I've got to set this down before the memories and the details fade away... this was long pending.
On the 31st of August 2007, two hands were joined in holy matrimony amidst showers of flowers, prayers, blessings and loud kettimelam. Hand-1 belongs to my cousin cum blogger Niranjani(aka Mathangi) and Hand2 belongs to her sweetheart Sundar.
Of course, anyone who lives in India knows how colourful and festive a typical south Indian wedding can get. This was, my first ever 'complete and exhaustive' attendance at such an event, the rest similar cases being confined to the when-i-was-small(WIWS) period. The big event was at a cultural-centre in the midst of busy Chennai.
We (viz, dad, mom, sis and I) kicked off from home and took the evening 2696 Chennai SF. As is customary I went and checked out the loco. Erode WAP4 #22580 (aka. Sid's loco hehe). We were soon doing MPS (read, 90kmph as is permitted by Kerala tracks which try to follow undulating shapes whenever possible), going up and down steep gradients like some huge roller coaster. I then remembered with a shock that I had forgotten to pack my camera's batteries.. but there was nothing gained in worrying over that now... more on that later. Night fell, and I turned in at around 2200 hrs.
I sleep very little on a train, waking continuously to look at my watch and trying to guess where we were, Daybreak found us pulling into Jolarpettai Jn. JTJ is a kinda big station for a less prominent town. But since it's a junction, the station is biggish. Had some watery tea while standing on the platform and waiting for the amber. Soon the starter turned to amber and away we pulled. A WDG3A 'Shakti' and some usual DMs were standing in a kind of yard, but besides that, and a coal rake, there wasnt much activity there. We rocked out through katpadi, blasted at top speed across numerous little towns(accompanied with lots of dust-flying :) and slowed down and halted at Vyasarpadi, only to pull out half and hour later and stop again at MAS outer. Then slowwly, grudgingly, the 20-something coach rake pulled into some end platform of Chennai central.
We checked in at our place of stay and a quick wash later, took the EMU from Egmore to West Mambalam. The marriage-hall was a pleasant little place, with a huge 'stage' and two rooms labelled "Bride" and "Bridegroom" on the sides of it. After a quick chat with aunties.etc, our party headed straight to the former.
The door opened and my cousin's sister (in other words, my cousin too) peeped out. "Helooo" said some member of the family(could be my mom or sis, dont remember). "Hai.. vaanga vaanga" She turned inside and called out to Mathangi "Hey, Sriram has come", and I knew I had arrived :)
My cousin and I were meeting after a long time. Former meetings also belonged to the WIWS period and recently we had discovered each other's existence over the internet, but besides chatting, this was the first real-life meet and obviously I was looking forward to it.
Well, after a quick exchange of pleasantries we were out of that room and mom got down to chatting with her cousins about 'those good ol' days' and dad went out for a walk with another uncle, when I started feeling bored. I told my mom I could be found in the 'Bride's room ;) and headed for it, but not without my little sis insisting on her coming along. So my cousin(s) and I started talking and stuff till it was time for her to change her attire as it was time for the Nichiyadartham(hope I've spelt it right!). Dad came back and then I suddenly remembered my camera battery. Anyway, the function had started and I clicked one pic when the damn camera lens retracted and I stared into the letters, "Change the batteries". I hurried out and to my luck I found a paan shop nearby which sold Duracell Alkaline Batteries. The owner seemed not to have heard of them, but I spotted a couple of them hanging from a dingy wall and pointed at them. Fortunately they worked. Back at the mandapam, it was getting late and it was time for the reception. In hurried Mathangi for another attire change and emerged out a completely different person, thanks to her beautician who seemed to be an expert in erasing all her beauty and making her look like a completely different person ;)
The reception saw a great deal of guests, and over all that merry din of voices chatting, old thaathas talking, and a mandolin playing popular songs out of the CD player, the couple sat on throned chairs and had a nice time standing up, meeting people, accepting gifts and posing with them for photographs. I was now determined to cover the whole event and my camera had a lot of work. The day ended with catching a train back to Egmore and sleeping like a log back at the bed.
The day of the marriage saw me getting up early, walking into Egmore, which is a lovely little station. Its entrance, complete with British architecture is strikingly similar to the entrance to Trivandrum Central and reflects the common hand of the British who built them. Its arched roof over the tracks and plarform oozes with what some people call, with a faraway twinkle in their eyes, "The Golden age of steam". Eventhough I was born too late to hear a whistle blow or see coal being shovelled into a steam loco, I could in a sense feel something what they meant :) Three WDM3D locos were waiting with some trains.. never seen so many together. We caught an EMU to West Mambalam and entered the mandapam. Everything was set and rocking for the big day. The place was packed with relatives and friends (one of them a Frenchman, a friend of the bride's father,and whose first time it was at an Indian wedding). The bride's father, a nice uncle of mine, had lent me his camera charger the previous night, and I thus had my cam all charged and ready :)
As per the long survived custom, the groom(G) sets out for his "kaashi yatra"(or so) clad in dhoti and complete with a walking cane, when the Bride's father stops him on the way and offers his daughter for marriage. G then accepts happily (choice between a long journey for some pilgrimage and a beautiful wife isn't that difficult, is it ;) and comes into the mandapam. Then, to make things difficult, the bride(B) is hoisted aloft somebody's shoulders (just for fun) and G tries to garland her. Here, Mathangi was hoisted aloft another strong cousin's shoulder, and boy was she high up! G tried to garland her but she was unreachable, so her altitude is decreased by a few inches, upon which G succeeds. Then it is the same with B. The whole thing is a humourous and pleasant affair, which adds to the lovable atmosphere around the whole event :)
Then B and G sit on the oonjal (swing) while a lot of formailites go on... I really dont remember what exactly each event was for and what went on, but they were repeatedly given something to eat from many relatives(ladies being the key players in this event). Then somebody sang Radha kalyanam... vaibhogame... while the couple rocked on the swing. All the while, cameras, mobile-phones and camcorders were kept busy. At one point I counted ten optical devices excluding mine :)
Then B and G head back into the hall for some homams (pujas involving fire). All through the event, Sundar(ie, G) had made fun out of the whole thing by repeating what the priest was chanting to him in a way which made Mathangi want to laugh, but all she could do was to suppress her chuckles and sit smiling on stage.
After that followed another attire-change for the couple during which her grandmother called me and asked me to get the first photo of the decked-up bride. I obliged and clicked the beautifully dressed up lady before she was to be wedded.
Then came the climax of the whole ceremonies - the tying of the knot - which is done by the groom, while the bride sits on her father's lap. During this part, which took place in the raised, stage-like place in the hall, only the couple, their parents and very close relatives + the priest, plus media people (ie, people wielding cameras ;) were allowed on the stage-like thingy. Flashing my camera, I got myself into a vantage spot from where I could catch all that was going on.
After a few rituals (which undoubtedly have meaning but about which I am in the dark about), the time came for the knot-tying. I gave my cousin a thumbs up... she smiled back but was looking rather blank...(her mind was blank, she told me later - I wonder what it would be like, at that big turning point of one's life) and moments later, the sacred knot was tied by Sundar amidst flowers and prayers and loud 'kettimelam'- the nadaswaram guy playing that familiar tune, as he must have done before hundreds of happy gatherings all over the state.
After this, and a few minutes later, friends poured in to see the couple and congratulated them and got shot(from a cam!) along with them. Then follows lunch... when the couple sit together and feed each other food and relatives stand by and smile and say what a pretty sight it is, etc. Later, as everyone has had their fill of rice, avial, pappad(or appalam as it is called in Tamil), sambhar, rasam, mor, not to forget lots of payasam, old men slowly wade out with friends and burp, exclaiming - "Saappad romba pramaadam!" and "Samayal Jor!" ("Food and/or cooking was excellent"), while their female contemporaries stuff their mouth with beetel and supari and look like vampires for the rest of the evening :)
There is a brief lull from this time at noon to the evening when there remains one last festivity. Meanwhile I had some eplans of buying an portable music player(cum USB drive) and one of my aunties had fixed up her friend, who runs an electronics shop to meet me. We(my aunt and I) took an auto to her address, which was just a block away, but the auto-driver took an extrememly circuitous route, blaming the police for declaring 'one-ways' everywhere. Anyway I chose a 2GB Transcend player and it was scheduled to be delivered sometime in the afternoon at the hall itself. So I was left alone with a wad of cash, expecting my gift when the rest of my folks wwent shopping through the slushy streets of Ranganathan street.
I looked around the hall... two oldies sleeping yonder, with the nadaswaram troopers for company. A couple of women chewing on beetel and chatting softly... besides, my usual 'gang'(comprising a few of more or less similarly aged cousins) was absent due to various inconveniences. So I loafed about for sometime, when it started to get extremely boring, to top it all the fact that I was leaving tonight made me irritated. I suddenly had this idea and I strode off to the B's room and was accepteed in without much security checks ;) The rest of the afternoon was spent there, showing the pics from the cam or just chatting. There was a friend of hers from Calcutta too, who obviously didnt understand Tamil, so the whole conversation went in English. Later, time approached for the penultimate piece of the ceremony - known as Nalungu, so I left the room to give Mathangi time for yet another attire change.
The Nalungu undoubtedly had a fixed purpose in the old days(when people were married at a young age), but now it has been reduced to mere silly fun, serving maybe just as an ice-breaker(or whatever) between the new-to-each-other B & G. However even that was unnecessary in this case, as here, both B and G had known each other for a long time and had worked together for years. Yet the thing happened with a light-spritied air. I forgot the chronology of events, but here is a vague idea of what happens:
Scene 1: B and G sit on opposite sides on a carpet, facing each other. B's relatives sit on her side, while G's take his side. (Some relatives switch sides for fun). A harmless start - B and G are asked to sing a song. Here, after much persuasion, B sang the Sanskrit sloka-cum-song "Mudhakaraatha modhakam.." in a tiny voice :)
G was much more gallant... He took off with Paartha mudhal naaley.. ("The first time I saw you.." - a recent Tamil movie song) and received much applause!
Scene 2: A coconut is rolled onto the field between the two. Activities include trying to force it from each other's hands, and stuf... The muscular G was no match for B in such physical challenges. (Sorry B, but this was the case :)
Scene 3: The most obsolete thing. A pappad is tried to be broken over B's head by G while she ducks. A hit scores while a miss is boo-ed at. Same with G.
Then the spotlight passed to some relatives on the side of G and B. A lady on Sundar's side sang some classical pieces (his side was a very musical family) and some other lady showcased some mimickry performances. After all that, some lull followed and the event managers (elderly ladies and men) decided to wind it up. The crowd rose.
Some packing followed in my folks' room, getting everything ready for the return journey. I was depressed as is the feeling when you're leaving, to go back to school... exams and stuff. I went down carrying some suitcase when Mathangi beckoned to me, and introduced me to Sundar... I later came to know that he was a drummer too :) Then she and I talked for sometime and it was time for me to leave. I was feeling awful. Besides, this was my last un-scholarly activity/trip before I was to plunge into six months of nothing but study for the exams. Anyway I said goodbye with a stiff upper lip and left, along with that Calcutta friend of hers in a car to MAS. It took us about an hour to dodge traffic and in between that, our taxi driver was booked by the cops for something.. I think it was parking or driving without his uniform or some such thing. We then made our way into a thickly populated MAS station. The Chennai-Trivandrum mail to TVC was pushed into some platform (It was impossible to say, what with the damn crowd) and I boarded it and sat for half an hour swatting mosquitoes till the coach batteries were switched on. (Mom still thought that you had to attach the loco to the rake for the lights to be switched on, but she finally accepted the fact that it was so in the old days of vacuum braked(brown)-rakes and that now every coach is self generating).
It was an extremely smooth and fast ride to Arakkonam, when I dropped off to sleep and woke up at ERN the next day.. a couple of hours later, entered home and it was back to reality,