Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Wedding to Remember

My brother-in –law, Mohan and his wife, Latha, were in Indianapolis last May on a significant mission. Their daughter, Prarthana (‘Papu’ for us) a budding film director, who had already won a prize for her student production, chose to marry her friend from her institute, Edward Timpe. They went to convey not only their own blessings, but of the entire family to the couple and to meet Edward’s family. My son, Sreenath and his daughter, Durga, were at hand to celebrate the happy occasion. It was a matter of joy for all of us that Prathana had found her life partner.
It was really hectic for Mohan, Latha and the rest of the family ever since, planning and executing a grand wedding in a matter of 9 months. Shopping seemed endless as Latha, with her sisters, Madhu and Shanti, travelled to Delhi, Jaipur and other cities to hunt for the best for the children and the guests. Deepa and Sharu, two avid shoppers in the family, provided local expertise. Lekha was on her own hunt for clothes for herself and the rest of the family and for the best gift for Prarthana.
The first sign of the fruition of their efforts came when the invitation cards for the various events came in a golden box with goodies inside. Anyone, who received the box, could not have resisted the invitation. It must have been hard to choose the right people for the right events, though some of us received the entire package. Lekha and I set aside four days, Jan 22 to 25, 2011 and returned early from the US to get ready for the event. Lekha was busy before our trip to the US and after, handing out invitations to the large group of relatives and friends. Radhika and Hari also helped out. Mohan and Latha came to Thiruvananthapuram to invite some important guests. Many of them, including Princess Aswathy Thirunal. made the journey to Chennai to be part of the celebration.
The first event was a magnificent Chinese dinner at ‘Mainland China’ hosted by Latha’s youngest sister, Shanti and her globe- trotting husband, Ashok Kumar. This was within the family and the bridegroom’s party, consisting of Edward himself and his parents, were introduced to the family. They endeared themselves to everyone with their simple, but sophisticated ways. Till Ed met Prarthana, India was to them just the first two syllables of Indiana! They were travelling outside the US for the first time, but they did not seem to suffer from culture shock. The conservative “Indianaians” had no problem merging with Indians of three generations. The gifts that they brought from Indiana gladdened hearts all around.
The Mehendi Day the next day was primarily for women to get dressed for the wedding, to make merry and to celebrate the last day of Prarthana as a single girl. Artists adorned the palms of women with henna and the women were seen walking around with hands raised to get the henna dry. Dancing came naturally and as the men joined, there was a riot of colours in Hotel Park as magicians, tarot card readers, portrait painters entertained. Colourful bangles were available to adorn the slender female hands. The feast was but a harbinger of many more to come in the next two days.
The day of the wedding, January 24, also the wedding anniversary day of Mohan and Latha, started early when we drove at daybreak to the Shirdi Temple in the outskirts of Chennai for the ‘mangalsutra’ ceremony. In traditional Kerala clothes, Ed tied the ‘thali’ on his bride’s neck with Gopika’s help, perhaps the most important ceremony of a Nair wedding. The rest of the short ceremony ordained by the Nair community took place in a large hall, to the accompaniment, not only of the mandated ‘nadaswaram’, but also the lively ‘chenda’, the masterly percussion instrument of Kerala. The backdrop of the ceremony was the facade of a Kerala temple. The thirty-course sadya on plantain leaves completed the wedding ceremony with an endless line of well wishers lining up to greet the couple.
Those who missed the morning event and some of us who did not want to miss any event assembled for a grand dinner that evening. The bride and groom and the family were in new clothes, lined up against a new backdrop. Between the two events, the Who’s Who in Chennai was covered. We spotted Deputy Chief Minister Stalin, with machine gun wielding black cats, P. Suseela and S.Janaki, the legendary singers, Elayaraja and M.Jayachandran, music directors, Sujatha and Vijay Jesudas, the singers and many others.
The scene shifted to the Radisson Resort in Mahabalipuram for the grand finale on January 25, a gala dinner hosted by Vicky, the bride’s only brother. The youth took over the show, with toasts, singing and dancing. A video presentation showed the bride and bridegroom as they grew from tiny tots to adulthood. Speeches by elders were full of sentiments and love. I said that I was making up for not being present at Mohan’s wedding more than 30 years ago. I mentioned that it was appropriate that the bridegroom for the first international wedding in the family had come from the only super power. Prarthana had done more for India-US relations in a couple of years than what I could through diplomacy over ten years. I said that my son and grand daughter, who went to Indianapolis to meet Ed’s family, had reported that the Timpe family was a great asset. The cake, the food, the décor and the music were without blemish. It was past midnight when the tempo of the music reached feverish pitch and the young took over the dance floor and the elders took leave.
Presiding over the entire proceedings from the day one to the climax was the the bride’s grandfather, maestro M.S.Viswanathan, who strode the southern Indian film music scene like a colossus for half a century, and his wife. They had tears of joy in their eyes as they came to terms with the first granddaughter bidding goodbye. Mohan and Latha, who were so engrossed in making sure that everything went well, perhaps had no time to think of the distant home their daughter had acquired. The bridegroom and his parents, the only people in the bridegroom’s party, appeared to be enjoying the pomp and show of an Indian wedding, without having to worry about doing much, except to play their roles in the choreography. The absence of a self-important and demanding bridegroom’s party must be the dream of parents of every Indian bride!
For us, the bonus was catching up with youngsters in the family, whom we had met some years ago when they were much younger. Some of them had become adults and had their own families. As we boarded the flight for home after a hectic four days of feasting and bonding, the overwhelming thought was one of fulfillment that we were part of a joyous event of bringing together two cultures, two families and two souls in love.


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