The gifted wife

Today, women are educated on par with men and they are proving their skills in all fields. This situation has resulted in girls putting their own conditions when parents look for alliances.

Gopal is five years older to me. He was residing in the same street as ours in Thiruvarur. We settled down in Chennai in the year 1970. My marriage was fixed in 1974 when I was just 23 years old. My brother and sister also got married at a very young age. When my marriage was fixed, we received a letter from Gopal’s father. He had written that he would be in Chennai along with his family and Gopal for four days and that they would be seeing some girls for Gopal. In our family all the marriages had been fixed with already known circles. So, we had never been to anybody’s house to see girls. My mother told me to go along with them to the girls’ houses as Chennai would be a strange place for them. I received maama and maami and Gopal at Mambalam station and anna and manni at Central station.

My brother’s wife was working in telephones. So, we had telephone connection in our house, which was a rare thing in those days. As Gopal’s father had given our telephone number to all the girls’ parties, our telephone was ringing incessantly on that day. Gopal’s father Eswaran uncle gave me the list of the girls they were planning to see. On seeing the addresses, I felt exhausted. The parties were at different places, totally unconnected. Gopal’s brother Ramkumar, a sensible person, solved the problem. We prepared a route map. We engaged a taxi. At 3 p.m., we saw the first girl in Nanganallur. I watched the reaction on the faces of Gopal and his father. There was no reaction. They told the party that they would inform them afterwards. When we got into the taxi, Ramkumar asked Gopal how he liked the girl. Gopal said the girl looked good. I told him he could have conveyed his consent there itself. Eswaran uncle silenced me telling that they should see all the girls and there were other things to be discussed and taken into consideration. Before proceeding to Kizhkattalai, maami wanted to go to Rajarajeswari temple. And, wherever we went to see the girl, we went to the temples also there. As visiting temples consumed more time, we could see only three girls while our plan included four. I accompanied them on subsequent days also, taking leave from office. After returning, I used to scold my mother for putting me in an embarrassing situation. My mother used to pacify me. The ‘series’ of seeing girls ended with five days.

Daily, we were receiving follow-up calls from the girls’ parties. On the night of the fifth day, Gopal and his family were discussing whom to choose after dropping eight girls at the first round itself. For Gopal, the girl’s looks were very important. But the gifts (seer varisai) for his father, status for his brother, the girl’s behavior for his mother were important. I felt they should leave Chennai at the earliest fixing up some girl. At this juncture, there was a call from Pune. The caller Sankar Ram wanted to talk to Eswaran uncle. Uncle’s tone was very submissive. Sankar Ram was in a very high position and had settled down in Pune many years back. He had advertised for a suitable boy for his daughter. Eswaran uncle had replied to the same. Sankar Ram told that he would be coming to Chennai next week along with his daughter and that marriage could be fixed then and there. All the girls in the final round were dropped and Sankar Ram’s daughter Rekha topped the list now! Eswaran maama announced that Rekha would be his daughter-in-law. The marriage was fixed in theory. Eswaran uncle and maami stayed back in Chennai while Gopal returned to Trichy, saying that he would come again. Ramkumar left his wife and child behind and went back.

The next week Sankar Ram came along with his family. He telephoned that he would be coming to our house. Eswaran uncle was very anxious and took great care to receive them. They came in the evening. Sankar Ram was very open. He said that he didn’t know anybody in Chennai and that he would give the money to Eswaran, required for the celebration. Sankar Ram didn’t bother to ask whether Gopal liked the girl! Maama also didn’t bother!

The hardships Sankar Ram gave to Eswaran uncle during marriage … maama’s pitiable position in answering each and every query of Sankar Ram.

Eswaran uncle became busy after Sankar Ram left. Sankar Ram had handed over Rs. 30,000 to uncle for celebration expenses. It was a big amount in those days. The year was 1974. But Gopal was a little bit hesitant. He advised his father to prepare a budget so that when Sankar Ram asked for the accounts, there wouldn’t be any problem. Gopal was cautious in spending Sankar Ram’s money as he was the one who had to live with Sankar Ram’s daughter Rekha. He didn’t want any misunderstanding due to money. Eswaran uncle was also convinced. His expectation was only about the gifts from the girl’s side and not an ostentatious celebration. I understood that till the marriage was over, Eswaran uncle and his family would stay with us. We had no other go except to accept it with grace. And, we all did it.

Marriage date was fixed and invitations were printed. Both maama and maami started for Thiruvarur taking the invitations with them. Another set of invitations was sent to Sankar Ram for distribution. Within a week, we received a call from Sankar Ram. He spoke to my mother as Eswaran uncle had gone to Thiruvarur. He complained that the invitation was looking very cheap and asked my mother to tell Eswaran uncle that everything should be very grand. Sankar Ram wanted to know the expenditure on each item. In that case, there would be restriction on spending. How could maama assure grandeur when his hands were tied? I realized that maama had been caught in a web.

Eswaran uncle returned to Chennai fifteen days before the marriage. In those days, marriage contracts were not in practice. Uncle had to strain himself for everything. He was very careful that the cost should be under control and at the same time, quality should also be ensured. We all sympathized with him. I also recalled that I was angry with him whenever he ordered around the girls’ parties earlier.

Sankar Ram telephoned when four days were left for marriage. “We all will be there at the marriage hall on the previous day of the marriage. Ask the nadaswaram party to be present when we enter. My company car will pick us up from the station. If any of our relatives arrive at the hall before we come, please take care of them. There should be no complaint,” he said. Eswaran uncle could no longer contain his bitterness. He told his wife and my mother that Sankar Ram didn’t behave like a bride’s father; he behaved like a groom’s father.

On the previous day of the marriage, uncle, his family and all of us went to the marriage hall early morning itself. Sankar Ram arrived at 8 o’clock. Maama and maami welcomed them with all humbleness and after offering coffee etc., arranged for their bath. From the minute of his entering, Sankar Ram directed each and every one to maama for everything. Uncle had to take care of every detail. On seeing the fruits and sweets, intended for the betrothal and jaanavasam, Sankar Ram expressed disappointment and said that they fell short of his expectation. He accused maama that even for navarathri, Sankar Ram’s family would spend more on sweets and fruits. Uncle felt as if he was let down and ashamed in the presence of relatives. Gopal’s brother Ramkumar came to the rescue of maama. “Sir, we’ve done what we know. If you feel this is insufficient, we’ll send two people from the group of cooks. You can arrange everything through them. My father is aged, please don’t find fault with him,” he told Sankar Ram. After this incident, Sankar Ram stopped criticizing uncle directly, but continued to harass him indirectly.

During dinner, poli and milk payasam were served. Sankar Ram asked the cook what other sweets were there. When the cook said there was no third sweet, Sankar Ram boasted that they used to have four sweets even for a birthday party and expressed his bitterness. On the next day, right from the time of muhurtham, he was criticizing each and everything including the decoration of the dais. For first night, when there was a room available in the marriage hall itself, Sankar Ram arranged an air-conditioned room at Taj Coramandel. When Eswaran uncle objected that it had never been their practice to have the first night at a hotel, Sankar Ram didn’t heed his words.

On the next day of the marriage, when maama gave the list of expenditure for marriage celebration, Sankar Ram settled the balance and started for Pune. On leaving, he telephoned to his daughter who was still at the hotel. He told her to come over to Pune with Gopal and then proceed to Darjeeling or Shimla for honeymoon. For all the trips he would book flight tickets, he said.

Maama, who was haughty of being the father of a boy, was not given by Sankar Ram even the basic respect a man deserves from another man. I felt that the fathers of those twelve girls should have possessed Sankar Ram’s mind and made him behave in this manner!

Nowadays, even boys’ parents have to struggle for the marriage of their sons. But Sankar Ram – Eswaran make us feel that it was so even in those days!