Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weddings, then and now

A joke heard in Cochin: If you have a son or daughter to be married, follow these steps in the given order - arrange a good caterer, book a hall, fix time with temple/church, and then, start looking for a bride/ bridegroom. During wedding seasons there is such a rush to book halls and caterers.

People often end up arranging places that they can ill-afford for the wedding reception. Sometimes it is the other way. Social snobs could feel that a venue is below their status. In such cases a whispered apology accompanies the invitation, ‘Sorry, we couldn’t get a better place’.

There was a time, not too far back, when holding a wedding reception in a hotel/ public hall was not the done thing. (I am talking about Kerala and more specifically, Syrian Christians.) The inference was that the host neither had a house good enough for the function nor the people to organize it. Even now, some prominent families hold marriage parties at their residence.

Inviting for the function was a time consuming process. The hosts had to visit the houses of relatives and important people and personally invite. There would be categorized guest lists: (1) those to be personally invited, (2) cards/letters to be sent by hand, (3) invitation to be mailed, and (4) those to be invited/instructed by supervisors to attend.

Personally inviting too had certain rules. Ladies would attend the function only if a lady was involved in inviting. No card or letter was to be given to close relatives. The invitation to them was actually a request to conduct the function.

And they would come, days ahead of the wedding. Those who were not from the same locality would stay with the host. Actually, each function was a family get together – wonderful days spent jointly in a clannish atmosphere.

It was the right of the ammayi (father’s sister) to bring the sweet to be given to the bridal couple after the marriage - that was known as ‘ayini’. Originally ayini was ‘churut’, a savoury made with coarse rice powder and palm syrup filled in a crisp, thin cone. Some used grated coconut with sugar instead. In course of time, most people switched over to cakes.

Along with ayini, Ammayi would bring many baskets of sweets and delicacies. The quantity would depend on her husband’s finances – own or borrowed.

This is running too long. I’ll cover just a couple of points more. In the old days there would be separate cookhouses for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. And exclusive eating pandals too, based on category and caste/class.

I must mention here about our chief manager, Narayana Kaimal. In all his 60 years of service with us, this member of an aristocratic Hindu family never consumed anything that was cooked in our house. Well, except tea or coffee. And bakery bread. He wouldn’t take even those, once large supplies of fish and meat for a major function began arriving.

Now conducting a wedding is so easy. Entrust the whole matter to an event manager. If you have that kind of money.


Also see:
Syrian Christians (Nazranis) of Kerala: Some interesting customs
Sadhya - a sumptuous Kerala meal

8 comments:

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

Nice one, makes one wonder how they even managed weddings without caterers and event managers.

That joke in Cochin about booking a wedding hall before fixing the bridegroom has done the rounds here, too!

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

Wish you and yours a Very Happy Christmas !

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you Raji.

Season's Greetings to you too.

Mysorean said...

Wedding then and now (applies to Hindus and particularly the so called enlightened Brahmin sect)

A.
Then: Wedding was on, if the bride side were prepared to put enough of gold and diamonds on the girl to sink her to the floor topped with an acre of fertile paddy-growing piece of land.

Now: Wedding is on, if the bride side is prepared to fork out funds for a Mercedes/MBA fee for the lackey groom in a foreign university.

B. Then: no need for booking venue as the house was large enough
and there was a ready oven built
in cement/bricks on the floor ( lengthwise design) capable of burning tons of firewood. Usually located in the cattleshed. The whole village was invited. Not going was considered an insult and the wrath then ran through several generations. Cooks were booked only a few months in advance. No food was wasted.

Now: The groom side demand Abbotsbury (I am not sure whether this building exists now or similar posh venue) as a showcase for a groom who does not deserve it. The groom side demands the services of particular caterers.
As for the guests, the advice is don't go if you do not have a car, do not have a son working in America to boast and do not go on time and do not go at all as you will be ignored if a politician visits. Gut-wrenching food waste when hunger is not far away.

C. Then: Mother in-law the villain and possiblly the bride had to work without much sleep for years.
Now: Mother in-law the villain and the fate of the bride is worse unless she has powerful relatives and are loaded with dollars.

D. Then: Pure vegetarian food and plenty of coffee.

Now: Vegetarian food the absentee and alcohol freely flows.

E. Then: the bride's family was
reduced to bankruptcy, if there was more than one girl.

Now: No change. My nephew married his daughter an engineering graduate with a good salary, and still the same.

I can list more, explain the society but will not.

Just a tail piece about my marriage. I wanted it to be done
in a temple with a very few relatives on either side, as I did not want to bankrupt the family of the poor girl. Wanted to walk to the temple accompanied by close relatives. My mother encouraged this. I asked no cars or MBA fee as I had them all as I was ( have been)working in the West. The bride side were suspicious and their friends said
to them I was doing this beccause I might be living with a Western girl and their poor girl when married would come back home in rags, hungry and betrayed!!
Then, unlike now, not many Indians were going abroad. Anxiety of the unknown. The bride side did indeed book a nice place for the wedding and I cut the whole silly charade short to save them money. Have remained married over 3 decades with a son who is wedded to his science!

I know too many cases of cruelty, bankruptcy and divorces. Wonder about the Brahminical society, the enlightened ones!!!

Has the society not moved on when India is aiming for the moon!!!

Nebu said...

May I add (applies to Christians more particularly to the so called aristocratic planters)
Then: Wedding was on if the groom had 100 acres or more of plantation.

Now: (pre subprime): Wedding is on if the groom is working in a multinational ‘IT, BT’ sector and staying in Bangalore and If he is abroad (anywhere) wedding is on even if he doesn’t have either one of the limbs.

NB: Wedding is off if he is a planter and staying in the estate even if he has 100 or more acres !

Nebu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abraham Tharakan said...

Mysorean, this is an excellent comment. Sorry for the delayed response.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Nebu, a good one. Sorry for the delayed response.