28 March, 2013

The TamBrahm Series Part 4 - Kalyanam - The Wedding Part 2

(Pic courtesy : theweddinggurus.blogspot.com via Google)

It usually takes a few minutes for the full fledged sobs to temper down to the occasional sniffle, by which time the priest is usually in a hurry to get on with the deed.  Making it sound rather ominous, am I not ?  The bride and the groom would make their way back to the seats in front of the homa kundam and plonk there for more mantrams to follow.  I’ve always had the feeling that the priests are somehow not happy seeing the bride and groom sitting comfortably so they decide it’s time to make them stand up yet again.  The groom is then handed the 9 yard sari and the stitched up blouse and while he is busy wondering if he’s the one that’s supposed to be wearing that sari, the priest speeds  his mantras forward like The Rajdhani Express and tells the groom to hand the sari over to the bride.   There is, of course, a lot of fanfare during this process too – read Getti Melam !!!

There is once more the feet washing ritual – no no – I don’t mean all the mamas and mamis having to wash their feet in those dirty bathrooms that the wedding halls usually come with.  I mean this ritual where a sixty plus year old gentleman (read bride’s father) washes the feet of someone less than half his age (read groom).  Doesn’t help again that the groom is perched on a chair with his faher in law sitting on the floor in front of him.  It is apparently done because the groom is ostensibly an avatar of Lord Vishnu and in the olden days, it was normal practice to wash a guest’s feet.  In a culture like ours which places a lot of emphasis on respect and more importantly the fact that an elderly person is given a modicum of respect just on the basis of age, this is another one of those rituals that has always been a bone of contention for me.  Anyways, aside of my rave and rants on this ritual, this is something that happens twice during an Iyer wedding.  And before you ask, the answer is "no" – the groom’s mother does not wash the bride’s feet  !!!  

Feet of the bride and the groom are “washed” with milk immediately after the garlanding ceremony – in that five mamis line up to dot the groom’s feet and then the bride’s feet with droplets of milk and then promptly proceed to wipe those drops off with a small handkerchief hidden in the folds of their kancheevaram silks.  Theory being that it symbolizes the bride and groom’s feet being washed with milk and wiped with silk.  Cheating !!!!! They wipe with cotton handkerchieves !!!  Going by the same principle, I wonder why none of the brides’ fathers have come up with the innovative idea of hosing down the groom’s feet during the feet washing ritual.  I mean, just take a garden hose and hose those feet down.  Or better still (I’m feeling positively evil now) why doesn’t the bride’s father get a whole array of brushes before he sits down to wash the groom’s feet ?  I mean, walking around barefoot and all that – the groom’s feet are bound to be dirty.  So take a good old clothes washing brush and brush away.  Makes sense, don’t you think ?  Scrub all those dead cells away and send the groom a debit note later, stating “charges for pedicure”.  Oh well !!  One can dream, right ??!!

The bride is yet again asked to change into the 9 yards sari in five minutes and the naathanaaru escorts the bride away, presumably to help her change into the 9 yards sari or just to ogle.  I can’t think of any other reasons.  Along the way to the room, the bride and her naathanaaru are joined by scores of other mamis.  The whole troupe begins to look and sound like a gaggle of geese – I mean those big, menacing looking Canadian geese not the small, petite, demure looking ones. 

Once in the room, brides often realise that to get into gear (meaning the 9 yards traditional sari), they would have to divest themselves of their sari petticoats too.  This is a pretty scary thought – especially given the fact that the nine yards sari is tucked in at so many places.  I have always had nightmares on this count – imagine one of those tucks slowly coming loose like nails come loose from wooden boards in movies.  Little by little by little.  The bride, who needs to sit down and stand up many times with that nine yard contraption on, would be fully aware of the disaster about to unfold but there’s no way she can really hitch the whole thing up like pants with a button that’s popped out.  Finally, the tucked bit of cloth pops out entirely and this sets off a domino effect of some sort and in the midst of the hall, the whole 9 yard sari contraption comes off.  Like I said, it is just one of those nightmares and luckily enough, it has remained that.  That nightmare has not seen the daylight of reality and hopefully never will.

In the room, things would be moving at a rather frenzied pace, with the senior mamis folding and unfolding and pleating the nine yards sari and what have you.  If things are like they were in my case, the senior mamis in charge of this sari draping operation would be more nervous than the bride herself and would end up draping the sari on the bride perfectly but the wrong side out.  Meaning, all that shiny kancheevaram gold threads would be on the inside with the plain woven side on the outside.  Darn !!  Take the sari off and drape it all over again !!  Not too many choices there – other than the fact that the bride throws the towel in and says she will just get married in a pair of jeans and a tee.   I was prepared for this “divesting the petticoat” thing, though.  I remember calmly stepping out of the petticoat much to the horror of some of the mamis around.  “Aiyyo konjum naanam maanam ellam venam kittaya” (Aiyyo – you should have some semblance of shame) she retorted just as the petticoat dramatically slipped off.  For all that talk of naanam and maanam, she did not avert her eyes and then realized that all along, I had a pair of shorts under the petticoat.  Ha !  Forearmed is good !!  Not forewarning the Canadian geese mamis is even better !!!  That look on their faces is quite akin to people choking on a fishbone – that moment of realization when the penny drops, the eyes widen, the mouth opens and stays open in an O shape and they look sufficiently shocked into silence – absolutely priceless, methinks.

Once the bride is all trussed up in the nine yard sari, those dumbbell like garlands go back on the neck  and the picture is complete.  Now, not only is free movement of the neck and head virtually impossible but this extends to the rest of the body as well.  Remember those innumerable tucks of the nine yard sari into various corners of your body which need to stay tucked !! (I didn’t know my body had as many corners until I was garbed in my wedding madisaar.  See, everything has a bright side to it.  One just fails to see it when it is so blindingly bright !!) 

The bride is ushered in by the whole gaggle of geese that had gone in for the sari changing process and very nimbly and cautiously sits down in the nine yard contraption called the madisaar.  Sadistic bunch that the priests are, the moment the brides sit down, they are asked to stand up and do a namaskaram to no one in particular.  Wonder if this was one of those ancient gym routines – bone strengthening, fat reducing and what have you.  Namaskaram done and the bride and groom sit down yet again while the priest tries to desperately revive the flames in the agni kundam. 

A few young girls (who most people in the hall would be eyeing like one would eye cattle at a fair and thinking that they would be a perfect match for someone’s far off relative) would be walking around the hall offering everybody flowers.  Yes, the men too.  No, not to wear on their heads.  I’m talking of flowers which are showered on the bridal couple as they (quite literally) tie themselves up in knots .... oops .... I mean tie the knot.  A couple of those mamis that resemble Canadian geese (formidable is what I’m trying to say) would be walking around with a plate with the bride’s mangalsutra on it.  It is taken around to elders in the hall for their blessings.  Now why this mangalsutra has to be on a yellow thread has always been beyond me.  It stays yellow for a couple of days and assuming that the bride is the kind that bathes everyday, it starts to turn various shades of many different colours.  It takes Fifty Shades of Grey in helping the bride decide.  I mean, the thread turns into a dirty, mottled sort of grey over a couple of months to spur the brides into action in deciding that it is about time they divest themselves of the erstwhile yellow thread and get the mangalsutra transferred onto a chain.  Why would it not have been just put around their necks on a chain is well, beyond me. 

A sudden flurry of activity ensues as the priest realizes that he’s pretty much holding up the entire process and to someone who has not been to a Iyer wedding, it must indeed seem strange.  Moments of inactivity and suddenly people rising from all over the hall pretty much like the Mexican wave.  In the midst of all this, the bride would have ended up on a chair that makes its presence felt throughout the ceremony.  Sometimes she is asked to sit on her father’s lap but if the priests are like the ones who officiated our wedding, they decide that the bride is old enough to sit on a chair by herself.  I mean. if she is old enough to get married, surely she’s old enough to sit on a chair by herself right ??  Gah ! Kidding !!

By now, the area immediately surrounding the said chair on which the bride is seated would have and should have (otherwise there is something seriously amiss) begun to resemble a scrum at the Rugby Sevens.  Numerous mamas and mamis would be hunched around the chair in a circle, necks straining until they remind one of the baby emus at Singapore Zoo.  Once again while the priest yells mantras at the rather befuddled looking groom, the nathanaar (God ! She’s everywhere !!) takes her spot behind the bride and in unison about fifty fingers seem to fly up in the air to shouts of Getti Melam, Getti Melam. 

As the Getti Melam gets its act together and screeches like animals being led to the slaughter, the groom is instructed to place the mangalsutra on the bride’s neck and tie just one knot.  The two following knots are to be tied by who else but the nathanaar !!  In my case, my nathaanaar was the one most nervous and the video clearly shows her hands shaking and in a fit of nervousness she tied my mangalsutra thread somehow around two garlands and for the rest of the ceremony, I pretty much walked around with my head held high – not in the figurative sense, more so in the literal sense because the mangalsutra was that high up on my neck !!!  I empathised a great deal with horses who are lassoed !! 

Alll the mamas and mamis shower the bridal couple with flowers.  The ones in the couple of rows at the front do manage to hit their intended targets but for the others, it is pretty much a question of which bottom their flowers hit.  There is a wall of mamas and mamis standing at the front and they get their rather generous bottoms showered with flowers by the people sitting behind.  Pretty sight, no ?

Just as the bride and the groom are marvelling at feeling like a hero and heroine in a movie, with the heavens showering flowers on them from all sides and the getti melam playing like the New York Philarmonic Orchestra, there would be a flurry of hands that appear through the crowd, making the whole thing seem like a scene from The Nightmare on Elm Street.  No bodies, only disjointed hands being thrust at you.  As if getting married was not scary enough, now there’s a whole host of scrawny, bony hands without bodies to contend with.

People would be shaking hands with just about everybody around saying “kalyanam ayacchu allava ?” (They’re married, isn’t it ?) or some such inane comment.  Of course, they’re married !!  What do you think all this ruckus over the past twenty four hours has been about, dude ?  To the bride’s parents it would be “Mappillai Vandacha ?”  (quite literally translated, it means “Has your son-in-law come ?”  What in the world sort of question is that ?  More so, pray tell me, is it not a tad too soon for that question ?  Right there, in front of so many people ??!!  Also, how in the name of God will the bride’s parents know the answer to that question ?)  Aiyyo !!  The Horrors !!  The groom’s parents would be subjected to the “Mattuponnu vandacha ?”  which means “ has your daughter in law come ?”  My Dear Lord in Heaven – I shall say no more !!

Once all these questions about who has come and how and where they came subside (wrong choice of word there, I know), the bridal couple would be seated in front of the agni kundam again and the priest would be seen beckoning the by-now-infamous nathanaar again.  She descends upon the bride with something hidden in her palms.  The toe rings !!  Now begins some more fun.   How these toe rings are bought is a saga in itself.  Basically, the person who buys them has no clue of the size of the bride’s toe.  Not surprisingly, getting the bride’s toe through those rings is like getting an egg through the narrow mouth of a bottle.  Atleast with a bottle, one can use fire.  Common sense suggests that one cannot set a bride’s foot on fire to get a toe ring onto her toe.  Priests to the rescue !!  Like James Bond rescuing a damsel in distress the priest uses a piece of turmeric and a struggle ensues – between the priest and the turmeric and the toe ring.  Somehow, after an inordinately long struggle, the toe rings go on.  The groom’s parents should also buy a pedicure voucher when they shop for toe rihgs.  After all that trauma to her toe, the bride is sure to need a pedi !!

The bridal couple stand up yet again and it is time for the Saptapadi.  The groom is asked to stand and hold the bride’s right hand in his right hand.  He then has to bend and hold the bride’s big toe with his left hand.  Some weird Yogasana this looks like.  But dudes, this is another reason for the grooms to hit the gym months before they get married.  Semi clothed as they are, it definitely makes things less embarrassing if they’ve been working out months prior to the wedding.  Just in case people start to get ideas and start rushing off to the nearest outlet of Triumph or Wacoal thinking the groom needs “extra support”, you know.   
This is the clue for all the mamis in the hall to start whispering to each other “Adho – pondati odu kaala pidichaachu avan.  Paavam Rukmini – ini aval chonnathai onnum kekka maatan avan.” (See he’s touching his wife’s feet.  Now he’s not going to listen to his mom anymore.) Paavam Rukmini meaning Poor Rukmini is the MIL a.k.a the groom’s mom. Oxymorons galore, that one !!

Some more time in front of the agni kundam and the wedding ceremony is deemed complete.  The bride and the groom are handed a bowl of akshathai  (yellow rice) and are asked to do namaskarams to the elders left in the hall.  Worry not, there won’t be too many people left in the hall.  Most people would already have made a beeline to the eating hall where the wedding saddhi would be on in full swing.  More about the kalyanam saddhi in the final episode of this series coming up soon.  Kalyana Saddhi, Nalangu and of course, the Shanti Muhurtham.  

Ending this edition with a question -  who in the name of God named it Shanti Muhurtham ?  Of all the things, the best they could come up with was Shanti Muhurtham ???!!!  

Stay tuned - series finale coming up soon :-).

22 March, 2013

The politicization of the Indian Police Force

(Image courtesy : manjul.com via Google)

There was a lot of brouhaha recently about a policeman being beaten up by a bunch of MLAs in Vidhan Sabha.  People expressed shock, they expressed their distress over the incident and the social networking sites were pretty much peppered with status updates which indicated the outrage that the general population felt over this incident.
Aside of what just happened, this incident has been on my mind over the past couple of days.  One question that repeatedly kept popping up in my mind was “Given the history of governance in our country,  given what our country is increasingly becoming,  why does this incident surprise people so much ?”.  Give it a thought.   Have not the politicians always considered the police force their personal servants and lackeys ?   This is yet another perfect example of a servant being punished by his master for what the master thought the servant had done wrong.  This incident was a more open one, it was blatant, it was unconcealed and flagrant.  It was wrong.  It was definitely wrong.  But was it surprising that this happened ?  Another question that many people kept asking (just as I kept asking myself) was “Why did the other policemen not rush to protect one of their own ?” Yet again, the answer is pretty much the same, isn’t it ?
Policing and politics are more closely related than we’ve bothered to understand.  They do kind of go hand in hand with each other.  Admittedly, in any given democracy, the ultimate responsibility of the public’s safety lies with the Home Ministry.  The police force is the liaison that actually implements the laws set out by the Home Ministry, at the street level.  As such, it becomes the combined responsibility of the ministers concerned and the police force to ensure, together, the safety of the citizens of the country.  For this to happen, there needs to be a sense of balance – balance in terms of responsibilities and balance in terms of accountability.  Somewhere along the way, the whole picture has got distorted beyond measure.
Politicians in India have increasingly considered and are considering the police force their personal servants or lackeys.  If the responsibilities of a police officer were to be graded today, simply listening to and doing as a politician asks a policeman to do, would be on top of the list of priorities.  Sadly enough, the list of responsibilities of a policeman starts and ends there.  Herein lies the issue.  Imagine a situation wherein the policeman refuses to acquiesce to the demands or orders of the politicians.  What do the politicians do ?  The policemen or women in question are either threatened into submission and if that does not work, there’s always a very convenient tool called transfer.  Either way, the message that goes out loud and clear is this “You are expected to do what I ask you to.  No questions asked”.      
I remember an incident a couple of years back when Mayawati wanted a special police force created to safeguard statues of herself and her cronies.  This, when crime is becoming increasingly rampant in the country and the police force increasingly ineffective. 
In our country, this is precisely what is happening – just about everywhere, I guess, given the fact that crime is rampant and more importantly the fact that politicians and their brood are never held responsible for their crimes.  The police force has increasingly been “politicized” and the political system has “eroded” policing.  They are no long two entities with respect for each other.  They are two entities – one dominant and the other that is expected to be submissive. 
It is a known fact that in any given society, the police force wields a wide range of powers and if sufficient checks or controls are not laid out or enforced when they need to be, there exists a genuine danger of misuse of power.  But ever more dangerous is that fact that the ability to control the police force starts being misused.  This then becomes a very handy tool to serve certain sections of the society – the rich and the powerful.   It then becomes a very limited and bigoted tool.  Other members of the society who, by law, are entitled to protection by the police force, become completely sidelined.  The police force pretty much exists to take care of the rich and the powerful and herein gets cemented the relationship of a servant and the master. 
Small wonder then that when API Sachin Suryavanshi stopped an MLAs car for over speeding, it was considered that be had broken a cardinal rule that exists and pervades the Indian society and government today – that of a servant questioning his master and actually having the cheek to pull his master up. 
The brutality that the common man in the Indian society faces has never been clearer.  A handful minority that is rich and powerful has turned India into pretty much a lawless, feudal society – one in which this minority section of the rich and famous have increasingly started viewing the police force as their own private army.
Satyameva Jayate ?  Indeed !!!

12 March, 2013

The TamBrahm Series Part 3 - Kalyanam (The Wedding Part 1)

(Pic courtesy : ventuno.in via Google)

Ah ha !!  The kalyanam – finally !! 
Before you got here, I do hope you’ve read the prequels – the bride viewing and the re-engagement posts which are super duper important, if you are to make any sense whatsoever of what’s happening in this post.  Simply put, a South Indian kalyanam is a very complex process. 
After all the brouhaha that the groom and the bride have had to go through the previous evening, what with getting re-engaged to the same person that you were engaged to for the past few months and doing namaskarams and prostrating before what seems like half the world gathered, it has got to be a tiresome process.  Then of course, one has to have dealt with the scores of mamis who insist on reminding the bride and the groom that they are to get married the next day with inane statements like “Oh ! Nalakki Kalyanam akkum allava ?” (Oh !  So you guys are getting married tomorrow, are you not ?”) with that wondrous expression on their faces like that penny dropped just then !  Ah ! The joys !!  Like I said earlier on, welcome to the Kalyanam !!
South Indian weddings, ok I need to be specific here because with the proper Malayalee weddings, it’s done and over in a jiffy – quite literally in the bat of an eyelid.  During a Malayalee wedding, if you happen to as much as blink at the wrong time, you run a serious risk of missing the whole wedding because that’s how quick the knot is tied. 
The Iyer weddings are the ones that are painfully long drawn out and incredibly, they always have this weird ability to start in the wee hours of the mornings.  The muhurtham, as decided by one of those astrologers or vadhyars (priests) seem like some sort of a concocted conspiracy to make sure the people at the weddings are bleary eyed and sleepy enough not to comprehend the mistakes made by the priest. 
The brides get decked up early in the morning with suitable help and assistance from what seems like half the world and trust me – she needs all the assistance she can get.  Imagine placing a five kilo weight on your head and then being expected to change into a sari.  If you find yourself sweating it out inside a bright Kancheevaram silk, not being able to lift your head more than a few millimetres because of a whole basket of flowers that have been unloaded on your head, you have indeed qualified to be a Tamil Iyer bride.  Reams and reams of flowers on the head, kilo after kilo of jewellery and a bright kancheevaram draped around her demure self, the bride is ready.  Well, almost !!  That’s what I thought the day I was getting married.  Just lifting my head proved to be a workout beyond my wild dreams. 
Then walked in someone with an armload of garlands.  I remember wondering if my parents had conjured up this wild idea to garland just about everybody walking into the wedding hall.  Turned out they were all for me.  One fat garland that looked like it weighed a ton and three of its smaller cousins which looked not so fat but were rather ominously heavy too.  All four of those were draped upon my neck one after the other and as I sagged under their collective weight, one of the high priestesses proclaimed that I was ready. 
It was then, right at that moment that I realized why they have so many ladies walking on both sides of the bride, pretty much like Mahatma Gandhi always used to have two women by his side.  The people on the sides are accident preventions – meaning they are there to prevent the bride from keeling over from all that weight which has been piled on her neck and head.  They are there to hold the bride up, glare into her eyes (if need be) and say “be a man” like Russel Peters would. 
The groom, in the meanwhile, would have been tortured likewise – with scores of garlands being heaped on his neck and he would also have had the bride’s clumsy nathanaar (remember the sister in law) anoint his eyes with kajal.  Let’s not even try going into the logic behind that bit of painting the groom’s eyes with kohl.  It just makes them look like Bambis – makes their eyes look larger than life, I mean.  Does not help too that some of the kajals make the eyes smart , in which case we have grooms looking like red-eyed Bambis or better still, make it look like the stag party the previous night was a resounding success.  Am sure the men would like to assume that he’s actually been crying and bemoaning the loss of his bachelorhood.  Some naathanaars take this a step further.  In feeling all important, they also dot the groom’s cheek or chin or somewhere thereabouts with a big black dot.  “Drishti Pottu” they’ve been known to proclaim, rather proud with their handiwork, much to the chagrin and dismay of the groom who, by then, would look like one of those oversized babies in old black and white pictures. 
The groom would be whisked off for the Kashi Yathrai.  Bundle in one hand and a palm leaf fan (which has nowadays been upgraded to a cheap plastic fan) in the other, he is indeed an extremely comical sight.  For the most part, that look is complete with the groom looking completely bewildered, with a “deer in the headlights” look.  He usually has to be nudged back to reality from the surreal world that he'd apparently visited over the past few minutes.  He would actually have to walk upto the gate of the hall with another guy next to him holding an umbrella over his head.  The bride’s father has to walk up to the gate too with two yellow coconuts in his hands.  The idea being to tell the groom not to go off to Kashi and that the bride’s father would give him the hand of his daughter in marriage if he stays.  Not just the hand though – his daughter in entirety was what I meant.  I’ve always wondered about the scenario where a groom develops cold feet and opts to go off to Kashi instead of taking up the bride’s father on his offer.  Well, apparently hasn’t happened or else the whole world of Tamil Iyers would have known, for sure !!
These coconuts that the bride’s father carries, as I have often noticed, have to be positioned properly.  In fact, I would say they need to rehearse this because in many a wedding, it has seemed as though the bride’s father has suddenly sprouted yellow busts, of proportions that would put Pamela Anderson to shame.  Not a pretty sight, trust me.  Now he has to hand these coconuts over to the groom and the groom dutifully accepts these and decides to make the long walk (all of ten steps) back to the wedding hall.  Vinasha kaale vipareetha buddhi is how the saying goes J.  Of course, in the midst of all this, the by now infamous getti melam would be going off and on intermittently, startling people out of their early morning stupors.
“Ponna koottindu vaango” would yell the priest’s assistant, making the bride sound like some sort of an innocent being led to the slaughter.  The entire brigade of mamis and cousins and sisters waiting alongwith the bride would suddenly part, pretty much like the sea parted in front of Moses.  The bride would stagger along the path that has suddenly opened up in front of her and would be herded to where the groom waits.  Once there, the bride and the groom stand facing each other (duh !!) and the priests would yell “mama enge ?”(where is the mama).  Given the fact that every other male member around is a “mama” for all practical purposes, this would lead to a mini confusion of sorts whilst people hunt for the “real mama”.
Mamas have the honour of helping the groom and the bride take off one garland (at a time) from their necks and handing it to the groom or the bride.  In my case, the garlands had apparently decided to get married to each other on my neck, without my knowledge !!  They had apparently decided to consummate their marriage even – given the way they were all twined on each other.  Pity they had to be prised apart but they did not give up without a fight.  Now that’s the spirit, I say ! My poor mama was sweating before he managed to get one errant garland off my neck, by which time I realized that my soon-to-be husband had actually grown taller.  I blinked and wondered if the cooks had given me Irish coffee in the morning.  Turned out that his athimbar (who was officiating for the mama) was desperately trying to lift him high up.  His athimbar reminded me of one of those weightlifters who, in the heat of things, end up lifting the weights but then have no idea how to get the weights down.  Imagine my plight !!  I was just beginning to enjoy the scene when, a split second later, I felt myself being lifted off the ground and before I could open my mouth to scream, I realized I was all of 7-8 inches off the ground.  Not fatal even if I do happen to be dropped, said common sense and that killed the scream.
Someone really needs to tell the grooms not to duck and sway during this “garland exchange” process.  It is, after all, not a boxing match, is it ?  Save those ducks and sways for later when the wife is really mad at you for something – cos that’s when you’re going to need it.  I remember hubby’s athimbar pull him away suddenly, just as I was about to garland him and it was a good thing my reflexes were good and I managed to garland the right person else I probably would have ended up garlanding the priest standing right next to hubby.  Now that would have been something !!
Once the garlanding is done and over with, the bride and the groom are made to sit on a swing which groans and creaks rather pitifully under their collective weight.  In our case, we had a rather sensible swing which decided to break before we sat on it.  So we had to make do with a sofa (which too groaned as we sat on it, by the way).  The mami brigade came in with the coloured rice cannonballs to do the “drishti” thing.  Three circles around the bride and the groom and then the mami in question suddenly turns into a Johan Santana.  Clad in that nine yard sari, she swings her arm back and sends the coloured rice ball flying into oblivion.  Only in this case, if people do not move fast enough, it turns into something like a paintball competition.  Guests with splotches of red and orange rice stuck on them.  Nice thought, that one !
Then someone suddenly realizes that the bride and the groom must be really hungry after all the acrobatics and gymnastics that they have had to perform in the process of garlanding each other and not garlanding someone else and all that.  Hence they decide to feed the groom and the bride this concoction of bananas and milk.  Like that was about to fill my tummy up !!! They’ve got to have had a second thought coming !  The bride and groom dutifully lap up the milk that is poured into their palms like kittens with a rather full stomach (meaning not very enthusiastically) and chomp and stomp on those banana pieces and force them down their gullet.  Has no one ever thought of changing this milk and banana routine to something more interesting – like mini samosas with ketchup or mini veg kababs with spicy mint chutney or something.  It would make things so much more interesting than a bowl of bananas floating in insipid milk !!  Well, just a thought !!  Can’t blame me for trying now, can you ?
The ubiquitous getti melam, in the meanwhile, would be going off in fits and spurts, pretty much like a flaccid heart being shocked into a rhythm every now and then.  Serves its purpose and makes sure no one falls asleep or goes into one of those never ending stupors.
The bride and the groom, with the help of many a traffic directions from the helpful relatives around, would make their way back to the main “wedding area” of the hall and plonk themselves down in front of the homa kundam (the place where the holy fire has been lit).  They would be barely settled in when the priest would start placing little twigs on the holy fire in an attempt to get it going.  All he ends up doing, in reality, is sending smoke (lots of it) spiralling upwards and towards the hapless bride and groom and anyone else in close vicinity.
Eyes smarting, the groom would repeat the mantras that the priest would be hurling at him, by now and things would settle into a rather sleepy stupor.  The bride (if it is someone like me), for lack of anything better to do, would be looking around, waiting for something funny to happen while other brides have been known to sit, eyes averted and fixed on the ground, looking all demure and shy.  Suddenly, there would be a flurry of action and the bride’s father would be seen seated on a chair.  The bride would be asked to sit on her father’s lap and the groom would be asked to stand in front of them (where else ???!!!).  The priest’s voice would go up a few notches and he would begin to sound a bit like Luciano Pavarotti as he recites the mantras which officially symbolize the bride moving from one gotra to another – from her father’s gotra to that of her husband’s.  This mantra is repeated three times and by the third time, the priest would be sounding as though he is in the throes of a crescendo or something else for that matter. 
(This is the kanyadaanam part of the Iyer marriage, which is, for all vedic purposes, said to be the most important part of the wedding.  I, for one, have my reservations about it because in my honest opinion, girls are not commodities to be given away.  Never have been, never will be.  I’ve written about this in another post and in all probability, another post solely on this topic will soon find its way onto Tiny Tidbits.)
However, not to digress, the priest’s crescendo is the cue.  This is the part where the bride’s family starts crying.  Especially the father and the mother and many a times I’ve been scared witless at the sight of the bride sobbing her heart out.  When I was a little child, marriages had kind of taken on a scary connotation for me, precisely because of all the hoopla surrounding this part.  The bride’s father, valiantly trying to hold back tears would place the bride’s hand in the groom’s hand and the bride’s mother (who, by now would be openly crying) would pour some water over the medley of all those hands put together while one of the priest’s assistants would rather helpfully hold a huge plate under the hands, to collect all that water pouring down.  What happens if that plate tips over is a different story altogether.
To be continued …….

09 March, 2013

The Hunt - by Abhay Venkitaraman

(Pic Courtesy : vector.us via Google)

It was a good day at the S.S (Secret Service) headquarters.  Suddenly, the Chairman dashed in and said “AJ, please come inside”.  AJ was a rookie who had joined the SS just 10 days ago.  He was a very brave man who did not care much about his own safety.  He was kind, generous and was already popular among his colleagues.   However, the Chairman was a pessimist.  He was the kind of person who worried about going to a garden because he was nervous about being stung by bees.  He was very short tempered and everybody in the SS, including the high officials, were scared of him.  People were scared of being called into his office.

The whole SS office looked worried now because a new officer had been called in.  AJ walked into the Chairman’s office.  The Chairman said “well done, young man”.  AJ looked really puzzled because he did now know what the Chairman was talking about. “You are going to be the lead officer on a very dangerous case” the Chairman said.  “There have been many hacking cases reported in many international newspaper offices.  The hackers have finally been located and that’s where you are going.  To Hawaii.  If you decline this assignment, you will be suspended for a period of two weeks.  Remember, this is a good chance to prove your worth here, at the SS”  said the Chairman.  “I will do it, Sir” said AJ. “Very well.  Here’s your ticket.  You will meet a fellow officer when you land in Hawaii”  said the Chairman.

The next day, AJ boarded a flight to Hawaii.  The flight took over six hours and finally AJ reached Honolulu Airport.  It was a beautiful airport – its interior was filled with flowers and from the outside, the airport looked like the island of Hawaii.  As he stood in the arrival hall, a man in a suit and a hat walked up to him and whispered “come with me”. “Who are you ?” asked AJ.  “Just come with me and I will drive you to your hotel.  I am Agent 770.” said the man.  “Where am I staying ?”  asked AJ.  “You will be staying at the Hotel KamehaKameha – the greatest hotel in all of Hawaii” said Agent 770. 

They walked out of the airport and Agent 770 opened the door of a shiny new black Aston Martin.  AJ got into the car and waited until Agent 770 got into the driver’s seat.  “Now can you tell me your name ?” asked AJ.  “My name is Jason and I am your lead officer in this case.  But during work, call me 770” said Jason.  AJ looked puzzled.  “The Chairman said that I would be the lead officer on this case” he said to Jason.  “He just said that so you would accept the mission” said Jason. “He told me that your resume stated that you liked to be the leader”. 

A car suddenly overtook their Aston Martin and screeched to a stop in front of them.  They could see two men in the other car but both had black masks on their faces.  They threw something at the Aston Martin and Jason screamed “GRENADE !!!!!”.  He grabbed the grenade which had fallen on the Aston Martin and threw it into the other car and drove the Aston Martin away as fast as he could.  A few seconds later, the other car exploded into flames.  They finally reached the hotel. “Remember, we start work tomorrow.” said Jason, as he left the hotel.

The next day, AJ and Jason got into their Aston Martin and drove towards their destination. Jason whispered “remember to call me just 770 not by my real name” but AJ did not reply.  He seemed really preoccupied’ “I have a feeling that Tai Shan is the culprit” said AJ.  “He is the only one capable of leading such a large team of hackers.  Why can’t we go undercover ?” asked AJ.  “The Chairman bans undercover work” said Jason.  “What is the point in having a SS when its agents cannot work undercover ?” asked AJ.  “Wanna break some rules ?” asked AJ.  “You mean we just go undercover ?”  asked Jason.  “Yes” said AJ.  “The Chairman is not going to be happy about it” said Jason.  “Well, who cares about the Chairman.  Once we solve this case, we will become the most famous men in the world” said AJ.  “Ok then” said Jason.  “We will check Tai Shan’s company here in Hawaii but we must soon fly to HongKong because according to reports, that’s where the headquarters of Ling Tsee Tsai are located.”

“Ling Tsee Tsai ?”  What’s that ?” asked AJ.  “That’s the name of the terrorist group which is led by Tai Shan.  It is not considered a terrorist group by the UN.  That’s how isolated they are from the rest of the world” said Jason.  “I overhead the Chairman talking to his officers the other day.  He said he was Tai Shan’s friend”  said AJ.

The Aston Martin braked to a stop.  “Where are we ?” asked AJ.  “In Klikale.” said Jason.  “There is an arms dealer here who used to work for Ling Tsee Tsai.  He later surrendered and now works for the JSS” said Jason.  “JSS !!” “What is the JSS ?”  asked AJ.”The JSS is an organization led by me.  It is unofficial but I use it to counter attack the Chairman’s forces” Jason said.  They found themselves in a place that looked like an empty warehouse.  “Is this where the arms dealer does his business from ?” asked AJ.  “Yes.  This is where he works from” said Jason.  They entered the mysterious place and saw a heavy built Chinese man.  “Hello Ben !  How are you ?” asked Jason.  “Hello” growled Ben.  “I’ve got your flight tickets to HK.  Here they are” he said.  “Tell me Ben” said Jason “How do we get a gun license in HK ?” “No need to get one.  Just use mine” said Ben.  “We leave tomorrow” he said.

Meanwhile, at the SS headquarters the Chairman was watching them on his TV screen.  He had always suspected that Jason was rebelling against the SS and had ordered the high officers in the SS to keep a watch on Jason and AJ.  He now gave them orders to capture them.  He was very very angry.
The next day, as Jason and AJ headed to the airport, they were carjacked.  The captors held them at gunpoint, threw them in a box and put the box in a cargo plane which was headed towards HK.  There were holes in the box so that they could breathe.

When the flight landed in HK, the box was opened.  Sometime during the journey, the tired AJ and Jason had fallen asleep.  When they awoke, they saw a tall man looking down at them.  “I am Tai Shan.  I am the greatest man on Earth.  What were you doing following my people ?  Why were you trying to bring my empire down ? growled Tai Shan, looking very angry.  “Because we are now looking at the biggest criminal on Earth” said Jason, calmly.

“Ben , make them suffer.  Torture them !!!” screamed Tai Shan.  Ben grinned evilly as he brought out his whip.  He stopped next to Jason and AJ and looked down at them as he cracked his whip.  Just then, he suddenly turned around and  whipped Tai Shan’s head.  He grabbed Tai Shan’s gun and tossed it to Jason.    Ben held Tai Shan’s wrists and tied them with a rope and untied both AJ and Jason. 

They heard a helicopter over them.  It was hovering very low.  Suddenly, two armed men in uniform jumped out of the helicopter, burst into the compound and arrested Tai Shan.

The next day, Jason and AJ returned home.  They told the police about the Chairman’s connection with Tai Shan.  They gave them the evidence they had collected and had him arrested.  Jason and AJ became the joint Chairmen of the SS and Ben became a member of the SS. 

Jason and AJ had just finished a meeting with the other SS officers when AJ turned, looked at Jason and said “You know, I don’t think the fight with Ling Tsee Tsai is over yet.  I think they will come back one day”. 

 (This is a story penned by Abhay Venkitaraman - our 9 1/2 year old son.  This was the winning entry to a writing contest held at his school during Book Week). 

08 March, 2013

What is a woman ?

(pic courtesy : 123rf.com via Google)

What is a woman ?  Is she just a daughter, a wife, a mother,  an aunt, a niece, a cousin, a sister – well, the labels can go on and on and on.  Truth be told, I guess no woman will ever fit into just one of those categories.  In saying that, I mean this not in terms of familial relationships, I mean this in terms of a woman’s psyche.  At any given point of time in her life, right from childhood to adulthood to old age, a woman dons many different hats.
Even in the world of today, which is said to be more open minded towards women, more receptive to recognising the achievements of women, there still exists a great deal of conflict.  Women, for many practical purposes, still live under the shade of inferiority that the umbrella of patriarchy has shadowed them with.  Many women, across the globe, are yet to realize the true potential that they have been born with.  Many women, across the world, are still victimized on a daily basis, just by virtue of being a woman.
In many parts of the world, there are women whose voice never ever gets out of the confines of the four walls of the place they’ve always known as home.  For them, that is their little world.  They know not that there exists beyond the scope of those four walls, a much bigger, a much better and a much more colourful world.  They suffer ignominies and they suffer in silence.  Silence has but become their sole companion. 
I remember watching a documentary on an African tribe more than a year back but I still remember the same vividly.  A group of women from this village have to walk across the desert for four days to bring back fresh water for their families.  That documentary made me realize how much I have in life today to be thankful about and not bitch, moan and whine about the things that I don’t have.  Those women go through hardships on a totally different scale and yet, end of the day, they have smiles across their faces.  To women like them, I well and truly doff my hat.  They are visible symbols of strength and endurance.
I remember reading scores of articles about women in the military.  Women, who, despite all that society has to say to them regarding being the weaker sex, still go on, compete with and work with men in a battlefield to protect and defend.  A battlefield is just as bloody for a woman as it is for a man.  Society often overlooks this.  Yet, they are there.  That quiet strength that runs like a spine of steel.
There have been countless headlines I’ve come across today about 8th of March being International Women’s Day.  In my mind, International Women’s Day is not just about feminism and the feminist movement.  In my mind, International Women’s Day is not just about permissiveness in society towards lesbian relationships and marriages.   More thank anything, in my mind, it is more of a tribute to the silent strength that every woman in this world is born with.  It is innate, it is inborn, it is an intrinsic part of every single woman, it is one of those distinctive characteristics that make women, women.  Some may not realize it, some may consciously not want it, some may not have realized or utilized its full potential but it is something that lurks within every woman,  at times visible, at times not so.
Here’s to all the women in this world and especially more so to those women who face extreme hardships and yet stand true to the test of time.  Here’s to women who have to give all they have and then some more in terms of patience, energy, wisdom, warmth, care selflessly and they do that and then more.  Here’s to all the women who, despite being chastised and treated like outcasts for a cause they believe in, hold their heads up high and continue with their good work for the greater good of the society.  Here’s to all the women who refuse to take unfair treatment without a whimper, those who go on to spread awareness and to those whose aim in life it is to educate and galvanise into action, other women suffering through the throes of subjugation. 
Simply put, here’s to being a woman.