Blog post by Gauri Venkitaraman
Ever attended a TamBrahm wedding? If you haven’t, trust me when I say you have no idea what you’ve missed. If you have, then let me just say, you know exactly what you’ve been through.
A TamBrahm wedding starts well before the actual wedding itself. It invariably starts with the “jadagam eduthaachaa ?” bit.
It is quite common to see TamBrahm mamas and mamis randomly asking other TamBrahm mamas and mamis this question. “Ambi – onnodu pondatiodu akkavodu nathanaarodu thangaiodu kozhundanodu jaadagam eduthhacho da?”
Don’t try and figure that one out if you treasure your sanity. I didn’t. Some long convoluted DNA structure being recounted there. Moot point – jadagam (horoscope) the starting point of a TamBrahm wedding. To cut a long story short, if you are a TamBrahm, in your twenties and unmarried, consider yourself warned. You should, somewhere along this point in time, start looking for a cave to hide yourself in because the said mamas and mamis are about to descend on you in hordes!
TamBrahms have these little social gatherings where people exchange horoscopes. Atleast during my twenties, they did! I refer to them as jadagam parties minus the food and drink. No bajji sojji. Wonly jadagams. Mamas and mamis would exchange jadagams and head for their astrologers to find a “suitable match” for their daughters or sons or nieces or nephews or whatever. Unsuspecting young ones, suffice to say.
Don’t quite know how it works nowadays, though. Considering how enterprising they are, these mamis might have started carrying those ubiquitous steel tiffin carriers with any of these combos – idli/ molagapodi – not chutney because it does not keep well, vadai sambar, puliyodharai, limbu chadam, chapathi thokku and of course, a big thermos flask of filter kaapi without sugar. Sugar separately – little dabbas of sugar or Extra for the more discerning and “I’m trying to keep my flab from overflowing” kind of mamis. The mamas, of course, would end up asking for snacks or drinks that are not available right then!
Once the astrologer declares (pretty much like President Obama declaring that change will happen) that two jadagams do match, the parents would be over the moon. “Enna! Jadagam chendirukku kittela” the mami would be found gushing like one of the fountain spouts in Italy or the Vatican. The “enna” in question is a referral to her husband, not because his name is “enna” but because a TamBrahm woman of yore would not call her husband by his own name. She’d probably call the neighbour mama’s name but not her own husband’s. Yeah! Go figure!
Now, these astrologers were a rather liberated lot. Long before one even knew the meaning of the word “gay” our family astrologer had deemed to have matched two horoscopes, right down to the T. “Uttamama Cherum” he proclaimed, rubbing his large, hairy belly (I presume. No I’ve not seen it!) letting fly little red spittles of the paan from his mouth. The two jadagams in question happened to be both boys. A gay marriage made in heaven, huh?!
Once the “jaadagam” factor is taken care of, it is the turn of the girls’ parents to call the boys’ parents to “proceed” in the matter. I’ve always wondered why. I still wonder! This is where one sees instances of growth hormones in their full glory. Happened with my parents. No, No – they did not grow like Jack’s magic beanstalks overnight. Some boy somewhere in Bombay, apparently did! My parents had apparently called up some boy’s parents and according to the horoscope, he was said to have been 5’5” in height. But when my dad called up and spoke to his dad, his dad had a quiet word with his pondati (wife) and voila! His son had suddenly grown to 6’5” in height. Wonder what they were feeding their son?
If all this falls into place, meaning the boys don’t undergo any growth spurts, or suddenly lose all the hair on their bodies, or start croaking like 12 year olds whose voice is just beginning to crack, or turn into a toad or something like that, then the parents exchange photographs. No, no – not the parents’ photos – photos of the prospective bride and groom.
Now these photographs are special. The size specifications that one has for modern day passport photos would absolutely pale in comparison. The TamBrahm ponnu/ pullai photos are a speciality. They are never meant to speak the truth. For one, the subject in question would be standing miles away. One would get a good look at a whole panorama including cows and pigs sometimes but would need a magnifying glass to find the “subject”.
Else, it would be one of those totally doctored “studio” versions where a 4’11”, rather emaciated pullai (groom to be) looks like Superman incarnate. Have to hand it to the photographers though. If you have to make Bheemasena look like Shakuntala or vice versa, that’s some major perspective on angles and lighting and what have you. Total genius, I say. Or to put it in TamBrahm lingo – “ayyo adhu salid sooper”.
If the photos pass their respective exams, comes the interesting bit. The bajji sojji ponnu pakaradhu. I remember mine. There was this one instance where the whole family and extended family and their neighbours and the neighbours’ neighbours descended upon my parents’ house (or so it seemed because there were so many people, it was a dazzling sight that literally made the earth spin in front of my eyes and caused stars to float above my head). The only person who looked totally demure amongst all that din and ruckus was – well, you guessed it – the so called groom to be. What? Did you think it was me ? Demure and shy? You’ve gotta be kidding me!
After much deliberations and consultations (good thing they did not deem it necessary to check with the astrologer or the gods even), the “elders” decided to let me and the demure groom to be “talk” to each other in the confines of another room. With the door open, of course. Ayyo – closed door aa? Ishwara Ishwara – konjum naanam, vekkam ellam venam (Ayyo – letting a girl and boy talk behind closed doors aa? No No. One needs to have some element of shyness and shame). Illaina engalodu manathhai kappal etthi vida pora. (Age old saying which every mother repeats at every given chance. It means something like “she’s going to send my honour sailing on a boat or some such). Rather touching, that one – the amount of trust that is implied!
Coming back to me and the demure groom – being sent to another room to talk – not as if that helped cos those mamis and mamas seemed to have loudspeakers built in to their throats and their magnificent vocal chords were vibrating to the maximum like singers at a Tyagaraja Aaradhanai festival. It was a surreal experience, psychedelic and to some extent hallucinogenic even because my head was pounding vivid colors (read mainly red) and those exuberant voices from the living room did nothing to quell my mind-altered state.
He said “hello”. I was shocked and wondered if a mouse had sneaked in with us. Turned out it was indeed him. He squeaked “hello” again, his voice pretty much sounding like a high pitched, tinny door hinge which had not been oiled in a decade. He whined further “I don’t want my wife to work. I want her to stay home and take care of my mother”. That was it! End of story! Needless to say, I spared him and more importantly myself of any further misery, without much ado.
Those mamas and mamis and the squeaky groom are looking for the wrong thing, I realized, horror dawning and washing upon me in waves. “He should have been looking for a nanny / nurse. What was his entire clan doing in my parents’ house with the demure bridegroom squeaking like the high priest of some bygone era?”
Thankfully, none of the other deafeningly loud mamas and mamis made the cardinal mistake of asking me to walk or sing or show them my teeth. That would have been it! Large scale massacre! Fortunately (for them, that is) I did not have the opportunity of displaying my rather largely non-existent ninja talent. Well, to be fair, if I had to be a true Gandhian and believe in non violence and Ahimsa and all that, to annihilate or butcher them, cause a bloodbath, all I would have had to do was sing. Yeah! I was that good! The blood would have run in absolute rivers and they would have been gone before I hit the next octave!
The moment we walked out of the room, having had a totally mind-altering, earth shattering, spiritual, otherworldly conversation inside, one of those mamas (don’t have a clue as to who he was) boomed like a cannonball shooting out of the cannon “enna pidichudha ?” (Well, liked?). Was he under the impression I was in there to buy a yard of cloth? I didn’t bother to reply and I don’t know what the Mickey Mouse did or said.
I still remember one of my friends in college saying that someone had come to “see” her elder sister and the prospective mamiyaar (mother in law) asked the prospective daughter in law’s mother whether the prospective daughter in law could sing Carnatic classical music. To which, my friends elder sister replied “Ponnukku paada theriyuma nu ketta andha mami odu pullaikku aada theriyuma nu kelu” (If she wants to know if I can sing, first ask her if her son knows how to dance!). That really should have been something, I say.
Anyways, moving on, if the bajji sojji ponnu pakaradhu is a “success” – meaning if they were indeed looking for a bride and not a nanny/nurse or many of the other weird connotations that people have in their minds, usually the whole thing culminates in marriage. A TamBrahm wedding, for those of you reading this, has enough drama and material for a whole separate blog post.
For now, as a die hard Tam Brahm would say “Poittu varen, enna. Pinne parkalaam. Kalyanathukku varanam kittela.” (I’ll take your leave for now, OK? We’ll meet again. Do come over for the wedding, OK ?) .
Needless to say, that has to be said in a mighty, booming voice, loud enough to be heard all the way in the You Yes of Yay.
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