Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bride Seeing

Bride Seeing. Meh, that doesn’t evoke a feel. Maybe it is a the literal Anglicization of a term that goes just beyond the phrase itself. Hence stabbing the heart of all the English loving crowd of the populace, I’m borrowing the original Malayalam phrase for it – Pennu Kaanal. Pennu kaanal ceremony, and for those Malayalam skeptics out there, I’ll shorten it to PKC.

I’m certain the variations of this exist across the length and breadth of India, but the one I’m more familiar with happens in my home state of Kerala. PKC is the initial step in a guy losing all the carefreeness of his bachelor life and an admission of the girl losing all hopes of ending up with a George Clooney, Shah Rukh Khan or Virat Kohli and submits to pragmatic realities of life. Err correct that, PKC is a solemn ritual where a prospective groom meets up with a prospective bride at her place, with the decision of a lifetime resting on that singular visit and its told and untold connotations. On an “auspicious” date and time as predicted by a panchangam or an astrologer, discussed and iterated multiple times to suit the convenience of the prospective groom likely coming home on a vacation from a job in the Gulf (bear with me, I’m going by averages here! The average Malayalee still works somewhere in the Gulf) and the prospective bride’s family, the groom-to-be and family set out to head to the bride-to-be’s home. For the sake of this article I’ll skip the prospective bride/groom terminology and refer to them as bride/groom. Saves me some typing. Come on, I’m an engineer. Optimization, procrastination and lethargy (as much sweet sounding they seem) are the three things I learned in college. But that’s beside the point.

It all starts from some nosy neighbor or *that* jeju ki cousin ka phuphaji ka didi ke saans bumping into your mother at some social gathering, all the more spectacular if it is a wedding. If you are passed out of college and employed for a year or two, any conversation between your mother and such a person will not bode well for you. Such a conversation will have its regional seasonings but a short transcript would be like this:
“Aur aapki beta kaise hai? Kaam dhaam kaise chal raha hai?”
“Bhagwan ki krupa se sab theek hai tai. Do saal ho gaya job mei, ab ladka keh raha hai ki usko higher studies karna hai.”
“Arre higher studies kaay ko? Engineer to hai hi who. Ab koi acchi ladki dhoodh lo aur shaadi kara lo.”
“Lekin tai, wo bade forcefully keh raha ki usko foreign me jaake higher studies karna hai. Aur koi charcha nahi ho raha ghar pe aajkal.”
“Kya karoge higher studies karke? Waise toh accha college mei padhke accha naukri kar raha hai ladka, wo bhi Bangalore mei. Ab Amreeka jaane ki kya zaroorat? Wo dekh apna Vivek,, Payal ka beta. Wo bhi yehi keh raha tha. Payal ne nahi maana, pakadke shaadi kara diya uska, aur dekho kitne khush naseeb zindagi hai unka. Meri baat suno, aajkal ke ladke aise bolte rahenge. Yeh Amreeka jaake kitne bacche bigad jaate hai tumhe pata hai? Uski baat math suno, tum ladki dhoondna shuru karo, wo accha bacha hai, apni maa ki baat wo maanenge.”

The next day your mother calls you. You awake from half slumber in the morning and your mother tells you, “I saw XYZ tai today…” The moment you hear that you know what has happened and what is going to happen. Mentally shouting all obscenities at that random tai (and making plans to booze off this pain if it is a weekend), the guy protests but in these life (-and-death?) situations, somehow taiji’s words carry much more weightage than yours!

And so starts the search. Malayalee mothers and fathers search from ends of the earth for a bride or groom as be the case. A decade ago, it used to be the classifieds section in vernacular newspapers. But not to be left behind by the tech innovations arising out from garages in Silicon Valley and dumps in Bengaluru, the “reputed Nair family” fathers and the “Latin Catholic Vishwakarma” mothers get new Android phones and install the matrimonial application recommended by their peers or jeju ki cousin ka…. The standards are high; the filters are in place. Often the guy or girl is shocked to read the description of themselves the parents have written about him/her. “Amma, I never knew you had such an awesome impression of me. Why didn’t you tell me earlier instead of beating and scolding me all the time? I’m such a perfect kid, thank you for telling me at least now. By the way you talk of us being from some reputed family, is that actually the case? When did that happen?!” The only thing that would be certainly true in a random profile picked online would be his/her date of birth and phone number.

Okay, okay. I’m rambling. I’m mixing up preambles with the actual title of the article. I’ll get back to PKC. There are bound to be ramblings but that is me the writer (mis?)using my author’s freedom to the extent granted. I’ll skip the stuff that happens from the groom or bride search, filtering till the setting up of PKC. Fast forward to the actual day of PKC. The groom is on vacation so he and his family set out on a fixed date and time in the biggest car they can find (“Oh come on, he is working in the Gulf. What will girl’s family think if we go in Maruti 800!”). So Matthew the groom would be accompanied by his achayan Thommichan, ammachi Lillikutty, George achaachan, Molly chechi. Or if it is Vishnu, it’d be his papa Narayanan Nair, amma Kunjulakshmi Amma, ettan and  ettathi. Meanwhile, preparations would be full swing at the bride’s place. As if the groom and family haven’t seen edible food for days, there will be a welcome drink (don’t perk up if you think it is that stuff you get, you know, you know, I mean…, not that!), a course of tea and snacks and some main course palaharam, depending on time of the day. It is like Rashtrapati Bhavan when a foreign head of state and an entourage is coming on a state visit. All this while, the bride would step into the kitchen every so few minutes, check up on how the culinary preparations are shaping up and upload a handful of pictures on Facebook and Instagram of those delicacies in multiple angles and with multiple image processing filters. “Oh man, I’ll break my previous high for number of likes in a single day!”

As a side note. There are multiple images that come to mind when I hear the term PKC. There is the tea offered, the accompanying sweets, the younger girls in the bride’s family crowding around some door or window to catch a glance of the groom with not-so-subtle giggles, the sound of the bride’s anklets, gajra (mullapoo) on her hair…and much more. But I think in terms of importance, Cuticura talcum powder probably trumps all. Let us admit, we Malayalees are not generally fair skinned but we are as obsessed with fair skin (“untanned” is a less racist term in a place where sun beats over our heads with all its fury 10 hours a day for 300 days a year) as any other Indian is and the short term solution to that is Cuticura. Cuticura probably makes and breaks more marriages than they care to acknowledge but credit must be given (and taken from) where it is rightfully due. Oh, and also Parachute Coconut oil. The father whose head is as bald as a field after crops have been reaped extols the virtue of regularly applying coconut oil at least five days a week for over five decades. The son is concerned whether his Brylcreem effect will be nullified by use of coconut oil. That is an ongoing debate, I’ll not delve into that.

The party of the groom reach the girl’s house. All those pleasantries are exchanged. “How was your flight from Gulf?” as if, if the flight were bad they could do something. “Did you travel business class? I don’t go economy class nowadays, the ACs don’t work in that class.” “Is your manager Arab?” Blah blah. The groom had bought new shirt and jeans for this day - specific instruction from the mother who thinks that’ll propel someone from cattle class looks to look like those guys who show up in advertisements. And since this is the first day wearing it, the groom now realizes that in his haste, his jeans are a waist size too small. The elasticity of jeans is in a very “pressing” war with the muscles lining his lower stomach and the stomach is dangerously bordering on winning the war, but the groom has to indeed put on the best smiley face. “And I thought the real war would begin after marriage!” And so on goes the show, till when everyone is exhausted about topics to talk. Job details, check. General Gulf news, check. Last monsoon and its stories, check. Condition of roads and traffic, check. There are only so many things two families who are complete strangers can talk about. And when the topics are dispersed with, the bride’s father turns to her mother and whispers something in her ear. She turns to some relative sitting next to her and does the same. The relative turns to the person next to her and the same process repeats. “Oh come on, I know what you are telling, you can as well tell it out loud instead of doing this silent murmur message passing thing.” After a few hops the message has reached the person closest to the door and he/she patiently waits even though everyone knows what is the whisper all about. And when it “officially” reaches the last person inside, he turns back and heads inside. Action time.

Aah the Noopura Dhwani. The mellow sound of anklets fill the air. Does it have a rhythm? A flow to it? Does it sound like “aishwaryathinte siren” to borrow from a popular Malayalam movie? He never really bothered to study Doppler effect but the groom knows enough to make out that as the source of sound comes nearer, the sound gets louder. Poor Mr. Doppler, after all that hard work, his theorem has been sidestepped. The clinking sounds of the anklet reaches its peak. And a girl makes her way to the door, snatches a peek at the groom, and with a giggle, stows herself behind the door. “Oh no, that is my cousin’s daughter, she is very naughty.” And that is when the bride makes her entrance. She’s in jeans and top, clutching a mobile phone in her hands, her phone emitting singular notification sounds of what are invariably messages asking for live updates. “Could you do a live stream on Periscope?!”
The awkwardness shows no sign of abating. The bride’s family stare at the groom, and the groom’s at the bride and they expect us to start talking like we were best friends who are seeing after a long time. All those rehearsals of watching YouTube clips of PKCs from movies have gone in vain. Both don’t know what to say - and neither of them wants to screw up bug time asking those random questions “Which college did you study?”, “Who was your favorite teacher?” Ugh. Finally, as the awkwardness reaches a crescendo, someone mercifully says “Why don’t they speak to each other privately?” Thank you uncle. Remind me to get you one of those Whiskeys from the duty free shop when I come next time.

So off they head off. Both are relieved, probably for different reason. The groom feels that with all the discomfiture his jeans are causing him, a walk even if ten steps it is, would be useful to “set things right” The girl has not checked her last Facebook photo upload for over twenty minutes now, not to mention about all those texts pinging her phone every few minutes. She’s eager to “get back to action”, online. And so they move to an adjacent room, and somewhere the ice is broken. They start speaking about random things - things that either of them really don’t care about and which neither of them would’ve spoken had they known each other prior, but hey, this situation warrants things happening differently! Eventually after some few minutes of random chit chat they are called back to the living room where everyone is. The parents of either parties cast furious glances at their wards to see if they can discern anything from their facial expressions or their body language and the bride and groom try their level best to mask their feelings. After all, he/she is right now the center point of attention among their relatives. Such occasions come rarely and who wants to move the spotlight out huh?

By now, quite a while has elapsed and multiple courses of food and drinks have been served. Certainly the groom (and for gender parity, the bride as well. Puritans, pardon thy for this unholy reference!) would much prefer a McDowell’s and a few pieces of Tandoori chicken for touchings but alas the occasion demands much gentler recourse and he has to wait till he gets back home, to tonight for “opening the bottles”  And so, with the topics of general discussions already stripped to a bare minimum courtesy over an hour of absolutely useless and unfruitful conversation, someone from the groom’s party, most likely his father initiates the process of gathering the crowd and making a move on. The apprehension is palpable in the air by the time the groom and his party get back into the car, for both the families are waiting for to hear THE word from their kids. The one word. Depending on that word, these trips in car by one family to another could be a regular theme for years to come or alternately would soon be forgotten in the annals of time. As with happens in Indian movies, since eventually the hero and heroine come together and live happily ever after, I’ll take a leaf from that book and say that it was a happy ending. Now, depending on where you come from, happy ending might mean different things for you and there is that..! Hence, I’ll sign off without a climax, for a change. That, my very unfortunate reader, is upto you to fill in!

Post Script: It would be incomplete without mentioning what is probably the precursor to all those Central Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The pre marital investigation of groom/bride by the opposite party. According to the Six Degrees of Separation theory, any two people on planet are connected by no more than six degrees or steps. In other words, if we map from person A in continent A speaking language A to person B in continent B speaking language B, we can find a friend of friend of…(maximum six times) … of A who will be a friend of B as well. Malayalees have understood and assimilated this theory better than a lot of other species and as a result, whatever the circumstance, the bride’s family is indeed able to dig out information about personal and professional aspects of the groom and his family and vice versa. Someone should file a patent application for recognizing the pioneering efforts of Malayalee family (or Indian families in general) to the science of investigation and their contribution in making the field of personal and private investigation where it stands today….

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