The Great Indian Bride Hunt - The Semi Finals

In South Indian weddings, there is a ritual called Kashi Yatra where the bridegroom suddenly decides he no longer wants to get married and wants to walk away to Kashi and becomes an ascetic - what we call pre-wedding jitters in modern parlance. Though of course the motive is different. Somehow, I have been at both ends of the spectrum - a keen interest in a life of renunciation, as well as steeped in hedonistic pursuits. But how you may ask? Yes, paradoxical as it sounds that is how I have always been - the man of extremes. As they say in Tamil - "vecha kudimi, seraicha mottai" - as in if you keep hair you growth it long enough to sport a ponytail and if you go about getting it cut, you go all the way to clean shaven bald. It does make sense in an odd way, right? Both ponytail as well as bald head are style statements of sorts after all, aren’t they? But wait. Wasn’t I doing a chronological narrative of incidents leading up to my wedding? How did I jump straight to Kashi Yatra skipping the engagement and other pre-wedding and wedding ceremonies? Am I trying to pull off one of those non-linear narratives those fancy award-winning writers do all the time? No, no – nothing of sort. We have not got there yet. I was just mentioning Kashi Yatra to bring in the idea of pre-wedding jitters. Or rather pre-engagement jitters in my case. 


What triggered it was my meeting with a person who was supposedly my best friend at school after a span of fifteen years. It is a kind of mystery though why I considered him my best friend given that we had only one year together at school and of that he had been down a term with chicken pox. So that left two terms of which it took one term even for us to get really acquainted. So essentially it was just a term of 4 months that we had been friends. But then, when he left the school, he had passed over his earlier best friend to me.  So somehow, he was always part of my conversations with my new best friend, giving me a feeling that he had been my friend for longer than he had actually been. But nevertheless, when we met after fifteen years, we got on like a house on fire. There were no awkward moments of re-acquainting with each other and all. We started chatting away as if we had been in touch all the time. But what has that got to do with my bride hunt, marriage et al? Well, the chap had for some reason taken to religion and had decided not to get married.  And as I listened to him, I felt as if I was betraying my ideals. But then there was no way I could step back now. I was beginning to feel like a mouse inside a trap.


And to make matters worse, the chap was there at the engagement function standing right at the front. Every time my eyes fell on him, I kept getting reminded of the life I would be missing out. Or should I say lives – you know the monastic and the hedonistic ones. There is usually the peer pressure to get married when all your friends start getting married. Here I was facing reverse peer pressure of not wanting to get married because my friends were not getting married. There was also this other friend who turned up at the engagement who too was unmarried. But it was too late now. If not for anything, I guess I had to go through with the engagement at least for the eleven thousand rupees worth engagement dress. The shop had a no return policy. So, we couldn't even return the dress. And guess the same held true for her sixteen thousand rupees dress as well. Or maybe she would eventually get married to someone else and could still reuse the same dress. But I doubt it. People don’t think that practically when it comes to things like wedding. If they did, these dresses would never have got procured in the first place. Or maybe all along these dresses were part of the trap. Engagements and marriages have been happening for eons. And I probably would not be the first-person getting jitters. Otherwise how would even the very ceremony of Kashi Yatra have emerged? The elders over the ages must have done a failure mode and effects analysis and plugged every possible failure mode.  


The events that occurred during engagement itself I am unable to recollect much of them. I am sure lot of things would have happened since the function lasted well over three hours. I was still in a daze of sorts, still unable to believe I was actually getting married. For various reason I had spent twenty seven of my twenty-nine years of life thinking I was not going to get married. When I was a kid, I thought I would grow up and be Sherlock Holmes. Then when I got into college, I thought I was going to sign up at a monastery and be a monk. Post college, I thought I would be a carefree adventurer, who would just eat, drink and make merry and go through life with no responsibilities whatsoever. And the remaining two years? Yes. I was coming to that. Well - despite all my resolutions, there were brief spells, one of them not so brief, when I imagined I had fallen in love. And obviously when you think you are in love, you expect to get married. All those various periods added up to close to a year and a half. And the remaining 6 months – of course the great Indian Bride Hunt saga that has been immortalized on my blog.  So that was the two years. Come to think of it, the twenty-seven is probably an exaggeration of sorts. Possibly twenty-three would be more like it. I don't think I would have even known the meaning of the word marriage the first four years of my life. 


There were relatives. Her relatives and my relatives. There was food. There were decorations. There was a photographer. There was a priest. And of course, the two friends I mentioned earlier and one other. And then there were those expensive dresses. A formal wedding contract was read out and the dates formalized between the parents. Rings were exchanged. I am not sure if this ring thing was really a south Indian tradition or an import from North India or the West. This globalization has resulted in a real mix up of various traditions and made a mishmash of them. But whatever the reason be, from that day on my finger had to bear the sigil of a man betrothed or married. 


The only notable incident I could remember was one of my uncles asking me what a Telugu film star from the yesteryear was doing at our wedding. I had been surprised and wondered if my in-laws had actually gone ahead and arranged film stars to perform at our wedding. All those rich businessmen generally did that for their family functions. But as far as I knew my in-laws were no rich business family. Or maybe I had assessed wrongly, and I was marrying into fortune after all? Maybe my fiancĂ©e was a secret heiress or something, hiding her wealth status to test my mettle? No. I should not be letting my mind soar into flights of fantasy. Probably the out of work superstars of yesteryear were not that expensive. After all, would the girl’s patents not have arranged someone from the current pantheon of stars if they had all the wealth. Or maybe he was a relative or family friend. Even that was something - maybe he could help me get a film deal for one of my stories? Finally, when I went to investigate the person my uncle was referring to, it turned out to be a total anti-climax- the person was none other than the girl’s father. And he definitely had nothing whatsoever to do with the film industry. He was just a straightforward chartered accountant.


So that was it. The next day I went to her office and met up with her over lunch at an expensive restaurant nearby. My father was not really comfortable with the idea even though the engagement was done - he was a traditionalist as I had mentioned earlier. Nor was my mother, though for other reasons - she was still scared I might still say something stupid and scare the girl off. There had been precedents of marriages getting canceled even after engagements. So, she felt the less I interacted with my bride to be, less the chances of the wedding breaking. But they said nothing, and we still went through with it. And could any visit to a restaurant be complete without an incident with the waiter? This time it was a buffet. So, there was no chance of the ordered item not being available. But at the end of the meal, the waiter came with a feedback card and I gave a rating of 4 on a scale of 5. Which I think is pretty good. But no! The waiter was not satisfied. He came after me and started pestering me for feedback on what else they should do better to get a full 5. I got fed up and asked him to get the card back and changed my rating to a 3 with comments that the waiters should stop pestering the guests for feedback. And immediately walked out before the waiter could react.

The Great Indian Bride Hunt: An Engagement Shopping Date

While we had fallen to the routines of whispering sweet nothings to each other, there were other things happening in parallel. I mean if you call it so. For my loud voice was anything but a whisper. And there was not much each other. It was I who did most of the talking. And I would like to believe it won’t be something categorized as nothing as day after day I was discoursing her on heavy topics ranging across world history, economic predictions, philosophy, society and human psychology. And with my propensity to take a negative view on most things, it was anything but sweet. But that’s a different point. The thing was we were engaged to each other and we were talking.

We had first met in September and engagement date was pegged for December. The decision on the date was a whole story in itself. So much went into it that I am sure if these folks had management education, they would have used PERT, CAPM. Gannt Chart etc. for it. If you don’t know what these things are, I leave you to your happy ignorance. But let me get to the process of picking the dates. By the time the due diligence and other stuff completed, we were already hitting end of September. So, October was too early for the wedding. Wedding already? But what about engagement you may ask. Patience, my friend! Patience! I am getting there. So, where was I? Yes. October – too early. November? Still would be too much of a rush. December? Yes. Enough time. But then again Mr. astrologer has a say – month not auspicious. January – nope. Still not auspicious enough. So, where does that land you - February. Marriage date fixed. Now for the engagement. The girl and her mother were eager to get it done early. Seems like they also were not too keen on uncertainties either. Even I wanted to be done with the damn thing. But, no! Girl’s father put his foot down. Can’t have more than 2 months gap between engagement and wedding. Where do people invent all these new rules! But then the family patriarch has the last word. So, if wedding was February, earliest engagement could happen was December. So, December it was! Phew!

Apparently, the bride’s folks have to get the bridegroom clothes to wear for the engagement and vice versa. So, my parents took her out and got her some clothes. Obviously, I didn't accompany them for I was working in a different city. As for me, for some reason they decided it would not be the girl’s parents but she – she who would become ‘she who must be obeyed’ who would take me to the clothes shop. I wonder how this super conservative family hit upon such an idea. But I guess she wanted to kick off this ritual which was to remain with us for the rest of our life at the earliest. For from that day on, except for my wedding dress (the prerogative for choosing that of course went to my mother), every single piece of clothing worn by me has been duly selected, purchased and paid for by her.

It was kind of a first time for me – being seen on the streets with a woman. Till then the idea of marriage was distant and abstract. Now for the first time it seemed all too real. A strange sadness swept over me over the impending loss of my bachelorhood. Was I to be bound to the life of one of those typical middle class married men who string along with their wives, a baby in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other? Was I going to spend the rest of my life with this woman who I was seeing in person for the second time ever in my life? Well, my father did not even get to meet my mother once before the wedding and those days people didn’t have phones. At least not the middle class. So, I guess I was satisfied that I was better off than my parents.

She took me around to a couple of shops. And when she finally selected the dress, it totally blew the wind out of me. I mean not the dress itself. I really do not know much about clothes. But the price. 11,000 Rs! Can you imagine! ELEVEN THOUSAND for a dress! That too this was back in 2008. How could someone pay so much for a dress. Apparently, the dress my parents had got her had costed 16,000. So, it kind of squared out. But still…. To date this remains the costliest piece of clothing I own. You may be curious, what exactly was this dress. It is what they call Sherwani. Apparently, my mom had got her a Lehenga or something. So, I needed to be got something to go with it. So here it was – my Sherwani. I didn’t get why all these north Indian get up in a South Indian engagement. Bollywood effect, I guess. Anyways, the women decided what everyone wore. Only the price kept bothering me. But then it was the girl’s parents’ money – their wish how they wanted to spend. If they wanted to throw good cash down the Kaveri, it was their business. But my normally parsimonious mother! Couldn’t imagine how she spent sixteen grand for the girl’s dress. The woman who used to take me to account up to the last ten paisa during my school days. The woman who did not even keep a maid to do the household chores. The woman who would walk an extra mile to buy cheaper groceries and walk back in the sun carrying the heavy bags to save 10 Rs. How could she?

We rounded out our engagement shopping date with tiffin at a small restaurant. I guess she had Rava Idli and I? Can’t remember. What I remember is that the waiter had said they did not have the first two items I had requested. And I looked all set to storm out in a huff. But then had decided it was too early to show my prospective wife my dark side. And so, had calmed myself and had requested a third item which they luckily had. I wonder what would have happened if they did not have that either. But I can’t for the life of me remember what any of the three items were.

(Post script: I checked with my wife – apparently I too had gone for the Rava Idli. So her choice of food, her choice of dress it had been even from back then.)

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces