Chidambaram was cut off from the rains. The headlines for all of the previous week said nothing other than terrorist scares in airports and roads being washed off in the heavy rains. The venue of my brother’s wedding, Chidambaram, was marooned people said. It turns out that the roads leading to Chidambaram were little more than mud roads that were coated with tar. The rains washed the tar with them, and tiny bridges had disintegrated.
We found out around 2-3 days before the wedding that Chidambaram was accessible after all. Yet, the source of my brother’s apprehension had nothing to do with washed away roads, or the wedding itself.
He had been recently informed that his portraits were to be mounted in all prominent locations in Chidambaram. “WHAT? WHY?” my brother had demanded rather alarmingly, but he was brushed aside. This was to be grand wedding, and no embarrassment was to be spared! There were posters and billboards to spread his fame – replete with his degree, job title and office name. I can’t quite explain how much fun we had at his expense on this account.
He tried everything from growing a moustache in the last minute to pleading with his fiancee to take the billboards down. The moustache achieved little apart from making his nieces assume it was a fake moustache and making him look like a badger with cat’s whiskers.
And so, he was forced to shave and we arrived in Chidambaram bearing with us the man most wanted in the town by the looks of it. The billboards welcomed us all the way from the railway station. We helpfully pointed to the man in question everytime we stopped to ask somebody for directions while the groom squirmed in his pants!
The billboards were a little ghastly considering our family has never been anywhere close to fame. We revelled in the mundane and kept newspaper clippings in files accessible in the drawing room cabinets amidst a flurry of other papers, of the times when our names did appear in print. The less fortunate who blundered into the territory of how well the children of the house had done were treated to the frayed clippings along with a guided tour of the medals hanging in the showcase. But that was the extent of fame we had achieved. To see larger-than-life billboards with my brother’s photograph on it was a bit overwhelming. One thing I hadn’t noticed in earlier photographs was that the bride looked positively fat. Not that there was anything with being fat, just that I had had quite a hard time imagining her with the photographs and the various descriptions I’d received from everybody else – I was the only one in the family who had not seen her, and I was really eager to see her. When I did see her, there seemed a reel-real life disconnect on multiple levels. The photographs I had seen earlier looked nothing like the posters and the posters looked nothing like the bride in person.
I just had to reconcile the matter before I could immerse myself in the wedding. I mounted a mini investigation into the matter pronto. It turns out that the photographers of Chidambaram were quite bright. They had with them the latest tools of digital imaging and were waiting for an opportunity to showcase their talents. A perfect opportunity presented itself with the wedding posters. My sister-in-law had given a photograph in a salwar kameez. The photographer decided that the subject should have been dressed in a saree. Instead of taking the simplest route, namely asking for a photograph in saree, he morphed the image – he transplanted the face over the image of a person dressed in a saree. The saree clad woman’s image he had taken was on the larger side and resulting image was what had greeted me
in the streets of Chidambaram – and that my folks is the advantage of having folks with digital imaging tools in a town like Chidambaram.
Now that the photograph mystery had been laid to rest, I devoted myself to the remaining aspects of the event management. One thing that I really liked was that there was a poster at the local bus station manned with an information desk – all our relatives could find directions to the wedding venue as soon as they descended from their buses. An elephant was to garland the groom on his arrival. I was half expecting a band – except that the only available band in town apparently refused to be up in the wee hours of the morning. The groom’s nieces & nephew spent the entire 11 hour journey from our hometown to Chidambaram fantasizing about the elephant and the horse-drawn buggy that was to be used for the procession. The nieces confused the proceedings for a circus in their fertile minds, because
they asked if a clown would be available on the premises. I assured them there would – and what’s more, the clown would be their favourite Uncle. My brother wasn’t happy!
On arrival, they felt letdown when they were informed that it usually takes a week to bring an elephant from one of the nearby temples and because of the rains, this part of the proceedings had to be dropped.
Let me be frank – South Indian weddings are higher on the ritual factor than the fun factor. In fact, the grumpier elders frowned on any sort of merry-making. There was a solemn ceremony at a nearby temple. Every available God was petitioned to bless the couple in long-winding sanskrit phrases and at the end of the whole event in the small temple, everyone looked ready to cry. We were determined however to lighten up the mood as much as possible. The moment the horse-drawn buggy was available, we went crazy at my brother’s expense. To date, I have never seen a person look so embarrassed. He ascended the chariot looking extremely uncomfortable and tugged at his nieces and nephew for comfort. There was a band playing music. The music was even discernible once you cut out the noise. There was a jeep ahead with flashlights helpfully focussed on my brother, as though he needed any more attention in his life at the moment. To make matters worse, the traffic that was easing along were all
peeping through windows to take a good look at the subject. There were fireworks in front, and we were hoping that the firecrackers wouldn’t frighten the horses. I voiced my concerns regarding this to my brother on his perch in the chariot, and his embarrassment quickly mingled with an acute sense of foreboding. To add to his misery, the nieces and nephews on the chariot were egging the horses to go faster. It would have made a dashing sight to see my brother galloping along swiftly through the dense streets of Chidambaram, making the cows move aside in a hurry and have the elephant race the horses.
But none of that happened, that would have made things finish too quickly. The horses walked on slowly and the motorised chariot at the back was set to move at the slowest speed possible.
Because of, or in spite of the band, I had an overwhelming desire to dance. The band had christened themselves James Band and performed aboard a tram. The band sometimes confused melody with volume, and we found ourselves yelling over all the din to talk to the person right next to you. However, the band did its best to bring about a festive atmosphere. I started to dance with my husband, and discovered something. All people, old and young, the serious and frolicky, the men and women everybody had an urge to dance. The moment my husband and I abandoned all reservations and started jigging on the streets, hordes of relatives joined in. Our reasoning was that, no matter how badly we danced we can’t attract more attention to ourselves than the old bird atop the chariot with spotlights focussed on him and half a dozen brats for company! My mother, who was always a stickler for self-control herself swayed the crowds with her dance number and my father felt compelled to join in, once his sweetheart started dancing.
The only saving grace was that the entire camaraderie took place in a town where we were hitherto unknown. The preparations, the wedding atmosphere, the histrionics of the day before the wedding – something we will remember for a long time, and definitely not something we will let my brother forget in a tearing hurry!
The bride and groom were given the night to mull over the proceedings and prepare for the intense wedding ahead.