The Haldi Factor
by Kiran Jhamb
(Nagpur, Maharashtra, India)
My young colleague, Maya, was looking a combination of being upset, hurt, annoyed, and was getting flashes of I-will-get-even look, at regular intervals. When asked about it, the volcano spewed lava.
She had been married for seven years now. She had two kids. To this date she had to listen to her mother-in-law (MIL) about the Haldi ceremony. “Amchaa Sohanchi haldi changli jhali ne hoti,” whenever a group of relatives or friends sat down to chat that was her MIL’s favourite anecdote. The rest of the lavish, expensive celebrations for the four different functions at four different hotels and the meeting of each and every demand by Maya’s family were conveniently glossed over.
Maya, though a Maharastrian, had been part of a family living in South. Therefore, her family was not familiar with the typical Maharastrian Haldi ceremony. Her mother had got just two kilos of Haldi - that too not in powdered form - for them and that had been a cardinal error for which her daughter was paying ever since. ‘Now amchaa Mohanchi haldi khoobech changli jhaali hoti.”
Whenever present, Maya’s young sister-in-law came to her rescue, “Aai, what about Mohan’s mother-in-law taking him for spatpadi without as much asking you? How ragged had you become? Sohan’s MIL had been so polite to you.” Maya’s MIL always chose to be deaf because Mohan’s MIL was a very shreemant woman and as arrogant as they come. Otherwise, Maya had no complaints about her MIL who was as nice as a MIL can be, but the recurrent relating of haldi fiasco was a sore point which made her often burst out like Shaw’s Joan, “How long! O Lord, how long?”
The hen party was in full progress. There were many clucking noises to soothe Maya’s ruffled feathers and out came many more such incidents to console her. These confirmed a lingering suspicion, which I have always held. I have named it the ‘Haldi factor’ - the point at which you get stuck, where you are beyond logic, rhyme or reason. Every time you think of it, a spurt of antagonism stirs deep in you. You are convinced you were cheated of your right; you were taken for a ride, you deserved better.
Here, the focus is on the ‘Haldi factor’ in the lavish, expensive wasteful weddings where money is squandered, where nothing is personal, which are in fact public shows - social statements of your bank accounts. These ‘public tamashas’ invariably leave you with a lifelong sore point if you are a masochist or with a hobbyhorse if you are a sadist. It gives a great power kick - since holding on to grudge gives a sense of purpose. You like to dwell on it in detail with relish.
Charu’s Father-in-law’s friends have never let her forget that the curd served in the wedding dinner was so thin that technically they were served ‘taak(buttermilk) vadaas’ and not ‘dahivadaas’. Honey has listened umpteenth number of times to how the vegetarian food served at her wedding to the guests was not up to the mark. Non-vegetarian section had been okay, but the vegetarian section was a disaster. Honey cursed her own uncle who had taken the decision to have the vegetarian food cooked at home and not to engage professional caterers because there were hardly forty vegetarian guests in a gathering of six hundred. And listening to the gloom-doom tone of her MIL, Honey over the last ten years has often thought of taking up a case study pursuing if the life of the guests from the vegetarian section had been permanently blighted, marred in some way by that meal. Her MIL’s tone definitely suggests it. Probably the guests had long ago forgotten it. On second thought, being typical Indians, even they would be able to rescue it from the recycle bin of their memory if the occasion demanded. It had been a joint reception and Honey’s MIL regretted the amount they had had to pay for such not-good-for-eating food.
Talking of joint receptions made Malika vociferous. Her Father-in law had invited Malika’s family to come to his city for the wedding, suggesting that he would make all the arrangements and the expenses would be shared. Then later on he had insisted on taking only twenty thousand form her parents though the reception, menu, decorations had been on a very grand scale since Malika’s husband was an only son. Malika took this to be a sign of haughtiness, a display of arrogance, an attempt to make her parents feel inferior. Talk about inverted snobbery! And Malika can wax eloquent on how ever since she has been made to feel that she belonged to a halki family. Savita too is a victim of having been made to feel inferior. Her blood pressure still soars high, after twelve years, whenever she thinks of the way her two sisters-in-law had gone and resold the saris brought by her as gifts as part of her dowry, saying, “We don’t wear such stuff. The shopkeeper is known to us, so he would exchange the saris and we would ourselves pay the extra.” Coming from them this indeed was rich, because they had given used saris as wedding gifts to Savita.
One Sindhi friend had an interesting folk tale to narrate. The story runs that the wedding had been celebrated with pomp and show, all the due niceties had been observed, the groom’s party had been given a very proper and warm welcome. The dowry contained every possible thing one could think of. Every small item needed for setting up home was there. It even had a needle made of gold. The eternally vigilant MIL pounced on the haldi factor on the very first occasion, “Couldn’t your parents have given thread too?”
Human nature cannot be changed. Half-glass-full or half-glass-empty attitudes are a part of it conveniently forgetting that the hand holding the glass always gets tired. The problem gets exacerbated when leaving aside the whole white paper it tends to focus on one single dot, blot - gets restive and ignores the rest of the whole pristine expanse.
What can be done to remove the Haldi factor? Weddings can be turned into private, personal affairs without any extra paraphernalia be it exchange of dowry or trousseau, sans feasts and decorations. This may not be generally acceptable to the guardians of culture. On the other hand the cycle always completes itself. If at the moment Maya, Honey, Charu, Savita, Malika are at the receiving end, they should wait patiently because one day they too would become MILS and would be able to grumble to their hearts’ content about Haldi factor of the weddings of their progeny. Meanwhile weddings are going around them all the year round. They should with zest and gusto get to sharpening their teeth on the ‘haldi factor’ of some Sohan’s wedding.