We don’t need a 5000-number guest list of whom 4,999 will attend the function only to eat, make merry, comment on the bride and the groom, recycle the gifts. I wish the guest list had 100 people who would truly bless the couple
I have always been proud of my lineage. A majority of my ‘tribe’ belongs to the southern districts of Tamil Nadu — Palayamkottai and Kanyakumari. I can trace my ancestry to a generation of pana yeri nadars ... (people who climbed palm trees for a living). But today’s generation has successfully evolved into an elite group with every second member of the family being a doctor or engineer, prominent citizen or leading member of the CSI church.
Life in our community is roughly divided into 3 main stages — hatching (birth); matching (marriage) and dispatching (death). For every event, there is a prayer, song and message, and since childhood, I have been part of these ceremonies. I have taken pride in all these. But as I grew up and started ‘realising’ things, my pride has taken a back seat and has been replaced with shame. For what is termed ‘matching’ really has two hidden sub-categories — catching and snatching!
Most marriages are arranged. When a girl reaches the marriageable age, parents are on the lookout for the best ‘catch’. And for a boy, for the best ‘snatch’! The holy institution of marriage constituted by God Himself has become a trade where every boy has a price on his head. An MBBS is worth Rs. 10 lakh, an MD/MS is Rs. 20 lakh, and a B.E/M.E and the like Rs. 5-10 lakhs. This besides the demands for 100 sovereigns of gold jewellery and a fancy car and money to set up the new home and family assets like house/estate/land and all wedding expenses. A wedding costs close to half a crore! Shocking but true. Right from the time a girl is born, parents start saving for her wedding so that they can get a ‘prize catch’. During negotiations, the boy’s family is eager to ‘snatch’ as much as it can from the girl’s side, preferably the ‘only daughter’.
In my own case, a family came to “see” me. The boy’s parents introduced him as nice, intelligent and God-fearing, and said he had studied in the most prestigious residential schools and colleges, had come out with flying colours, was a member of the choir in the church and was earning a fat salary.
Then came the dreaded question to my father — ‘What will you do for the girl?’ I just couldn’t believe this was happening. Here was this so-called cultured groom and his family who I expected would rise above the rest and would take me into their fold for the person I was and not for our bank balance.
Adding fuel to the fire came other shameful demands: train tickets and trnasport to and fro to the marriage venue would have to be taken care of by my father. Surely, my father did not have to pay to get me married! I was equally educated and had my own list of accomplishments but at that moment I felt so helpless and useless for being born a girl.
I turned to look at this illustrious groom to see his reaction. He sat like a statue, absolutely stone-hearted and, in silence, he agreed with every demand of his parents. Thankfully, I did not marry him.
Over the years, I have watched my friends and cousins get married this way. I remember asking my aunt, who was getting her most ‘eligible’ son married, why she took dowry. She said if she didn’t, the girl’s “side” would suspect that something was wrong with the boy. The higher the dowry, the greater the eligibility. Did she not save for her son’s wedding like she did for her daughter’s? She replied that she gave the same dowry to get her daughter married. “If I do not give, who will marry her?”
In the church, I have heard sermons on all topics such as ‘the right way to live’... ‘sin’, ‘punishment’, ‘eternal life’ — even on “how to save the girl child.” But never I have ever heard a sermon on and against dowry! Every Sunday, we put on the ‘holier than thou’ look. On other days, we are “catching” grooms for our daughters or “snatching” wealth for our sons. What about those that cannot afford a groom? Is it, then, a wonder that the girl child is not wanted in many families? Aren’t every one of us who gives or receives dowry equally responsible for female infanticide? Why blame everybody else?
I wonder while singing the first wedding hymn — ‘The voice that breathed o’er Eden’, the lyrics of which are, ‘Be present Holy Father... Be present Son of Mary... Be present Holiest Spirit’ — if God would really be present at the wedding knowing all the tomfoolery that is going on backstage. Would Jesus be present or would He rather be driving us all hypocrites out of the church like He did in the temple of Jerusalem, saying “Get out! You have turned the Holy institution of marriage and my Father’s house into a market!”.
I do pray that things change in my community. I wish that at least the sheer hypocrisy and pomp and show associated with weddings will change. We don’t need a 5000-number guest list of whom 4,999 will attend the function only to eat, make merry, comment on the bride and the groom, recycle the gifts they don’t want and showoff their recently acquired diamond jewellery so that every other woman turns green with envy.
The bride does not need a Rs. 25,000-saree which she will wear only once in her lifetime, the weighty gold chains which she will put in the locker as soon as the marriage celebrations are over. Rather, I wish the guest list had 100 people who would truly bless the couple, the bride wore just a simple Rs. 3000-saree and a little but classy jewellery and everybody’s attitude was towards a good marriage rather than a grand wedding ... I think change will happen.
For all this, I have to change. For you to change. For them to change.
(The writer is a PhD in Architecture from the IIT, Madras. email: hemera@ rediffmail.com)