Sunday, April 29, 2007

I rant without standing on ceremony

Today, I attended a function in the family, a sacred thread ceremony (Upanayanam) for a cousin. As in all other Tamil Brahmin ceremonies I have attended (or been forced to attend)
over the years, this required me to wake up at the unearthly time of 0430 hrs. This, the morning after the Cricket World Cup finals. The religious festivities were apparently scheduled to start at six. This got me thinking, and led me to pose a very profound question - "Why the HELL does everything have to be so early?!".

I vaguely remember my own Upanayanam (I think it was about 13-14 years ago). I was shaken awake at a similar ungodly hour and was tortured with a series of rituals I had no idea about. (The jolly course of things also included standing around for hours at end smiling at people I'd never met before - and probably never met since - and multiple baths in @#$#$@ly cold water.) The same early start principle was applied to weddings (not mine, of course), house-warming ceremonies, exclusive TamBrahm bingo sessions, EVERYTHING. Apparently that (by which I mean the period of 5 to 7 ante the freakin' meridian) is a very good time for the Gods, my reliable sources tell me. I guess the Gods work on American time.

My usual course of action at any such function, including marriages, is simple. I walk in with bleary eyes, glare at everyone around me, give the obligatory What-Ho to the (un)lucky boy/couple and head for the food. However, if I were to take a minute, sit down, take a deep breath and try to actually cast my mind back and recall the scenes of the various functions, smaller details come to mind... little things that appear, unfailingly, in every tableau of such an event. A wedding (or, yes, an Upanayanam) would not be a wedding (or, yes, an Upanayanam) without these.

If you were to give me an untold sum of money and say, "Go forth AC/Kaka/Arvind/whatever-moniker-you-know-me-by, and throw me a typical TamBrahm wedding!" I would ensure the presence of the following
a. Food. Lots of food.
b. Several middle to old aged ladies, commonly referred to as maamis (singular: maami).
c. Several arbitrary children running around at random.

Other add-ons such as the priest, the gifts and the poor saps actually getting married are practically a sideshow in the face of the above three constituents.

Let's take them one at a time

a. Food. Lots of food.
Served by often shady looking yet enormously gifted cooks, helped by shadier looking but astoundingly organized chaps serving the hungry hordes. They juggle 30 different forms of dishes and answer to random calls such as
- "More rasam!"
- "Water, dammit, water!"
- "There's a hair in my payasam!"
- "Has anyone seen my bride?"

Their phenomenal Logistics Management would put RaviC to shame. Armed with nothing but
- an array of eversilver (stainless steel) utensils,
- stentorian voices that wouldn't be out of place in a military exercise,
- a dynamic memory of which diner of the 300 in the hall was last served what dish, and
- a patented method of tucking their dhotis so that they never unravel,
they travel the world serving up a storm... on call 24x7 to cater to your TamBrahm wedding.

b. Several middle to old aged ladies, commonly referred to as maamis (singular: maami).

They are in general pleasant people whom you would be inclined to dismiss as gentle, harmless and rather ineffective in any sphere of human activity. At your peril! Gentle they are, indeed. Harmless would describe them to a T (or a filter kaapi). But completely ineffective they are not, for there is one activity in which their collective might is unparalleled... match-making! And no, I do not mean either the incendiary device or the sporting encounter, so can the sad jokes.

Any function is a beehive of information exchange, and God help any eligible bachelor or bachelorette who steps into the area. If a personable young chap in his mid 20s were to walk into such a gathering, all conversation would freeze, and the air would be as thick as the special wedding payasam with expectation. All the maamis would instantly swivel around to focus on him, size him up, figure out who they knew of in need of a groom ("He'd be a good match for Radha's second cousin's daughter-in-law's granddaughter, no? Such a sweet girl... and he's an MBA! Let's exchange addresses!") Marriages aren't made in heaven, they're made in maamiland. I can imagine the computing power behind all the contemporary matrimonial
websites, much like Google's Pigeon Rank, except this is probably no prank!

c. Several arbitrary children running around at random.

This is a universal phenomenon, one that is seen at every occasion across geographies, religions, races and sexual orientations. One only needs to step into any marriage hall and take a look at the hordes of screaming children to realise the Government's family planning initiatives aren't working. (So what's happening to all the free Govt distributed condoms? Well, the next time you attend a Govt party and there's a water balloon fight with astonishingly strong balloons...)

The children don't even seem to have a plan. They merely run around in circles, weaving through the throng skilfully, taking a minor detour to step on my toes. Some chase each other, others merely follow a mental path all by themselves. At least one child will have his arms outstretched like an aeroplane. At least one child will be dressed in an obviously uncomfortable mini-three-piece-suit. And at least one will be crying. Exactly which child is crying will never be known, but it will continue to haunt one as the evening's background theme. I am inclined to believe this faceless lachrymator is the same one who follows me on every train or plane I board in my life, letting loose his 140 decibel bawl exactly two microseconds before I drift into a much-needed nap. Maybe this kid and the others are not kids at all. Maybe they're machines, programmed to run around aimlessly, yell at the top of their voices and bang against your knee every 2.15 minutes. That would explain how they are present in the hundreds at every event, and yet India's population isn't a gazillion. Technology rocks.

To those who are still reading this, thank you. I'm done. Really. Whew.


RPK said...

Apart from old age maami`s you also find some good looking girls...whom on seeing your heart pounds thousand times willing to talk to them..even some times enquiring to trusted relations about their whereabouts,by making sure they dont guess whether your doubts are natural ..I m sure you would have come across the above said events also

Anonymous said...

Maami Rank technology would beat Pigeonrank i believe :D

Anonymous said...

RaviC wouldn't be too happy to read this I guess ;) In any case he's known to have interesting rapport with Tams!
Btw this piece is written in your trademark style. Why don't you try something different, it'll be nice to read. I can't suggest variations, but do think about it.

NIRMAL said...

AC is back !!!
Btw u hv escaped two years attending classes now its the time to take part in such events.

You missed something very important in those functions.

AC said...

@rpk: I guess I'm attending the wrong marriages :( Somehow that has never happened to me... yet!

@anonymous2: ACP :) And thanks for the suggestion... I completely agree! I'll see what I can do to mix things up a bit.

@Nirmal: Hello hello hello :) Now that I'm back in Chennai (for a little while), it's back to the local festivities for me!

Abdul Aziz said...

man.. i used to keep checkin for a new article... keep em comin... hope you're doin well AC :)

Miss. Intrigued said...

I like your blogs..I really do. (I say this at the risk of sounding cliched).
I keep coming back.
Words of wisdom from you...How do you deal with writers block syndrom?
When you cant find what to write?

AC said...

Thanks miss intrigued :)

Hmmm... writer's block... old foe... I'm probably not the best person for advice on this! I responded by completely ignoring my blog for months on end. Whenever I found anything worth writing about, I would draft a post on it (most of these never saw the light of day, unfortunately). In the end, it took a friend of mine who passionately believed that I ought to blog to convince me to squeeze something out. It wasn't very good, and it took a lot of effort and was quite forced, but it felt good to have something up at last!