Disclaimer: TamBrahms are also like Kamal Haasan from Viswaroopam – “I am a hero, I am villain!” This post highlights both the sides of namma manusha. All characters and events depicted in this post are NOT entirely fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is NOT coincidental. However, the names have been changed to save myself from cheruppu-adi.
My friend Karthik Chakravarthy, a pukka Tamil Iyer paiyyan fell in lovvu with a chamathu Bengali ponnu Anamika Chakraborty. The courtship was going on well. But in those 18 months, both of them had not told their parents about it. Anamika was confident that her Baba & Maa will understand… It won’t be a problem for her. But namma paiyyan was super scared! And he even imagined all the possible ways his parents would react:
(a) What if they reacted positively? What if they say – “Kanna, why didn’t you tell us before only? Naanga enna vendaam-na solla porom?”
Then he realised… ‘Dei, idhu unakke over-aa illai? Niruttu da! Realistic options yosi. Back to Option (a)’
(a) Very angry Appa. “Get lost!” Calming Amma. “Please, at least listen to him. (to son) Dei, go and get her home tomorrow. Naanga avala paakanam.”
(b) Very angry Amma. “Get lost!” Calming Appa. “Please, at least…” Suddenly interrupted by Veri pidiccha Very very angry Amma “Neenga konjam chumma irukkela? Ivan pannina kaariyatta paarungo! (to son) Innum ennada paatundrukai? Veliyile poda!”
This one is quite possible, he thought. Over to next version.
Stops imagining because he knows this version will end with his parents beating him with the tuni onattara kambu.
This is the scariest. You can face their kobam with your anger… But how the hell do you fight against their kanneer… After all seeing their azhugai, you start to cry too invariably.
So, he used the Brahmaastram himself. Step 1: He broke down fully in front of them. Step 2: Then amidst tears, he broke the news. Things were terrible for close to a month. “Dei, avaa braahmanaa-nu verum perukku daan da. Avaalukku meen illaina chaapda teriyaadu da. Nee muttai kuda chaapda maattai. Yeppidi daa ottu poagum?” Amma, she won’t eat non-veg in the house. “Dei, avaalukku mustard oil la daan da samacchu pazhakkam. Neeyum ada daan chaaptaanam. Tevaiya?” Sunflower oil-la yum chamaippal, amma. And so on and so forth.
But then, after lots of emotional blackmail and sleepless nights… nei pannartukku vennai urugara maadiri parents-um urugitta. Anamika was called home. They liked her. Amma said, “Ponnu paaka Lakshmi kadaakshattoda lakshanamaa irukka”. She instantly tried to translate the sentence to Anamika. But Anamika stopped her midway… she told her that she understands Tamil. Karthik’s Amma instantly looked at her son proudly with a ‘adukulla namma bhaashai cholli kuduttiya’ look. This is when Anamika clarified that she had studied in Chennai for a couple of years and learnt a little bit of the language. Karthik’s Amma was waiting to hear some more good things from her about the city when Anamika continued naively – “I don’t like that city. All the people I met there were such snobs!” For Karthik, it was a ‘vadai poache’ moment. But his Amma surprised him by saying – “I like her honesty.”
Karthik jumped in joy. That day he told me that pretty soon Anamika’s parents were coming down to discuss about marriage. I was relieved. Ivanodu lovvu, ivanodu kalyaanam, but I was excreting bricks in the past week. Whenever he would call, I would ask ‘Machi, ippo yenna aachu? What went wrong this time? Do you want me to come and talk to Mama Mami about it?’ And he would say ‘Dei, I am keeping you as a reserve. Will call you if things go horribly wrong.’ I presumed it must be to come and put a saakshi kai-ezhuttu whenever he does kalyanam in Alaipayuthey style.
And that day came. No, not the Alaipayuthey moment. It was the day when he came to invite me for his wedding. He told me that I was going to be the maaplai thozhan. Now this guy had gone silent on me for some time. No reply to calls. Monosyllabic replies to messages. So, when I saw the wedding invitation, peru moochu vittein. And then I noticed something… I exclaimed “MACHI, avaa vazhakkam padi kalyanam nadakka poardaa? How the hell did your parents agree to this?” He said – that is the reason of my silence. It took some amount of convincing to make them agree to this. I told them we will marry in both styles. But they said, rommba selavu aayidum. Oru vazhakkam padi pannina porum. If you want to get married in Bengali style, so be it.” From the way he said ‘so be it’, I understood Mami’s tone. Be it for a son or daughter, all the pettavaas have some kanavu for their wedding. And it is not always easy to expect them to understand that things are going to change.
But when I met Karthik’s Amma in Kolkata, she was elated. Her orey paiyyan was getting married! His Appa was happy too, I think… But it was tough to make out with his facial expressions… Ellame orey maadiri irundudu. I was surprised to see Mami without Madisaar & Mama without Panchagajam. Karthik’s Amma chuckled – “Odd man and woman out-aa irukka koodaadu illaiya, adunaala daan. 6 gajam-e poarume. Yaen kanna, inda Nalli saree nannaa illaiya?” “Super-aa irukku, Mami!” That’s all I could say. Because even though she was smiling, I could sense the varuttham in her eyes of not being able to do the marriage in namma style.
We were all put up at Komala Vilas in Kalighat. In the next 45 minutes we had to leave for the wedding venue. And these 45 minutes happened in super-fast motion which included getting Karthik ready, fitting him into the 1-size-chinna sherwani, hunting for a white trunk in a nearby store coz he was going to wear a (possibly transparent) dhoti for the ceremony, etc.
And we were ready! When I got out along with the maaplai, I got introduced to the MN Nambiars & MN Rajams of the family – Periappa, Periya Athai, Chinna Atthai, Chitti & Mami. Now it’s not always the Appas & Ammas who are the villains… It is the Sagunis & Mantharas who influence them. And how did I recognize that they belonged to the Villain-Villi category? Periappa’s first comment on seeing Karthik gave it away – “Yennadaa, un kalyanatukku poaga ready-aa? Namma vamsaavalilye first cross breed panna poardu nee daan da!”
I looked at Karthik, bewildered. He signalled me with a ‘this is just the aarambam, machi’ kind of a look. Now that Periappa was done talking, he took out a madicchi veccha vettalai-paakku set from his most prized possession – his ‘chellapetti’ and stuffed it in his mouth as soon as the trip began.
A mini-bus was arranged for all of us to go to the wedding venue. What was not conveyed to all the attending nammalavaas was that the kalyanam was happening about 50 kms away from the city of joy, which takes more than 2 hours to reach. En route, none of the relatives could stay mum. All the questions were directed towards Karthik’s mother… Paavam! Chitti started the conversation – “Namma kalyanangal-la vedi kaarthaala aarambippom. Inga kalyanam mudiyartukulla vedinjudum poala irukku.” It came as a culture shock to the TamBrahm public in the bus that the muhurtham was scheduled at night. Karthik’s mother just smiled and nodded. Karthik’s Mami added fuel to the fire, “Nee vera… kashi yaatirai, oonjal, nalungu onnum kadaiyaadu… totally different-a irukkum”.
Periya Atthai chumma okkaaruvalaa? “Yendi, ivaa kalyanattula meen vecchindu daane kalyanam pannuvaalyo? Adu daane avaalukku neivedyam!” I looked at Karthik stumped. How did he address the elephant in the room… I mean, the meen in the room… I mean, the fact that there will be a meen on the manamedai? He said that was a huge issue! Karthik & Anamika somehow convinced Baba (her father) about it… but the priest who was going to conduct their marriage flatly refused… “bibaha without maach? Impossible!” But after some coaxing and convincing, he finally relented. So yes, the good news for the Iyer junta was that there will be no maach during the ceremony.
For Chinna Atthai, it became a prestige issue… ‘naan innum kelviye kekkaliye’. So she thought hard and then asked – “Namma ellarum varom-nu teriyum lyo avaalukku? Ellam veg chaapaadu daane?” Unfortunately, in the entire hullaballoo, Karthik’s parents didn’t enquire about the menu… they had asked Karthik to deal this directly with his varungaala maamanaar. And Karthik forgot to update them… So now, he broke the news to them en route to the wedding… “Uhhhh…. Veg-um undu…” His father stared at him hard. “Veg-UM naa enna artham daa? Enga elai-la enna podaraa-nu kettundu kettundu poattukka chollariya?” Karthik’s Appa had been patient all along. But now, I could sense his discomfort which was converting into anger, especially because of the irritating questions posed by his ‘near-and-dear-ones’. He again burst out – “Chollu da!” His wife tried to cool him down – “Kozhandai odu kalyanam inniki… chetta chumma irungo. Nee chollu da kanna, anga enna arrangements?” Karthik told them that there were 2 separate rooms where food will be served. In the room for the maaplai-aatukaara, only pure Vegetarian Chaapaadu daan paramaaruvaa. Periappa was relieved hearing this. “Happaadaa… dei, un kalyanatukku vanduttu, kai nenakkaama poana nanna irukkaadey… eppidi chaapda poaren-nu nenacchindrindein. Vayattula paala vaatey daa.” Periappa had just finished his first vettalai paakku of the trip. Now that he finished speaking his dialogue and added to Karthik’s dilemma, he took out another juicy set from his chellapetti and relished the lethal betel.
Sitting at the back of the bus along with Karthik, I was continuously trying to cheer him up coz the boy needed it a lot! I also tried to start a game of Antakshari so that the Villis club would have less opportunities to paduttify Karthik’s Amma. But no, Karthik’s Mami passed a comment over here too, right from the front of the bus. “Namma Tamil paattu paadi ivalavu enjoy pannarome, I think idu daan last time… idukku appram namma ellarum Hindi paatto, illai Bengali paatto daan paadanam. Yennaa, namma maattuponnu-kku daan Tamil paattu teriyaade”. Karthik’s Amma was upset. I could hear her almost inaudible groan ‘Last time? Yen daan ippadi abasagunamaa pesaraalo!’
I looked at Karthik’s face. Poor guy was not at a bit happy. He whispered in my ears. “Idellaam kettundu kalyaname pannikka vendaam-nu tonardu da! Tirumbi vandadukku appram, please enna oru daravai cheruppaala adi, inda jokers ellariyum naan invite panninadu-kku!” I did the only three things which I could do – consoled Karthik, cracked a joke to make him laugh and started another round of Antakshari to distract them all.
But Periappa was not so easy to distract. His stock in the chellapetti had exhausted. “Yendaa Karthik, rendu maninerattula poi senduduvom-nu sonniye… innum evalavu talli daa?” GPS showed that we were 20 mins away. The sun had set. We were getting a little late. And Karthik clearly wanted to avoid his Periappa. Maybe his silence hurt Periappa’s periya ego. Periappa looked outside… it was a remote suburban area. Thus came the stinging comment from the great Periappa, “Dei Karthik, un Maamanaar oor per teriyaada outskirts la irukkara oru VILLAGE la kalyanam vecchindrukaar da… idula Kolkotta la kalyanam nadakkardu-nu PEYARU.” Now more what he said, it is the derogatory tone used with dollops of sarcasm which hurt Karthik badly. I saw him shedding a tear. Karthik’s Appa had not seen Karthik’s face, but maybe he knew how his son would have felt. He shot back at Periappa – “Anna, sammandi enga kalyanam vecchindrukaaro, anga poyi namma pillaiyodu kalyanam panni vekkardu-daan namma velai. Chetta pesaama varela?” Chitti intervened, “Illai Athimber, avar kekkardula enna tappu? Namma aathu kalyanatukku naama guest maadiri vandhu erangarom. 4 naal munnaala vandu ella arrangements-um naama paakka vendaamo?” Karthik’s Amma handled it wisely, “Ddo paaru, kalyaanam avaa vazhakkam padi nadakka poardu. Namakku adu patti onnum teriyaadu. Munnalaye poana ubadramaa daan irukkum, ubayogamaa irukkaadu, purinjuda?”
By then, we reached the marriage hall. We were welcomed by the enthusiastic ponnu-veettu-kaara. In fact, Karthik was kidnapped from the car to the venue in a pallaakku. But the TamBrahm public lost it in the pandemonium. “Evalavu koochal podaraa!” Karthik’s over-enthusiastic maamanaar tried cracking jokes to make us feel at home… and a loooong session of introduction of relatives happened. And then, the kalyanam… oops, bibaha started.
Every ritual was new to Karthik and to all of us too. I realised soon that there is no role for a maaplai thozhan in their style of wedding apart from the time the groom changes from his sherwani to dhoti, sleeved vest & angavastram. And as a maaplai thozhan, you act like a clothes hanger and pull his baniyan from every direction to ensure that his toppai is least visible.
And did it matter? Maybe not for Karthik’s relatives… because they were busy judging ponnu-veettukaara and looking around who is wearing how much nagai-nattu. Karthik was calling his relatives jokers in the bus. Pretty soon, Periya Athai returned the compliment. When he wore the ‘topor’, the conical headgear, Periya Athai laughed out loud and said, “Paakkartukku pukka joker maadiri irukkaan!” Karthik’s mother was already embarrassed because of this statement. She was more shocked when she was not allowed to sit on the manamedai near her son. She asked the pandit what her role in the marriage is. He said – ‘nothing. Traditionally, groom’s mother doesn’t attend the wedding. But now that you are here, you can sit along with the guests and watch the rituals.’ Periya Athai: “Kettiya di… pillai odu Amma Appa vum guest maadiri okkaranamaa. Ivaalukke madippu ivalavu daan-naa, namakku…?”
Contrary to what she said, Anamika’s family took great care of all of us. There was always someone attending to us. In fact, Anamika’s Periamma had stayed in Madurai for 4 years during her schooling days, so she could speak Tamil very well. She was the official translator of the ceremonies for Karthik’s parents and me. Because the others were simply not interested in the bibaha (wedding). Periappa was upset because they didn’t arrange any Kumbakonam vettalai or paakku over there… and he doesn’t ‘touch’ any other vettalai. Periya Atthai did not ‘touch’ the sabzis claiming they were made in mustard oil and avalukku komattardu. Clearly the caterer was told to prepare the dishes for Karthik’s family in sunflower oil only… and clearly Periya Athai was over-exaggerating. Chitti was upset that there weren’t too many uppu or kaaram dishes in the menu. She didn’t ‘touch’ half the dishes because they were all sweet (roshogulla, sandesh, etc) and she is a diabetic. Chinna Atthai opined – “elai chaapaadu odu majaavey vera. Inga ennadaana, buffet maadiri aakkita.” It became a very ‘touchy’ issue!
Mami was happy that at least she was able to have thayir chaadam. What no one knew was Anamika’s father had to struggle to get non-sweet normal thayir… coz usually Mishti Doi is served. And kadavule, the volume of curd each of us were served was just too much! All of us got one matka (4 times the size of a matka kulfi) full of katti thayir. Surprisingly, this shut all the ladies of the family up. But Periappa spoke – “mor molagai irundirunda, nanna irundirukkum”. The others nodded in agreement. The only 3 people who didn’t were the non-participating-parents-in-the-kalyanam Karthik’s Appa & Amma… and me.
I was stumped seeing the amount of negativity from Karthik’s family. Periappa heard the Ululudhvani and told me “Dei, un friend odu wife-kkum inda chattham poada teriyuma kelu. Engaatukku pakkattula irukkara Mariamman kovil-la practice panna venna vara chollu.” Yup, throughout the function, they tried to influence (read: poison) Karthik’s Amma by commenting something or the other… while she gracefully smiled and nodded. That’s all.
Eventually, after the wedding, when Karthik & Anamika came to take aashirwadams from the parents, Karthik’s Amma said, “Inimey, nee ennodu ponnu. Ok vaa?” To which Anamika replied, “Ok AMMA.” Hearing that word filled Karthik’s Amma’s eyes with tears. Anamika’s Maa was crying her heart out realising that her daughter is going to her sasuraal. Karthik’s Amma went and hugged Anamika’s Maa and told her, “Please don’t worry. I will take care of her.”
Even though the narration doesn’t do justice, this story was mainly about 2 ladies – Anamika & Karthik’s Amma. Anamika too had a battle to fight, but it is because of her conviction, the marriage happened… illaina en friend Karthik heartbreak-la bottle break panniruppan. And of course, Karthik’s Amma… I saluted this lady’s resilience that day. From an extremely orthodox mentality, she brought in a sense of acceptance for the sake of her son, tolerated all her relatives’ bullshit, didn’t utter a single word fearing that they might feel insulted, stood up to her son and daughter(-in-law) when required. (Karthik ki) Maa, tujhe salaam!