "La" "Sha" in left bottom, "Gu" "Ra" in the top right, "Cha" "Bu" in the top center and so on. I don't understand anything. It also has a list of what the different periods of my life are going to be. I have no idea what that means too. "He has told me what all it means, " Amma said about my uncle, while taking the chart back. She must be referring to the three things mentioned in this note a while back.

Another great traditional lunch on banana leaf with two payasams. Nobody eating this food on a daily basis will be able to accomplish anything in the afternoon. 

Ajith's aunt, Dr. A.G. Menon's daughter, received her PhD in history in 1990 for her dissertation on "The Contributions of the Travancore Royal Family to the Arts and Music". I told her I would like to read it. She said it is not published as a book but is available in the university archives. I wish Google digitization comes quickly to Kerala university as well.

Ajith and Tara had some shopping in mind for tomorrow. But then an official duty was remembered. They need to put in the application with the Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation to get the marriage certificate. 
For the marriage certificate they need a venue certificate issued by the marriage auditorium. So when the families parted in the afternoon, I accompanied Achan to Anantapuri Auditorium to get the venue certificate issued.

I hadn't been to the Anantapuri auditorium office yesterday, so I hadn't met the imposing rolly-polly manager lady. She definitely looked like the daughter of the parents whose garlanded photos hung behind her. Even in death, that couple, in their separate framed photos, had inequality. The mother's picture was hung a little higher than the father's. I wondered why nobody spent five minutes adjusting the symmetry. 

Though Achan was asking the questions,the manager lady insisted on answering all of them to me. Such eye-contact when I have no intention of communicating unnerves me. Here I had no choice but to listen to the procedure for obtaining a marriage certificate. 
She explained, "First you submit our form. It needs to be filled in capital letters. Bride and groom and two witnesses who are not blood witnesses should sign it. You should hand us this form with one wedding invitation. Then we will issue a venue certificate. The couple should personally take it to the corporation office. With proofs of identification. They need another two witness."
"Different from the witnesses who sign this form?" Achan had a natural doubt.
"Wedding has many witnesses," she dismissed him and returned to me, her favorite student.
"Earlier the office used to issue only one original certificate. But nowadays, all jobs and visa interviews need you to provide originals. So you can get as many as you want. Just have enough stamp papers when you go there." Pause. "If there is any issue, it'll be good if you know someone in the office. Do you know your local city counsellor?" 
Though this whole primary-school-nostalgia-inducing lecture was delivered to me exclusively,Achan answered the question, "I think we know the counsellor." She briefly looked at him like a teacher looks at an overenthusiastic student who disturbs the class by shouting stuff that he knows without being asked. 
Her eyes returned to me, "You need to contact the counsellor only if there is any issue. Usually there will be no problem. Fill our form carefully and bring it here after 9am with an invitation. We will immediately give you the venue certificate." "Sheri (OK)" said Achan. We got up and left. I felt like a student escaping from headmistresses office.

The shamiana dismantling continued for the whole day. Before leaving for Ajith's house, I watched with much apprehension the risky and acrobatic dismantling process. The workers are from Benares, the ancient holy city. Now they dismantle temporary decorative tents in the richest temple city. After the dismantling, we got busy cleaning the walls that were muddied. 

We did a quick socio-political analysis of the marriage and issued instant character certificates to many of the guests. I was disappointed that I couldn't meet a couple of uncles and aunts I had been looking forward to meeting. I must have been in some other corner of the auditorium when they arrived and got seated. Or may be I didn't recognize them because age has resculpted their faces and figures. It has happened often. 

It rained intermittently today. But not as heavily as it did yesterday. Yesterday was the special day of Atham. The festival of Onam falls on the tenth day after Atham. There is an idiom in Malayalam that goes, "Atham karuthal Onam velukkum" (If Atham is dark, Onam will be fair), meaning if it is dark, cloudy and rainy on Atham day, we'll have great sunny weather for Onam. We'll see.


Wedding Day (BH:D28)

August 31, 2011

It is done: the wedding. Phase 1 of my India trip is complete. Well not quite. We, as in a bunch of our relatives, are visiting Ajith's house for lunch tomorrow. Even by the most conservative counting of only the senior citizens of our family i.e. my parents' siblings and their spouses, we hit a number of 36! Later on, on Sunday, Ajith's relatives will visit us. Only after that visit, the couple are let free to go honeymoon.
I am typing this to the background score of the rain. It is beating loudly on the shamiana roof. The rain started within half an hour of Tara leaving the wedding hall in her newly married status. Much credit was distributed about whose prayers had worked to keep the rain at bay since yesterday afternoon.

I was showered and ready by 6am today. Nishant came with the Toyota Innova sparkling since we had told him that it'll be decorated to take the bride to the venue. But first we went to the temple. I did the obligatory perambulating. Amma and Tara did not take long. On our way back, couple of mahouts were steering a magnificent tusker on the road. I think he was being taken for the ceremony involving Pratibha Patel, President of India, later that morning. Because of President's visit, major traffic restrictions in the city. We were afraid this would inconvience the guests.

I was dressed in the traditional 'mundu' and a white Egyptian cotton full sleeve shirt. Tradition demands the mundu. I have heard numerous stories from relatives and friends about this inconquerable beast who needs constant attention to stay put on the waist. Gentlemen have resorted to all sorts of mechanisms to make it stay where it is meant to stay. I am not that terrified of the mundu. I have slept 99% of the nights of my life since I was 14 wearing a 'lungi', which is the low grade cousin of the mundu. Even in the US, I always carried my trusted lungis with me while traveling.

Lungi and mundu are the ultimate comfort wear. No tightness, instant removal, twin-use as a blanket in case one feels cold while sleeping. The tying of the mundu is one of the greatest cultural achievement of mankind. Men and women in Kerala are struggling to keep this art alive just as hard as young men and women struggle to keep their mundus in place during the very few traditional occasions they are forced to wear them.

Tara left for the venue in the decorated car by 7:30 with the beautician, a cousin brother and a cousin sister. While she left the house (traditionally her official "leaving of the house") a granny and Amma did ululations (called kurava in Malayalam). It is not a wailing type but a happy sound. The granny used to be a grand master of ululations. Now age has caught up with her. She can only do 3-4 rounds.

I arrived at the venue in my mundified munificence by 8:15am. It is the responsibility of the brother of the bride to welcome the groom and his family to the venue. This reception was scheduled for 9:30 am. Amma's set of relatives from her native village came in a rented bus early. The bus had to be pulled into the neighboring vacant plot of land next to the marriage auditorium because traffic police were strict today. The road in front of the auditorium was serving as a city bypass for traffic rereouted because of the President's visit. Lamest joke of the day award goes to the 250 relatives who suggested that the President had come for the wedding!

Fearing traffic, Ajith and his family arrived by 9am. They had to wait outside the hall till the auspicious time of 9:30 arrived. Earlier when I had chatted with Tara, I had mentioned that we should get rid of traditions like washing groom's feet because they are a carry over from shoe-less peripatetic existence. Ajith had agreed to this. But our "understanding" was thrown out of the window by the "traditionalists". Ajith's dad, the amicable Mr. Menon, smilingly told me, "If you guys don't do this, tongues will wag. There will be much complaining from the senior citizens. It's only a bit of water. What's the harm?!". "No harm," we said. A 'kindi' (brass vessel with spout) and a cotton towel was immediately arranged. Ajith waited in the car with air conditioning so that he won't sweat much. He refused the previously mentioned 'mango drink with a hint of mint'. He suspected a conspiracy in the drink offer to make him go on a pee break in the middle of the proceedings. 

9:30 sharp, 8 little girls in the family carrying lamps walked in front of me to receive the groom. Ajith stood on a low wooden stepping stool. As I poured a little water on his feet and dried it, he bent down to whisper, "Ithonnum manasil vachekaruth" (please don't keep this in your mind...with thoughts of revenge). Then I garlanded him. "This is pretty heavy," he said. "The revenge has begun," I said. While I handed the bouquet and shook his hands, my cousin sprinkled rose-water on us. Then a major pause and frozen life for the photographers and videographers. Such pausings and playing statue continued through out the day. Weddings are mostly directed by videographers and photographers. In fact, those are the only guys who care about the bride and the groom. Rest of the guests are only interested in the parents of the bride and the groom and if the brother of the bride is going to be married soon. The wedding is the parents' success or failure. Are the flowers dry? Is there enough gold? Was there a little too much salt in the curry?

After the formal welcome, we had an hour and half before the auspicious time for the wedding (called muhurtham and misprinted in the wedding invitation as muthurtham) arrived. Ajith went to chat with his friends. Tara was stuck in the make-up room with the beautician since 8am. We are meant to see her only in the full glory at 11am. It was the duty of Amma, Achan and myself to welcome the guests. Weddings are conducted by the bride's family, so number of guests from the bride's side is usually more than double the guests from the groom side. Besides, it made sense that we stand to welcome the folks we had run around inviting. 

There were three big screen TVs installed for live coverage of the events. Cameras feeding this were constantly dragged around the place with wire movement primed to trip people. Wireless transmission cameras have a potential market. Luckily there is no audio feed. If there was an audio feed, many marriages would lead to bad relationships among the guests. 

The venue resonated with Sopana Sangeetham, a traditional temple singing. A sample youtube video of this temple art form is at the end of this note. The singer was from the famous local Attukal Devi temple. He was accompanied by an equally talented younger guy. They were absolutely brilliant. This act was much classier than the usual film music orchestra and recorded music that happens at wedding. The whole thing was Rema aunty's set up. Much gratitude. 

Crowd divided itself into bunch of groups to chat. By 10:15, the first round of lunch was served. It was very difficult to get people to go eat for this early round. After much cajoling, around a hundred people went. A mad rush to eat lunch right after the wedding is traditional. It seems nowadays, the rush is so bad that people wait behind those who are still eating. It is impossible for someone to eat at ease when hungrier eyes are trained on his or her banana leaf (the feast is served on banana leaves). This waiting game reminded me of a prof in the Aero dept at TAMU who would sit on this research assistant's room staring into the desktop screen over the student's shoulder. I can never do research with such "super-vision". Luckily, no such mad rush happened at the wedding. Around 200 people ate in each of the 3 rounds that followed the wedding. The food was universally acknowledged as very decent. The three payasams: traditional ada (rice-based), kadala (gram based) and paal payasam with boli (milk-based, served with a yellow sweet pancake) were deemed excellent. 

On the dot at 11am, Tara, in her golden splendour was led down the stairs into the wedding dias by a row of 8 little girls and older ladies carrying lamps. Ajith was already waiting seated on the dias after receiving the blessings from both set of parents. While seeking blessings, there is a tradition of giving an arace nut wrapped in a green betel leaf. I wonder what the origins of this offering is. Tara looked very happy in her costume. Whether the golden glitter went overboard is a judgement that can be made only after seeing the official photographs in a couple of days. 
Achan leads Tara onto the dias. The crux of the wedding ceremony is the tying of the sacred marital thread. As soon the groom does this, his sisters who are waiting behind the bride, assist in finishing the tying. Then Ajith hands Tara three sarees. This used to be the only thing required for marriage in olden times. It was called "Pudava kodukal" (giving clothes). Tara put the wedding ring on Ajith's finger and we were done. They took circles around the lamp on the dias and promptly went on freeze for the photographs. Guests went up the dais to greet them and be photographed. I went back to repeating my new greeting to all the guests, "Did you eat?" 

I met lots of old uncles and aunts from the Central Bank of India. They used to be regular visitors to our home to meet Achan when we were kids. There were 35 chairs saved up for VIPs. Since it is not proper to make anyone get up, space for these chairs were kept cleared in the front. When a VIP appeared, Bhaskaran would miraculously appear with the required number of chairs. Bhaskaran is Rema Aunty's family helper. He is a magician when it comes to getting things done. And unlike regular helpers, he does it silently and neatly. Bhaskaran and the Innova driver, Nishanth, introduced yesterday were the two hard workers who ensured that today was a smooth success. 

Some time later, K. Muralidharan, son of ex-Chief Minister of Kerala, K. Karunakaran showed up. He was a guest from the groom side. Photographers and videographers surrounded him. He got photographed with Ajith. Tara was busy changing into her second saree for the event. Brides go through three sarees. One for the wedding, one for having lunch and one for leaving to the husband's house. 

I ate lunch in the round that the new couple ate. The food was pretty good. When I went to drop her at the railway station later, Chalam's mom remarked, "Why would you be in USA missing all these great food? This is your age to eat all these. When you reach our age, if you come back, there will be so many diet restrictions. You cannot enjoy these then!" 
Sensible point!

The auspicious time for the new wife to leave to her new husband's house was 2:30. I enjoyed the wait by connecting with the next generation in the family. These 5-8 year old kids had played their own wedding game assigning roles of bride, groom, bride's mom,groom's dad etc amongst themselves. This is how society catches them young. 

Everyone was sleepy after the feast, so the wait appeared longer. I was carrying a small black bag full of cash meant for the different contractors. Soon it became the favorite past time of my relatives to ask jokingly if I needed any help keeping the bag. We paid the food contractor first. He said he needed only half the amount now and would "settle" the rest later.

The decoration of the wedding auditorium was classy but I don't think it justified the exorbitant amount charged. There is the practise of asking extra money under the label of 'oru santoshathinu' (for happiness). This is a semi-black mail intended at folks who don't want any bad feelings left at the "sacred" marriage venue. I didn't feel for "the happiness" of the decorator folks so we paid only the stipulated contract amount.

Lot of old,retired military men work as security guards here. We had two yesterday at home for guiding the cars. There were two more today at the venue. How the hell do these guys manage to get drunk during the event?! It is a deep marriage mystery.

Traditionally the bride is supposed to cry as she leaves her family behind. Sometimes the family joins in this drama. This is the kind of public display of affection much admired in India. Tara had a huge smile when she left. "Aren't any of you going to cry?" a concerned relative asked. 

I was busy arranging the "good omen" as she left. Since the day started with feet wash, I wanted to end it with more hogwash. It is believed that a two-wheeler vehicle coming opposite to the couple's car is a great omen as they leave. I asked the Tahsildar cousin to ride in on his motorbike. He appeared spontaneously on the bike as the couple's car reached the auditorium gate. Much ooh-ing and aah-ing happened among the relatives. "What a great coincidence," said my oldest uncle, "it is the perfect omen." Achan told him that I had arranged for it. "You are a good director. I should see your drama videos," uncle said.

The huge welcoming arch at the wedding venue had banana stems and bunches of tender coconuts on both sides. Bhaskaran took on the duty of dismantling them and packing them home with us. Before he could get to it, a bunch of middle-aged men showed up. "We are from the Subramanian Temple near by. Would you like to donate these tender coconuts for the temple?" I could feel the stench of their devotion in their breath. Local rum and toddy smell is unmistakable. I had no intention of providing them tender coconuts for their next fix. 

My final duty for the day was to see off Chalam's mom. From the looks of it, she enjoyed the proceedings of the whole day. When she got to her seat number 1 in the S3 coach of Anantapuri express, she blessed me, "Tarakku nalla payyan kedachathu mathiri, ungalukkum sheekram oru nalla pon kedakkum" (Just like Tara got a good groom, you will also get a good bride soon). I head bobbed even as her hand was on my head.

Felt very tired once I got back home. Once again, socializing without alcohol takes its toll. Socializing in a mundu takes double the toll. But since I am in an alcohol-free environment, I had to make do with 3-4 tender coconuts. It is a healthier high. 
I must have averaged retying the mundu once every half hour. It's a pretty decent average for a day of active moving about. I admire the folks who play football and volleyball wearing lungi in the villages ofKerala.

It started raining so heavily in the evening that the guys who came to dismantle the 
shamiana outside the house left without even a quarter of the job done. It continues to rain into the night. Very heavily. If this rain had happened yesterday or this morning, the whole wedding would have been a near total washout. 
I must admit that I hadn't enjoyed all the rain in the last 27 days this much because the marriage had me occupied. Tonight's rain is the sweetest. It is sweeter because it waited yesterday night and this morning. 
Some coincidences are called luck.

Here begins the ending of the phase 1 of my India trip. Phase 2 launches in a staggered fashion from tomorrow: finding a business to keep me occupied in the mornings, a drama troupe and/or cultural forum for the afternoons and weekends. Orthochronos helpdesk will be active again from India on Monday.

Sopana Sangeetham sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ncdIjoNYxk