Monday, June 9, 2014

How I attended the Wrong Wedding

T
HIS HAPPENED THIRTY YEARS AGO when I was working in Delhi. I had never attended a North Indian Hindu wedding. So when our office clerk Yashwant Singh invited me for his daughter’s marriage, I readily agreed.
      So on a cold January evening, dressed in my best I went to Laxmibai Nagar, (a government residential colony in South Delhi), only to discover that there were three baraat ghars (Hindu wedding halls) in the locality.  I tried the first two and was directed to the third ghar.
      The baraat (the wedding procession) was just going in. The bridegroom was seated on a white mare, a little boy squeezed in front of him. Entwined in tinsel, a “note-garland” lay about his shoulder, in crisp new currency notes of two and five rupees, its locket a single one-rupee note. Ahead, a dozen youth were dancing bhangra to a band.
I followed the party at an uncertain distance.


      I looked around for familiar faces from my office, but there were none. A group of ladies were waiting at the door of the ghar. Then it dawned on me: I am from the bride’s party. Shouldn’t I be with them? But all men seemed to be on the bridegroom’s side. I tried standing equidistant  from both the ladies and the gents. That way no one could accuse me of breaking any taboo by standing in the wrong group.
       Then the scene became lively. A fight had begun, so mildly that at first it seemed part of the ceremony. Rapidly it became business-like. The dancing youth were now kicking and punching each other, screaming expletives of high voltage. Elders rushed about with folded hands, begging for peace.
      “Pagal hain sub!” (madness!) said the bridegroom in anguish, surveying the unorthodox way his marriage was being celebrated. As I watched, a hefty young man lifted the bridegroom off the saddle and carried him away.
      No, not to be thrashed, assured an old gentleman standing beside me, and explained this was a traditional custom. He then looked at me carefully. [Mustn’t ask silly questions.]
      “Aao! Khana khao!” (dinner ready!) bellowed one of the elders over the din. Instantly the fighting stopped. Everyone casually raced inside, where a buffet was waiting.
      As I was swept in with the crowd, I tried to catch a glimpse of Yashwant Singh or anyone else I knew, and got increasingly confused. At the end of the hall stood a pair of thrones, decorated with plastic flowers. The bridegroom was seated in one, in a pose reminiscent of Rodin’s Thinker. The bride’s throne was occupied by a ceremonially dressed boy! Must be another traditional custom I thought. [Gay marriages were unthinkable in the 1980s, and are still illegal in India.]
      Hungry, I wedged my way through the seething mass of humanity and grabbed a plate. As my belly got filled my mind became clear: I was certainly attending the wrong wedding. Providential, I thought, happily munching a chicken leg. Yashwant Singh’s family were strict vegetarians.


*
W
hile having ice cream, I overheard a conversation. The thekedaar (contractor) and a guest were discussing the menace of strangers who came in just to eat. The thekedaar was describing how the other day he knocked the wind out of one.
      The badmaash [rogue] was suited, booted, wearing tie, vie . . . !” he recalled with relish. I fingered my jacket lapel and tie nervously. Clearly there was no safety in being well-dressed. I got this horrible feeling of being watched. Indeed, a gentleman in an elegant blue suit and gold rimmed spectacles was staring at me. I sat on a chair and contemplated my next move.
     

        A loud crash from the crockery section indicated that the fight had resumed. Swear words exploded once again. Everyone except the bridegroom went to watch. Taking advantage of the confusion I swiftly walked out. All was well, except that the spectacled man was right on my heels.
      He got into the same bus as I did. Once the bus started moving I became brave. What the hell can he do now? I sat down firmly beside the man in the elegant blue suit and gold rimmed spectacles and asked him, “Whose marriage was it?”
      The gent shrugged. He didn’t know either. Nor did he seem to consider it necessary to know.