A wedding in Chennai

It's been a while since we had a massive wedding on the wife's side of the family. This one was especially important as it was the first wedding of her next generation, in this case her nephew's. The oldest of that generation, he decided to enter the venerable institution of marriage obviously through some misguided notions of family and harmony.

Preparations began in early January for the event in July. The women of the family effected expeditions to Mumbai, Kancheepuram and Chennai. They also  planned in meticulous detail the attire for themselves and the hapless husbands alike.  Customized and coordinated matching costumes for each one of the hundred events often necessitated multiple costume changes in a day. As my brother-in-law mused during the event - if we are going to take a nap, what costume do we need to change to?

The wife and kids left Bangalore for Chennai three weeks before the impending union. This of course, elevated stress levels (not for me) as there was no guarantee that I would pack correctly, left to my own devices. A week before my trip, my wife called daily to ensure I didn't mess up. I went to the extent of garnering a mobile phone tripod so I could model all the clothes assigned.  An additional stress angle materialized as I'd gained weight since the original clothing acquisition. However, the modeling and self photo sessions occurred without mishap and got the seal of approval from Chennai.

The Sangeeth was the first of the gazillion events; a lavish affair with no purpose other than to have fun and no bearing on the main event.  A dance by the groom to be (nephew) and the bride to be kicked off the event. The other kids in the family (including my teen daughters) had painstakingly practiced a dance medley which they performed brilliantly.

There was then a musical game which involved remembering  Tamil songs and words.  The compere (a niece) roped me in at the last moment as I was doing nothing noteworthy.  Team 3 was my group with three other women I'd never seen before. One look at me and they accurately gauged that I was a non-factor in the game. Our team actually co-won thanks to zero involvement from me.

With all the choreographed and planned agenda out of the way, we unleashed on the dance floor and as usual I made a fool of myself with my uncoordinated prancing. A first for that side of the family, my antics actually gained appreciation mostly out of the hope I'd never again show such dastardly moves.

The next day was a ladies only program which is the Mehndi. This is where women sit for hours together to get weird designs painted on their hands and arms by patient mehndi artists specially brought in for this eventuality. My attempts at integrating with this crowd was swiftly rebuffed by the wife who relegated me to a different room where one of my brothers-in-law slept fitfully (to be fair, he had recently flown in from the US and was badly jet lagged).

The engagement ceremony followed next, and this is when we first entered the capacious marriage hall called a choultry (no idea why). The brothers-in-law  wandered around aimlessly most of the times, manifesting themselves for photos when called.  Oh, and lots of eating in between.

Next was the reception. Here we need to get down and dirty with the details. Firstly, I was dressed like an elaborate flower bouquet and clothes bursting at the seams. Rajesh Vaidya enthralled us with his Veena performance and the three brothers-in-law sat in rapt attention for the most part.  The highlight of the evening for sure.

The wives of course would have none of it. One look at us and they realized that we were having it too good so they figured out a scheme to have us on our feet.  Here's how the reception went (changing tense here for dramatic effect)...

The boy and girl are on a brightly lit elevated platform with colorful flowers all around, bright lights from every angle and sitting on a throne like apparatus. Well wishers approach from the right to take positions around the two in-focus people. Photographers then go berserk at this point and the video cameras go into a frenzy. There is also a mysterious drone replete with a surreptitious camera that appears out of nowhere and chills one to the spine with the large whirring fans creating icy downward winds. 

Anyway, the groom's mother makes decisions (with a clandestine thumbs up sign from stage) on which of the well-wisher groups gets the all important 'Vethalaipaaku'. This is a return gift which in this case consisted of a bedsheet (or so I was told).  When the groom's mother gives the signal, that group has to be escorted on a special walk to get them the Vethalaipaaku. The selection process defeats me though. 

(End present tense..)

The wives assigned the three jobless brothers-in-law to take over the Vethalaipaaku route. 

From stage, one of the ladies in the inner circle escorted each group to me. I then had to do a soft hand-off to one brother-in-law who then took them to the third guy who handed over the gifts. Needless to say, we made this a very entertaining endeavor.  We had a lossless transmission of over 30 groups. Our best herding was a horde of 22 people that we skillfully led to the path  of salvation and crisp bedsheets. There were, as usual, a few (chosen) rebel groups that attempted to backtrace their path from the stage. We mercilessly dealt with these revolutionaries to bring them back to their true purpose. Sometimes, a group would scatter and it was a logistical nightmare to get the constituents back together for the gift route. Often, one or two individuals would stop and try to socialize and this posed challenges to the supply chain as it would get backed up. Being a keen student of the theory of constraints and being first station in the supply chain, I held it together admirably well (insert self back pat here) and ensured smooth flow.

The day finally ended with more food. What a surprise.

The actual wedding happened the next day and this was mostly uneventful other than the by now ritualistic costume changes, random photographs and overeating.

There was also the 'Nelangu' event in the evening which was an unguided event (no priests to preside over the affair) which involved the freshly minted bride and groom pasting each other with kunkam and turmeric paste.  Another curious program was where the bride and groom had to crack rice papad over each other's heads and try to get as much of the crumbs on the other's head (go figure). 

One key observation during the furore that is an Indian wedding. There's always someone looking for someone else who hundred percent of the time is not anywhere to be found. No one asks for anyone in the existing multitude. This is followed by general panic until the individual is located. It's usually to ask for a key or other inanimate object. And it's always the person who's not there being sought after. Something worth researching...

That was pretty much it. The whole shebang came to a close with a sumptuous dinner and we all crawled home to get on with our mundane lives.
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