Inside view Society

Oh, My Gold!

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R. Kumar

‘Do people in Kerala buy gold by the kilo?’ asked a friend from another state. She had come to attend a ‘typical Kerala wedding’ and her jaw dropped as she watched the bride make her coy way to the decorated stage, bent to a comma by the weight of the ornaments on her person. When the bride came to a full stop at the centre of the stage and turned towards the wedding guests with a reverential dignity forced on her by her accoutrements, the friend exclaimed, ‘Oh, wow, so much gold! Kerala must be really rich.’

‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘Gold is the bride of Kerala, I mean the pride of Kerala. Didn’t you notice the hoardings advertising jewellery showrooms on your way here? Some of the models might be from the north, but the customers are native. And if it isn’t jewellery, it is silk saris, spun with pure gold thread, that seem to swirl and billow tantalisingly out of bill boards. Welcome to Kerala, gold’s own country.’

Brevity was the soul of Kerala weddings. Where have they gone, the refreshingly short weddings of long ago when the ceremony got over almost as soon as it began and guests who missed the bus or were delayed by a sneezing fit were escorted, to their great delight, straight to the dining hall?

The other recommending feature of a Malayali marriage was the simplicity of the participants in the function. The last half century has seen the shift from the unostentatious bride, clad in an elegant cream silk sari and wearing a few ornaments on her person to set off her beauty, to the gold-armoured avatar of today. Not to be found wanting, the groom too has undergone an image makeover. The trademark dhoti and the plain off-white shirt are now passé; he’s in silk too – a garish silk kurta and a shiny expensive dhoti. He would have preferred a Sherwani or a churidar but for the practical difficulty of sitting cross-legged in such an attire. To complete the picture, he flaunts a beauty-parloured face and a haircut that bears the stamp of an expert hair stylist.

A marriage is not a ceremony anymore; it is an event, and event managers have stepped in to make it the greatest show on earth. They go overboard trying to outdo each other in innovativeness with the result there are themed weddings, fusion weddings and marriages at expensive resorts or at unique locations. The guests receive an invitation that is more a glossy, professionally designed, multi-paged, stones-encrusted and scented brochure than a simple card. Each leaf takes you through the bewildering programmes planned and only some close reading reveals when the actual nuptials will take place.

Marriages of today, many of them preceded by an elaborate betrothal ceremony, have thus transmogrified into events spread over a few days. I remember the excellent, thought-provoking speech made by a former police officer, a non-Keralite, at a College Day function. He said it was truly unfortunate that Kerala, instead of setting an example to the rest of the country with its unfussy and short wedding ceremony, was borrowing liberally from the elaborate, showy functions of the northern states. ‘Sangeeth’, ‘mehendi’ and ‘haldi’ ceremonies followed by extravagant receptions attended by the whole world have become part of the wedding festivities here. He exhorted the girls to show character and courage and take the lead in reversing the trend. The moustachioed gentleman-officer’s speech was, unfortunately, not as warmly received as it should have been.

Alas, weddings are only getting more lavish by the day. They present a classic case of conspicuous consumption. The ups and downs of the gold market have never impacted the purchasing power of people here. When I asked an acquaintance why she didn’t put an end to this gold craze and needless display of wealth, she replied, ‘But what will people say?’

‘Who are these “people”?’ I asked. ‘Relatives, neighbours, friends, guests ...’ she reeled off. ‘Give them something to say,’ I suggested. She was appalled. ‘Can’t. Our self-respect is at stake. Besides, my daughter wants this.’

Ah, there lies the catch. So much for the modern ‘emancipated’ woman. And the less said about the ‘progressive’ male who maintains a selective silence when plans for the wedding are made, the better.

Now I’m off to a wedding where the groom will be received by a caparisoned elephant, or is he going to arrive on an elephant? I’m not sure, but the lunch is bound to be delicious, all nine courses of it.


(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series)

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 12:37:27 AM |

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