Blog post by Vatsalya Balasubramanian
Where is it? Everything looks the same to me. Where am I? I stop by the sidewalk to enquire. Everyone whisks past me with intent expressions on their faces. No one is free. Ah! there is a man in a lungi lounging across the pavement. He leisurely smokes a beedi blowing out smoke rings and looks at them like an art critic admiring a Da Vinci. “Ahem” I clear my throat. He is so engrossed in admiring his handiwork that he doesn’t hear me. “Excuse me?” He turns to me with an irritated face as if I interrupted an important job. “Ethiraj Mandapam?” my voice quivers. He looks at me with narrowed eyes like he is trying to fathom my real intention. “Straaait, pirst lept, second rite. Near Ranga tea stall,” he mumbles.
I drive ahead trying to bear his directions in my mind (my road sense is zero. When my brain can remember lines from Twilight and Harry Potter with absolute precision, wonder why it doesn’t co operate for useful stuff. Overworked I guess.)
One left and several rights (did he say third right?) later I stop again. I mop sweat off my brow and glare at the blazing Chennai sun. Where am I now? And what kind of landmark is that? A tea stall? There are more tea stalls in this city than the number of autos. I search in vain for the shop. As I glance across to the right I see a welcome sign. Ranga Tea Shop or is it Ganga tea shop? Anyway not my concern. Two blocks from this famous tea stall is the place I have been hunting for, all morning.
ETHIRAJ KALYANA MANDAPAM
Ah… sweet success. I vroom ahead and take a ‘U’ turn and drive into the complex.
I park my scooty. Get off, adjust my hair and step into the hall. A cool breeze invites me in. I ignore the buzzing of what seems to be a hundred bees and flop into a cushioned seat. Only now can I appreciate thermodynamics for bringing ACs into existence. Pity, I had an arrear in it a year ago. After a minute’s relaxation, I slowly look around taking in my surroundings.
Dhoti clad men with ash mark on their foreheads sit in a close group discussing something. I inch toward them and eavesdrop. “Two hours of power cut everyday’, says one man. “Oh be thankful you have no water problem”, quips another. “Stop being so selfish and think about broader issues. Petrol price has gone up twice since the new government came to power. Wonder what Amma will do” remarks the other. “She probably will take back all the Kalaignar TVs”, says yet another and the whole group guffaws. Some joke.
I turn to the opposite end where a lone man with a hearing aid sits shaking his head vigorously and ‘putting thalam’. Then I notice that right behind him sit a group of pot bellied men with oily hair playing the ‘ melam’. In the commotion I couldn’t hear them at all.
“Here you are,” says a voice in my ear. It is my maami wearing a turquoise sari and unnaturally black long hair. “Maami is that dye or a wig?” I ask, tactless as always. She gives me a dirty look. In a single breath she says, “What took you so long? everyone has been expecting you for the last 2 hours- what dress are you wearing?- JEANS?- go upstairs and change to a silk sari- and mind you, remove the watch and wear bangles- don’t come down looking like a tomboy.”
Did someone just press the fast forward button? Talk about breath control. Maybe her yoga classes are having some effect. I slouch forward and go upstairs to a tiny room filled with garlands, perfumes, gift boxes, coconuts and people. Where am I going to find my things here? My sister nudges me and says “All that you need are in that suitcase. Wear the green saree. I am wearing the maroon one. The accessories are in there.” She hands me a set of keys.
Half hour later as I am still struggling with the pallu, my mother comes in with a basket full of flowers and ‘tchs’ in disapproval. She cleverly starts tying the sari grumbling “23 years old and you still don’t know to wear a sari. Don’t know how I am going to get you married off. Now with Viswanathan mama’s family here wonder what they will think of you.”
Generally I don’t pay much attention to my mother’s grumbling or nagging. But not now, when she mentioned Viswanathan and family, my usually slow working brain picked up speed. “WHAT? What about their family. Are you telling me that you people are trying to hook me to that son of theirs’? I will not see anyone!” Mom looks down, pretending to adjust my sari, hiding her guilty face. “Nothing like that. It is like meeting family friends. That’s all”
Oh no! What are they planning to do? Match fixing! Not that I mind looking at guys. I know Balaji only too well. He is Viswanathan mama’s son. He with his thick glasses, chipmunk teeth, oil slicked hair, trousers pulled over his waist and IITian degree. “He studied in IIT you know?” Mom continues. “He is an awesome catch”. So what if he studied in India’s finest engineering college? He is still as lame as a fish (awesome catch? Right, my left foot).
Once I got all dressed, I paid no heed to my mother’s insistence on lady-like behaviour and stormed downstairs. I went straight to my chithi and complained about the Balaji and family episode. “Don’t worry, we will get you off this sticky situation. Your mother knows nothing. Do you know Ravichandran mama? His son is working with Microsoft in LA and earns more than 3 lakhs per month”.
I walk off in a huff to find an understanding soul. No angel appears. So I just sit in one of the abandoned chairs and sulk. Presently a lady comes and peers at me. I give her half a smile. Taking it as a cue, she settled next to me and asked, “Whose relative are you? The bride or the groom?” The groom is my cousin. “Oh so you are Akila’s daughter right?” Wrong. Lalitha’s daughter. “Oh yes, it has been so long, my memory is not what it used to be”.
To my horror she calls a few other ladies, introduces me to them. “Guess who this is. Lalitha’s daughter. You know Shanti? Her sister-in-law. I smile vaguely at all of them. Then they go on to discuss whom I resemble. Nobody comes to a proper conclusion. With no preamble, they suddenly talk about diamonds. “When did you make the vaira thodu? I am getting one just like yours. And this mookuthi has lost the sparkle. Don’t buy in TB jewellery”. “This traditional thodu looks best only with madisaaru, that is why I bought another one….”
Thank heavens, I am not in limelight anymore and I slowly slink off to another corner of the mandap. The melam hits the highest note and I realise that my cousin has tied the knot. Everyone goes in a queue and wishes the couple. I give both of them a quick hug and rush off to the dining hall. Don’t want to be caught by anyone else. Is it too early to have lunch? Wouldn’t it be awkward if I am the first person there?
I step into the hall. To my surprise there are about 60 of them already seated. Many of them are sprinkling water on their plantain leaves. Others are gossiping. As the caterers started serving, the noise subsided quite a bit. Food must be good. Luckily, I sat beside a fat mama who was eating all that were being served and making slurping noises that no one sat in the vicinity, lest their conversations be interrupted.
I picked at my food and escaped from the hall taking with me a kulfi. I fly upstairs to a room and relish my dessert. Peace at last!
My mother rushes into the room and drags me downstairs to meet “some people”. IIT hasn’t polished Balaji in the least. I politely smile at everyone, nod vaguely, answer in monosyllables.
By some miracle the day has come to an end. I pack up everything, help my chithi and run out of the mandap. Homeward Ho!
Phew! That was one looooooooong day. I needn’t worry about anything until the next wedding in my family.