Where Peacocks Fly (Chapter 18)
By Prema Sastri
Meera remembered the day Ramaswamy and his mother came to see her. It was an arranged marriage. Her mother, Parvati, had been all of a flutter. This was a welcome match. The boy was brilliant. Meera’s father Vishwanathan had made inquiries about him. His seniors spoke well of his ability and character. Mr. Vishwanatha’s cousin lived in Tiruchi. He too made inquiries. They were regarded as a simple and honest family. A son-in-law in the I.A.S. was a catch. Mr. and Mrs. Vishwanathan could not believe their good fortune.
Meera’s mother, selected a gold coloured Conjeevaram sari. She coiled Meera’s long hair and fixed jasmines in it. An appropriate necklace and bangles completed the attire. Meera was dark skinned. Her complexion was the colour of a ripe fig, brown and glowing. She had lustrous eyes, beautiful long hair and a tall slender figure. This was a disadvantage. Most of the eligible Iyer boys were short, the rest were looking for fair girls. Meera’s striking beauty meant nothing to them.
Kamala had not specified any opinion about colour. She had not asked many questions. According to her the horoscopes matched. That was her major concern.
On the appointed evening Ramaswamy and his mother came to their house. Meera’s parents greeted them. She remained inside till she was sent for. When she came out Ramaswamy gave her a casual glance. His mother asked Meera to sit beside her. She asked her a few simple questions. Meera’s mother sent her in to bring the refreshments.
Meera was not impressed with Ramaswamy. She found him nondescript. Her opinion did not matter. Her parents had resolved to fix the marriage. She returned to the drawing room with a tray of coffee and snacks. The coffee was served in stainless steel tumblers with containers in which it could be cooked. There were bondas, ompodi, pumpkin halwa and cashewnut toffees. They were served in shining steel containers, with fancy tiffin plates.
The guests helped themselves with polite murmurs of appreciation.
“All this was made by Meera” Parvati beamed.
The guests again murmured appreciation.
Meera was embarrassed by this blatant untruth. It would not have been bad if the cashew nut toffees had not been wrapped in silver foil, proclaiming them to have come from a fancy shop. Meera’s mother had spent the whole morning cooking. The result was delectable.
Kamala and Ramaswamy took their leave and left, but not before a time had been set for Meera’s parents to meet Kamala at her hotel. Meera was not told of the details of the meeting. Later she came to know there had been a request for ‘suitable’ jewellery and a car. It was expected that the expenditure for Kamala’s journey to Delhi, as well as that of her entourage would be met. There was no demand for dowry; only for a‘decent’ wedding.
The conditions were reasonable; most of Meera’s friends had got married only after a substantial amount of money had exchanged hands. Many people had sold their houses to raise capital, others had unacounted money, and could afford the transaction. Meera’s parents did not belong to either category. They would have to pore down expenses. They did not mind. Paravati, went from shop to shop selecting saris, jewels and household items. She seemed to fly. Meera’s feet dragged. She agreed to whatever her mother chose. There were trunks of saris, jewel boxes full of ornaments, and a variety of household items she had no idea how to use.
The wedding was fixed for an auspicious date in April. The date was so suitable that several weddings had been fixed on the same day. It seemed impossible to get a priest .Parvati thought of the family priest ,who was so old he could hardly walk. Even he was engaged. At last one of Parvati’s friends offered to get a priest from her village.
The venue was the Maurya Hall which had recently come up in the capital. The stage was decorated with a backdrop of fresh flowers. Bakshanam of large laddus and hand made murukkus had been prepared and kept in packets. The cooks had been instructed to prepare sumptious meals, including various types of rice, sweets, vegetables, savouries, chips and other items. Mr. Vishwanathan had a book in which he was writing down the expenses. Page after page was filled. He phoned his bank manager and called in many of his investments.
A well known singer with accompanists was approached to sing at the reception. Gifts of stainless steel bowls were ready for relatives. The bride to be, felt left out. She could not imagine she was the centre of activity.
Kamala wrote to say she would be coming with an entourage of twenty people. Tickets were booked in the air conditioned compartment, of the Tamil Nadu express. Cars were arranged to pick them up from the station. Rooms were reserved in a hotel, near the venue of the wedding. Mr. Vishwanathan’s book of expenses was almost full.
In April Delhi was getting warm. The groom’s party went straight to their hotel and ordered cool drinks. The Janvas was to take place the next evening. The cars had been booked for three days, so that the guests could go sight seeing. For Kamala it was her hour of triumph. She had invited people who slighted her. She would show them who really mattered.
On the evening of the Janvas Ramaswamy and his companions came to Maurya Hall in a cream coloured Ambassador decorated with flowers, ferns and mango leaves. A procession of cars followed. The barat was met with rose water sprayed from silver containers, with sandal paste and sugar candy. A short ceremony followed.
The day of the wedding saw a hot sun blazing over Delhi. First there was a civil marriage conducted by a local official. Mr Vishwanathan insisted on it. Religious ceremonies were not regarded as legal when it came to getting a passport or other official matters.
The wedding began with the groom walking to the hall, holding an umbrella. He was supposed to be off on a Kashi Yatra, or journey to Benares, where he intended to give up worldly pleasures and become a mendicant. The bride’s father followed him to beg him to change his mind and marry his daughter. The groom invariably agreed without hesitation. This play was popular and attracted a crowd of youngsters, joking at the expense of the hapless groom.
The party moved into the courtyard. The bride was brought out by a troupe of women. She was dressed in a red sari with a gold border and pallav with dots embossed with gold thread. Her hair was done in a fashionable coil. Her face had been made up. It glowed. A heavy gold necklace and gold bangles completed the outfit.
Clarionets and the beat of the mridangam heralded the arrival of the groom. A swing, or oonjal had been set up in the open. She and Ramaswamy sat on it. Women sang and threw balls of coloured rice, as the bridal couple rocked gently on the swing. Kamala and her friends were given a place of honour.
The priest from the village had brought two more priests to help him. Mr. Vishwanathan whipped out his book and added two more entries. He went to the platform. Parvati took her place behind him. Meera and Ramaswamy were seated. Kamala’s group was in the front row. The ceremonies began.
The priest knew his job. It was a step up for him to leave his village and come to the capital. He wanted to make a good impression. He went through the incantations in a loud voice. His assistants gave him able support. They did not miss a single verse. Sitting in front of the sacred fire Meera felt she would be reduced to a charred cinder. She stole a glance at Ramaswamy. He seemed cool and unperturbed. They walked the seven steps round the fire. His upper garment was tied to her sari. He went at an unhurried pace. She was relieved. Her make-up was about to drip down her face. Her stylish hairdo was threatening to come loose, under the weight of the jasmine flowers pinned in its coils.
When the ceremonies were over she relaxed. Guests greeted them. The pile of presents and gift envelopes mounted. When the time came for the bride and groom to have their first meal together as man and wife Meera could hardly eat. The banana leaf in front of her was covered with delicacies. Normally, she would have enjoyed them. On that day she forced herself to swallow a few mouthfuls. Ramaswamy did justice to the feast. The coconut rice, tamarind rice, vegetables, sweets and savouries disappeared, leaving a clean leaf. Meera realized he must have been hungry, though he had not shown any signs of it.
Meera had a short nap before the reception. She was decked in a pink Benaras sari, and a change of jewellery, including the wedding necklace which Ramaswamy tied around her neck. The musician and his party were ready. The hall was lit with coloured bulbs. The bridal party stood near the entrance, welcoming friends. Kamala, as the bridegroom’s mother had pride of place. She was in her element, greeting cabinet ministers and senior government officials as if they were old acquaintances. Soon, the hall was full. The musician began singing. The buzz of conversation almost drowned his voice. The musician did not mind. He had been promised a substantial remuneration.
After the reception and dinner were over, Meera was led by a group of women to a bridal suite upstairs. The room was decked with flowers and smelled of rose water.
In a corner was a large basket of fruit covered with red cellophane paper. Meera wondered if any bride or groom had ever given a thought to its contents. She remembered the events of the day, to the point when she on her father’s lap and he gave his only daughter to Ramaswamy. He swore that she would be obedient to him, follow him like a shadow, and consider his happiness above hers. Ramaswamy made his share of promises.
Then followed the tying of the wedding necklace round her neck. The first knot was tied by the groom. Next his sister was to tie the remaining knots. As he had no sister one of his female cousins took her place. The drums rose in full crescendo. The gathering became silent and watched the proceedings. Meera was now Mrs. Ramaswamy.
There was more to come. In a short ritual Meera was escorted to her husband’s house. The house was symbolized by a room. The groom’s party led by Kamala surrounded by an admiring group waited for her. Milk was boiled. The bride was welcomed. Meera was not merely a wife but the daughter in law of the house.
Meera yawned and stretched her arms. She was tired. She had gone through the day, without emotion, moving from one ritual to the next. She felt neither anticipation nor joy. She waited for Ramaswamy to come. He did so and went straight to the bathroom. He emerged wearing only a veshti. He came to the bed and surveyed Meera. She could not make out the expression in his eyes.
Meera unrolled her sari and took of the blouse. She felt unable to go beyond that.
“Hurry.” She pulled off her garments and threw them on the floor. She sought the safety of a covering bedsheet. Ramaswamy pulled it off, at the same time discarding his veshti. He took her without passion or interest. It was as if it was something he had to do. He rolled off her and fell asleep. Meera washed herself, changed her clothes and lay down beside him. It was just another day in her life.
To be continued....
Just finished reading C-18 and looking forward to C-19
Was thinking deeply... how hard and traumatic for a woman to marry someone they don't know. I just hope that this does not happen often in real life.
By Isabel 18/10/2011
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