India Tales is a series of essays exploring love, marriage and family in modern India.
Jatt Sikh Papa was seething with rage, and the wedding convoy dashed to the Gurgaon District Commissioner's (DC) residence. Many stereotypes were smashed in the not very dramatic Shaadi of Amrita Bhinder with Gautam Chintamani. It has been seven years. All are invited.
Andhra boy and Jatt Sikh girl decide to get married. If you expected high drama in Telugu and Punjabi, when Gautam and I took the decision, well, there were none, really. Drama unfolding around most Indian weddings has been ingrained in our minds. At times, one finds it difficult to believe that there can be a marriage without the emotional fireworks.
Gautam, and I were marrying after a courtship of four years. Much of it kept onlookers occupied. Are they friends? Are they partners? Many such questions.
See You, 2007
Gautam is an Andhra boy. South. I m a Jatt Sikh girl. North. He is the silent kind. I, the expressive variety. He is a writer. I, a lawyer, heading legal and indirect tax for a global conglomerate. Thanks to our Fauji fathers, I always studied in a boarding and he never spent more than two years at any school. We had been best friends, in third grade, back in the 1980s. Though we had lost touch for almost two decades, we surprised each other by picking things up in 2007, right at the point where we had left them in 1986. With so much in common, and at the same time not, there were some fireworks, alright, but just not the kind that the world would have you believe.
We both wanted a civil marriage. None of our parents had a problem with that. In fact, both of us never really thought of getting married with all the pomp that accompanies an Indian wedding. We did not want to experiment with living in or such, and while we are on the subject, equal power to both who choose that path or not.
Papa didn't preach
In India, marriage is often a big exercise to check boxes. Our lives are compartmentalised in numerous boxes, and much like studying in school, graduating from college, pursuing a master’s degree, marriage has become a box that needs to be checked. Both of us were coming out of long past relationships and did not want children. Perhaps, there was no ticking clock that would have pushed either to marry within a certain time frame. We practically spent most of our time together and felt that little would change post-marriage. Parents on either side were surely concerned, but not bothered.
The first stereotype that we saw being broken was my father telling the bride (me) that if I were not thinking of marriage, I ought not to be around Gautam, lest I spoil his chances of marriage. My mother in law, on the other hand, took it to the next level by telling Gautam that in case he and I were thinking of marrying, get on with it, as his younger brother had decided to get married. For me, papa suggesting Gautam’s future over mine was simply standard operating procedure for him to look long term, and, in this case, putting my friendship over a ‘seal-the-deal’ marriage. My mother-in -law’s pragmatism never fails to impress me. She immediately gets to the point that needs to be addressed. This showed how different my father and my mother-in-law were and not, being nonchalant about the whole thing.
Keep it simple
When it came to planning the wedding, everything was being done with the thought of trying to conform to the idea of marriage fed to us. Needless to say, everyone failed at everything. Though, for a while Gautam and I thought of going the whole hog for the sake of our parents, they did not push us for a grand wedding.
Weddings, often become a place where extended families meet. They become an excuse to celebrate a bit of tradition. The case for us became strong. Ours would be one of the last weddings for a long time on both sides. Could the grandparents and uncles and aunts and friends not meet over drinks and food? Once we choose to give the whole traditional ceremony a miss, our parents seemed relieved, even kicked, at the prospect of a couple of parties.
Rush To The DC!
We were having a civil marriage. But. even that was not devoid of drama. We landed at the Registrar’s office, much before time and waited to be summoned. The 10 am Sun in August ensured that the groom (dressed in a veshti) and bride (in a silk saree) remained inside the car with the air-conditioning turned on. Suddenly, I see my father walking towards the car, seething with rage, informing us that we would need to dash to the Deputy Commissioner’s residence for he had taken the day off and our marriage was postponed. "Postponed" – not a great word to hear on your wedding day. We were to fly off to the US, as man and wife, in two days, and, more importantly, our family and a few guests were due for the marriage lunch in two hours!
What happened next was straight out of some Rohit Shetty’s film – a convoy of cars zooming to the DC’s home, for a marriage. Usually, people run from the law to get hitched and here Gautam and I were doing the opposite. We made it to the home-office of Mr P C Meena, I A S Deputy Commissioner-cum-Marriage Officer, Gurgaon, where my mother in law practically refused to let anyone in till he solemnised the match.
The DC was so moved by the barrage of people – my now calm father, relaxed mother, mother-in-law and father-in-law and Gautam’s brother, his girlfriend and some friends, that he told his Personal Assistant to get the other couples due for marriage to the residence, who, in the normal course of events, would have to await a new wedding date.
Granny-in-law, jeans and laughter
Perceptions would have you believe that a north Indian marrying a south Indian or vice versa, would mean a world of change, and herculean efforts to adjust. It has been almost seven years since I got married and everything remains as easy or even as hard as we would like to make when it comes to swimming against the tide.
At my own marriage lunch, I changed into a pair of jeans once the photos and pleasantries were done and the one who enjoyed it the most was Gautam’s octogenarian grandmother. She and I had the most laughs, that afternoon. Few days later, I drove my mother-in-law, my nani-in-law (Amamma) and my husband to our home in the hills after the marriage and that was not the only stereotype smashed.
Children? No, Amamma
Amamma asked me if I wanted a child and when I said no, she said, "Ah, so you want to have fun with no responsibilities… good." Clichéd films and television soaps would have you convinced that a south Indian mother in law would not imagine you beyond the kitchen, but mine told me to never enter one, unless I wanted. And, my husband was quietly revelling in the company of three women from different generations.
Perhaps, it truly is about choice. We choose to believe in stereotyping and make it a matter of habit or even convenience. Following a script, any script, should not be so ingrained that you forget to make a choice. It is said that love recognises no barriers, it also jumps hurdles, surely follows no script and, when it comes to marriage, love, I believe, should be the only reason for two people to get together. At times, perhaps, it might not be as easy as some would like to believe. Is it not about exercising your choice?