There is not much that can replace a weekend with my son. So when I was called to make a choice between going to my hometown – Mysore – for my cousin’s wedding, and spending those precious hours with Dhruv, I was sufficiently torn. Of course there was the option of taking the little hyperactive gremlin to the wedding…but my mind was flooded with images of a similar path taken a couple of years ago, where all I remember is the disappearing shirttail of a fleet-footed child. To summarize, bored child running – harried father chasing.
So I did what any fair parent would do. I asked him. After staring for a few seconds at an imaginary magic 8 ball on the ceiling – he laid an understanding hand on my knee and said, “Papa, you go alone. I will stay here.” Apparently his own memories from last time didn’t exactly scream “fun!” either.
So I went. Joined by my brother – who is down here from the US – and my parents, this was going to be my first Iyengar wedding in more than 25 years – barring the blur two years back. Most of my relatives were going to be there – and considering I have spent most of my life eating loving meat, listening to heavy metal, marrying “North Indians”, speaking Gujarati and doing all kinds of “uniyengar” things – this could be seen as something as an re-initiation into my community.
At this point I should mention that my extended family isn’t exactly hard-boiled Iyengar. In my generation only one had married within the community, and this upcoming event was the second one. (For people who are wondering by now whether Iyengars are a minority from the planet Vulcan – read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iyengar) But having said that, when everyone got together for such an event – normally dormant Iyengar genes jump up to be noticed like a dull school boy who finally got the answer to a question. And I, basically with a well defined lineage but undefined heritage, feel a weird cocktail of excitement, vicariousness and alienation. It is as if there is this Iyengar magnum opus, where I have a special guest appearance. While the screenplay goes on with the other characters – I spend most of my life outside the movie. This sort of gives me celebrity status – Hail! King Arthur Iyengar of Cameo-a-lot has arrived on his noble steed. Bizarre.
So, I was faced with a bit of trepidation as I descended upon the beautiful city of Mysore. Really, all the Baristas, Infosys campuses and Levis showrooms in the world cannot steal the sleepy town charm from this Palace City. When we arrived at the family home, most of the relatives where there already – and I was immediate embraced in a kind of softness and warmth that would put the most expensive Pashmina to shame. There was nothing threatening or alienating about this family. It was a modern setting with traditional warmth. All decent hard-working folks with genuine love for each other – in spite of the geographic distance. We were the Skypengars.
But the wedding itself was different. As I busied myself in helping with the preparations, putting my superior education to good use by carrying bags and boxes, driving people back and forth in a decorated car and generally being a handyman with the rest of the boys – guests from each side started pouring in for the first ceremony – “Varpuja” – where we from the girl’s side welcome the groom and his family. The atmosphere in the hall was unique, though very familiar to anyone who has been to a Hindu wedding. Scores of women in colorful silk sarees and with flowers in their hair – accompanied by hirsute men in “pant shirt” or the more traditional dhoti shirt. Young girls and boys, dressed now in more modern attire, were hanging around, trying not to pay obvious attention to the other – yet hoping to catch someone’s eye. But no Iyengar wedding would be complete without the clamorous quintet. Five musicians with Indian instruments – three wind and two percussion – giving the background score to the scene in front of them. Playing traditional wedding tunes, their din bounced like a thousand sonic crazy-balls from the walls of the hall, which were obviously not made with concert acoustics in mind. The result was an impenetrable wall of sound, which drowned all but the sound of anyone trying to scream directly in your ear. I am sure that by night they rock the Mysore metal scene as the raucous Metallikeshavam.
But the people in the hall went on with their parts, oblivious to the cacophony. Maybe this was music to their ears. But one section of the audience especially seemed to draw their energy from the music. Kids, bored to patricide by the soporific proceedings on stage, were darting in and around people and chairs like galvanized electrons. Maybe Dhruv wouldn’t have been so out of place after all. Anyway, I watched interestedly as the proceedings at the ornate “mandapam” carried on. Vedic chants, burning ghee, smoke and cowdung… all made for a very exotic Hindu feeling. Something that I could never relate to (partly because I do not know what those chants mean…and I find it very hard to reconcile with that. And learning Sanskrit is not an option!), even if I have been through such ceremonies a few times.
The same scene continued the next morning during the actual wedding… even more people, more smoke and more din. Even though the leading actors were looking absolutely gorgeous/handsome, the play was getting a bit monotonous. But things looked up a bit when the plot called for the groom to decide to go to Kashi instead of getting married, which prompted the bride and her family (and the clamorous quintet) to go running after him and reason with him to stop the nonsense. Droll…but made me smile. And then when finally the groom tied the “Mangal Sutra” on the bride’s neck, the quintet changed their tempo and the entire hall rose in celebration. Another Iyengar couple had tied the knot, ensuring that the community would continue to thrive for atleast another generation.
All the while I was there, my senses were in a heightened state – taking everything in – trying to learn more about my so called heritage and trying desperately to feel some kind of connection. But in the end, all I remembered were the tired/excited/happy faces of my large and lovely family. I suddenly realized that it did not matter if I wasn’t exactly fashioned in the traditional mould, or that these rituals and customs were as alien to me as bicycle to a fish. They didn’t define me. What does define my heritage for me, is my family – who don’t judge me and love me for who I am. They accept me despite the fact that I don’t speak in their tongue or eat things that do not grow out of the ground. Dhruv will be of an even more confused heritage, and I hope he recognizes the things which really matter in life and does not feel alienated in any way.
There are at least 7 more cousins in my generation left to be married – and I hope I get to be a part of all of them! After all, who doesn’t love fairytales with happy endings? May Lord Vishnu bless the newly married couple with a thousand sons…(or something like that!) with as many sons (or daughters) as they want…. (politically corrected on popular demand)