THE MARRIAGE FEAST


 

(The author’s observations are not targeted towards any particular family)

 

  Once upon a time, weddings in villages and small towns used to be quite different from the city ones. The small towners used to be a hospitable lot with no dearth of locally available resources. Whenever there was a wedding in the family, they would insist on the groom’s party staying not less than 4 days to enjoy their hospitality however big the group might be. The party would be met at the railway station or bus stand with vehicles acquired for the purpose and with pipe (not piped) music. The groom’s party would be warmly welcomed and shown their quarters. There would be a sweet and a kheer with every meal. In vacant slots, cultural programs would be arranged. Family talents would be displayed. The people from both parties would be mingling well. In fact, some future alliances would even be fixed. When the groom’s party was to be seen off, it would be done with a heavy heart and with promises of frequent future meetings. Thus the weddings would not only bring about the union of the boy and the girl, but also that of their parents, families and relatives. During those four or five days the kitchen would never be closed. For those who missed meal times or arrived late, there would always be alternate dishes cooked up on the spot. The groom’s party would be treated like Gods those four days with every whim of theirs catered to. In fact there is a saying that even a bug from the boy’s party would get a special treatment!

 

  What a contrast the weddings in big cities were? (I am using past tense as the latest generation does not believe in formal marriages). With greater population, everything had to be on a bigger scale__ the number of invitees, the marriage venue, the staff employed etc. Apart from the groom, no one else was important for the girl’s party. The parents of the boy would be tolerated for a couple of days till the latter became their son-in law formally. No one showed any interest in getting to know the members of the other party. When the boy’s party arrived, they would have a sort of welcome with thinly strung, single ply wild jasmine flower garlands. They would be treated to a tea of standard snacks after which the kitchen service would be firmly closed against the late comers.

   In the days when the reception was not yet merged with the previous day’s rituals, there would be a simple meal in the night with one sweet and one kheer for the immediate groom’s party or whosoever stayed back. Later a new custom came into vogue. By holding the reception on the previous day itself, the girl’s parents would save the rent of the choultry or wedding hall. A grand buffet (a glorified poor feeding) would be held along with the reception. Thus the actual contact of the parties hardly lasted for 24 hours. Earlier the boy’s party left, the more relieved would be the girl’s parents.

 

  Since the whole show used to be usually financed by the girl’s parents, the boy’s party would not take any liberties with the kitchen. Thus the boy’s side relatives would be left to fend for themselves.

 On the day of the wedding, breakfast would be served. Busy as they would be with their own toiletries, nobody would make it a point to inform (or invite) the other party about the breakfast. In their own interest, people were expected to help themselves. If the breakfast items were still available, people could offer them to their ‘late arrival relatives’. Around 9 am the kitchen (not the coffee counter) would be decisively closed in preparation for the wedding lunch. After the rituals were over or sometimes before they were over, guests would be served lunch and disposed off, with the hosts hardly putting an appearance in the dining hall.Everything would be done on a contract basis. The groom’s party would have to find their own places for lunch scrambling with aam janata. While the arrival of the groom’s party would be by cars or buses arranged by the girl’s party, they would be left to their own resources at the time of their departure..

  We had a bitter experience in one of the city weddings. It was the wedding of one of my cousins.  My aunt had been quite close to my mother and late father. So, our mother insisted that all of us should attend the wedding on both the days. We all trooped into a jutka (as the horse drawn coaches were called those days) and set off for the wedding hall which was at the other end of the city. By the time the poor horse could take us there, the mandatory welcome snack session was over. Hoping to have a good meal in the night at the least, we sat through the rituals. After the rituals, the guests, except for a very close circle, started leaving there being no pressure from the girl’s party to stay for dinner. When our mother also made noises about leaving, our aunt meekly acquiesced without making the least attempt to hold us back. (Even the slightest hint would have been enough for us. But, alas, none was coming).  The hungry lot had no recourse but to return home.  Since no buses were available at that late hour, we had almost walked quite a distance before a kindly jutkawallah took pity on us and let us drag ourselves on to his cart.(At least the horse must have been happy this time to carry a lighter lot.). It was well past 12 midnight by the time we reached home. Unfortunately, expecting a double bonanza at the wedding house, my mother had not cooked any food at home. A meager stock of dosa batter was stretched, dosas were made on the charcoal chulha and the hungers were assuaged and by the time we all settled in bed it was 2 am.

 Next day (or was it the same day?), any wonder that there were no volunteers to attend the main wedding ?!!!

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A GIANT LEAP FOR ME AND A SMALL STEP FOR WOMANKIND


 My husband had been recently admitted to a hospital for an emergency surgery. He was in the ICU (Intensive care unit) on the first night under ‘intensive’ care and I thought attenders were superfluous ( some hospitals in fact want them to keep well away). My daughter persuaded me to spend the night in the plush bridal suite in her house, the one which had been got ready for her recently married son. So, the ‘day one’ rather ‘night one’ was spent in luxury and I slept well. As far as sleep is concerned I can sleep even if I am hung upside down like a bat.

  But, once I came to the hospital, I was told that the hospital protocol required the attender (in this case, me) to be present for the patient on the premises all the 24 hours. Since my patient was shifted to a ward, I had an upholstered bench with a pillow to relax during the second night.

    Next day, as his condition worsened, he was shifted back to ICU. This meant vacating the ward and finding a place for me to sleep in the common attenders’ room. No one was allowed to sleep on the visitors/patients chairs in the out patient waiting rooms. Refusing to sleep on the floor with the rest of the women, I insisted on sleeping on one of the few thin reclining chairs available amidst men. But the room was more like a railway waiting room with the TV blaring till 1.30 and men folk indulging in inconsiderate loud talk. Two nights were spent there.

  By next night, the husband had been operated and was in the surgical ICU. I was told that a new posh room exclusively for the ICU attenders had been inaugurated. I went and had a look at the room. Oh! What luxury! Rather than a room, it was more like a multiplex theatre, with 20 laz-y- boy recliners arranged neatly in an AC room all facing a TV set decently muted. Just as I was about to establish myself on one of the recliners, the security in charge came and told me that the ladies were expected to sleep in the next room earmarked for them. Expecting a similar set up for the ladies, I was shocked to see that the room was absolutely bare except for 4 plastic chairs. In fact, it was a 4-bed ward (without beds/cots) and had been presently given to the ladies. While the room for men had hardly had two or three attenders with 20 recliners going abegging, the ladies in the next room were all sleeping in the cold AC room on sheets spread on the cold floor. My blood boiled to see the injustice of all. These people had paid lakhs and crores for the surgeries of their relatives but were expected to lie on bare ground! I asked the security man to pull out a couple of recliners from the next room and shift it for us ladies. He refused to do it without orders from his superiors. As it was late, I joined two plastic chairs and dividing my body between them, slept the night.

 In the morning, I went to the reception and explained the problem to one of the girls there. She promised to get things done and told me that they would be attending to the problem within 15 mins. In spite of many reminders, ‘In 15 mins’ went on the whole day. I wrote a caustic complaint and sent it through housekeeping staff to the concerned person. Nothing happened.

In the evening, I charged once again into reception to lodge my protest at the inaction. The receptionist asked me to take a seat and promised to see it through to the end. After many telephone calls to the concerned people like floor manager etc. she told me that I had the permission to spend the night on the laz-y-boy in luxury. By the time I went back, the staff had intimated the policy decision to the ladies and they were all waiting for me, the heroine of the day to move in style to the Paradise aka ‘Gents’ room’.

  When I entered the lounge, I was surprised to see a full fledged ladies’ toilet complex next to the men’s. How did a ladies loo come in the gents’ room?

   After a restful sleep that night, I found a gentleman hovering around me in the morning and asking me if I had spent a restful night. I came to know later that he was the person to whom I had sent the written complaint. I asked him if he had received my letter and asked for the reason for this sexist bias. He told me that the ‘men’s room’ was actually meant to be a common room. Since they presumed that some ladies preferred to stay in privacy, the other bare room had been given. I asked him how he could presume such a thing without even intimating the ladies about the availability of a common room. He mumbled unconvincingly that there was a communication gap between him and his staff!

  Next night, my husband was shifted to a private ward and I was back on my attender’s upholstered bench with the pillow. But I was highly gratified to see the new lady attenders being escorted to the common room (and there were hardly any customers for the spartan ladies’room). Each lady was occupying one laz-y-boy recliner though the security staff tried to retain a semblance of their control by saying that a maximum of five ladies only were allowed to stay in the common room!

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