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Looking 25 years back ….

June 23, 2018

Looking 25 years back, I can’t believe I stood with my hubby who I was to wed next day (wednesday 23rd of June 1993) in an early morning muhurat – in the reception hosted by my in-laws. The venue was Hotel Kanchi. Its 5.20 in the evening now in middle east. 7.50 in India. By this time, our wedding reception had just begun. It was a tuesday, a working day. I had attended office until the saturday before. Officially my leave started only on June 21st, monday.

Tuesday noon we reached the marriage hall/hotel in our neighbour’s car. Murthy Mama, as we called him, has now moved to ECR. But he could have been my maternal uncle. He said he owed that to my mother who used to treat him like a younger brother. The night my mother died was Mama’s first night. He postponed the most important event of his life by 15 days for my mother’s Karyam to get completed. Neighbours were like blood relatives in those days. Mama therefore dropped us in the hall in his big old Ambassador car which was still the star of Indian roads in 1993.

I had an appointment with the beauty parlour Kanya, in Luz, Mylapore, that afternoon – for my reception make-up. I took an auto alone (yes, a bride on her own with none to give company as everyone in my tiny circle of friends and relatives worked) to the salon where the girls were disappointed that I had never had a previous beauty treatment in my life. It was too late they said, but did what they could. Kanya was No.1 in those days. Even in 1993 they could not believe that they had a bride who was stepping into a beauty parlour for the very first time of her life. They finally draped my sari and were in a fix when I told them they had to book an auto for me again! A bride entering alone the marriage hall was another new for them. With total shocked expressions, they did what I said.

I made a quiet entry by 4.30 pm or so to the wedding hall – i crossed the entire place and went to my room without being noticed. Knowing Indian guests who are notorious arriving late, I had no issues about getting spotted walkign alone in bridal wear before reception – with none by my side.

That June 22nd, I hardly realized how lonely I was in life really … it was only when my friends started getting married one by one and when I attended weddings by hoards did it dawn on me how brides are surrounded by gangs. However, my school friends all were either working or studying or married by then. No telephone in any of our homes. No e-mail. I could only invite a few who were totally busy with their own lives already.

By 6 pm, things got rolling finally. The bridgegroom party had arrived. My fiancee came surrounded by a huge gang of brothers, cousins, nephews/nieces, uncles, aunts – opposite of me, the lone girl who had arrived the forenoon with 7 people: my sis, my aunt and uncle, my neighbours Mama, Mami, my 2 cousins. We were 8 and Mama’s car could hold only 5 – so my cousins and sis came by bus (!) That was our simple family. At that point of time, it never struck me that we were a rare entity.

Around the same time,  a ceremony for me had to get completed. In our families, when girls come of age and get their first periods (at 12 or 13 years), we have to do some special dishes for the girl (puttu) and perform ‘nalangu’ (haldi – kumkum) ceremony. Either we can do this on the 5th day of the girl’s first periods or before the wedding. It is a must. My mother did not do it for me (she was around then) as she was a working woman.  I remember her telling relatives that she reserved the rituals as pre-nuptial ceremony for me. So the ‘nalangu’ originally to have been performed in my 13th year was finally done with before reception. All the Kanya girls’ attempts to give me a decent Reception look fell flat with the kumkum and chandan pastes anointed in my face and neck and hands by women guests.

My father-in-law and my uncle next performed the Nischayathartham (formal betrothal). I was asked to stand in the sides for this. I saw my bank staff – all of them file in and take seat. My school friends and college friends and my other friends started arriving – but not much of relatives. I had very few relatives anyway. Finally I felt better and almost equal that I too had people – who were there for me. Otherwise, my hubby side relatives and family friends and colleagues flooded the venue.

The long reception began. My DGM and AGM were present and to my surprise stayed on until 10 pm. They were aware I had no parents. My colleagues had dinner. Every single one of the all men department of mine attended my reception and stayed for hours – it was their quiet way of showing me respect; normally they were a raucous bunch and I hardly spoke to them at work. I worked in their midst but never socialized with them. My few school/neighbourhood friends stayed over for the night. I was dazed.

Unlike normal brides, I only had 5 sov of gold on me – everything was gilt. Even those sparse original gold jewelry was gift from my MIL who did not want their relatives to discover how I was literally a pauper. My mind was working on the cost of the reception dinner. My FIL had agreed to split the bill – which was a big relief for us.

By the time the last guest left, it was already 12 midnight.

Hardly caught a few hours nap before I was woken up again for an early morning ‘nalangu’ – haldi kumkum ceremony with oil etc along with groom – that is the last shower as virgin for brides. And grooms too in our culture.

My morning Muhurat was 6.00-7.30 am – by 7.30 that morning I was Mrs. Ravindran.

My husband was/is someone who never judged me from my clothes or dirty house or my orphaned status. I am the only girl he ever saw/visited by way of bride-seeing. None of my flaws that others noticed – my husband noticed. The rush with which he married me still amazes me. I know, not even my son will measure up to him. The 3 month engagement period (we never had a formal engagement at all really) galloped in a jiffy.

Back when our marriage was arranged, I later learned, my hubby was discouraged by his family/brothers from marrying me – a simpleton, with no background, no parents, no home of her own, no bank balance nothing. My husband stood his stead. All these things – he says he never even noticed. His eyes and mind were full of only me.

The day my mother died, I recall changing my prayers to God. Everyday I went to Kapali temple and Valleeshwar temple in Mylapore. My only prayer was to get a good husband, good son. This is all I asked for – not a good university or employment though they came to me.

Against all odds and strong advice, my hubby married me. Finally after 25 years, I can see his folks approve of me. But this approval or acceptance did not come easily. For years, I have remained an outsider in their family, never an equal, suffering disrespect and neglect and blatant partiality.

Through all this my husband never supported me openly still – because he will never speak a word against his mother … but it is okay. We cannot have 100% of everything. I put myself in my MILs position these days and think whether I would have approved of the choice my hubby made. Of course ours was an arranged union, still many families wait till they can get better matches. My hubby was advised caution not to rush into marriage with the first girl he ‘saw.’

The past still hurts … I can never think of my past without tears in my eyes. Years of humiliation before my marriage – and even after my marriage in a different form…

25 years after, I feel, it is all worth it. The bad experiences have molded me – given me more patience and tolerance that are tough to cultivate. I never thought of this day back in 1993. I did not know what I was getting into. I was marrying a total stranger. I was moving into a new, hostile and very unfriendly home. My in-laws family remained indifferent to me for years … even after my son came along.  It took a minimum 15 years for me to finally sync with them and become one of ‘them.’ It took that long for them to accept me in their fold. I agree, this is the condition of every girl who marries in India. Gaining acceptance in your in laws’ family. My son who came into our lives the very next year 1994 whereas, got ready acceptance. He was already one of ‘them.’

I can write books on my personal experiences, the legal battles, the tragedy of my parents lives, my grandparents, the joint family dilemmas etc. But whatever God denied me, I can say, She gave me recompense in equal measure in a different way. She made good all my losses in Her own time. Time is the best healer they say, but time can never heal completely I can say.

A few days back I read my sister’s whatsapp message in a friend’s group: “i never ate my mother’s food even once in my life.’ That immediately shook me and opened up old wounds. My granny cooked in those days, my mother never went into kitchen. But in 1980 summer, my grandparents went on North India tour of Himalayas, Kashmir etc. My sis tagged alone. That May month was the only time my mother cooked for me and my dad. Not much. She was a lousy cook but I was already cooking as a pre-teen. We both cooked up a decent fare. I wasn’t to know then it was our last cooking experience together. My mother passed away in 1982.

I also remember the last glass of ‘Complan’ my father gave me and my sis. It was our nightly ritual. Before going to bed, our father used to fix us hot tumblers of Mango flavoured complan. We had our glassfuls. I went to sleep happily. Next morning, my father wasn’t there.

I am happiest today because I am here with my husband – for our son. Just being there is important. I have lost 2 of my school friends to cancer already. I am 49, about to turn 50 this september. My friends were unlucky.

25 years on – my husband has gotten me a diamond necklace, my second, for our silver wedding anniversary. I think of my wedding reception when I barely had a chain and a bangle to wear for the D day of my life. I was conscious of paying Kanya – who charged me a whopping 700 bucks. I swore never to visit a beauty parlour again in my life. I was furiously calculating the auto fares in my mind as I stood in my reception.

Our bills were somehow paid off comfortably the next day. They were a big worry for me on June 22, 1993 – something brides never worry about normally.

I kept calling back my family at Murthi Mama’s phone to check if everything was okay with hotel bills – even from Kodai/Ooty where we went for honeymoon for a week. I started writing down our family expenses right in the train that we boarded at Madras Central – much to the shock of my newly wed hubby.

Life has given me so much in these 25 years. My friends – i have found them all back thanks to social media. I now have my own circle of friends and relatives who I can call ‘my people.’ I have more than enough clothes now – not just 5 suits and 1 sari. I own beautiful jewelry. I am comfortable, stable – and more than all I am blessed with a loving family. I learned not to judge guys by flowers/cards/chocolates. My husband or son never get these for me. But their love and respect for me is constant. The respect they have for me reflects on the love and honour they shower on my family (my aunt’s, my sister’s).

In the year 1991, I had even contemplated suicide. Sat for hours many days alone by beach side. I just didn’t have the courage. Also my aunt would say, never to be discouraged in life. She would ask me to keep up my hopes and pray. And do good. And do no harm to others. ‘Automatically good things will happen, good days will come your way.’ My aunt had slight suspicion that I could take the extreme step – normally i was bold and strong, but then sometimes when life overwhelms you… and you think you have none to go to…

25 years not easy. In fact 50 years of my life have never been easy. Sometimes I am tired of arguing my own case. But then I think of the sacrifices of my husband, the man who married me expecting nothing from me in anticipation … and who took on the world in my defence… of my son who can have it easy yet wants to tough it out on his own… I am proud of these 2 men who have made my life worthwhile .  Life is worth living for another quarter century. God willing.


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