Marriages are made in heaven but in India, the boy and the girl meet at the latter’s home to finalise it. Many years later, memories of this ‘interview’ may bring a smile or sneer to your lips. The boys come with their parents or elders. Usually the girl’s party keeps the ‘seeing’ ritual a secret affair and will make it public only if the outcome turns out to be positive. In my niece’s case, it was entirely different. Due to some road maintenance work, the boy had to get down from the car and walk past about a dozen houses to reach her house.
On every doorstep on either side, he could see three or four people standing, smiling very indulgently and saying, “Oh, this is the boy who has come to see our Lallu!” This gave him some valuable clues about the extra-sociable nature of the family. He said his ‘yes’; this was also partly out of fear of what this friendly neighbourhood would do to him if he dared to reject their Lallu!
Tamil Brahmins had this habit of making the girl sing on this occasion. Mostly the girl would be jittery and sing whatever came to her mind at that time. It seems my Periamma sang something which meant: if you had parents, would this humiliation be yours? A natural choice for a 17-year-old girl surrounded by 17 people!
There were also some unwritten rules. The ‘girl-seeing’ would be before or after lunch, mostly, on Sundays with only sojji-bajji for the visitors; partaking of rice was permissible only at the formal engagement ceremony. But even then, there were a few who dared to break these rules. By the time my friend’s father ‘saw’ the girl in a remote Tamil Nadu village, it was past lunch time. Hunger overruled custom. He told the girl she better prepare something ‘solid’ for him other than the usual snacks since he didn’t fancy going all the way back on a hungry stomach. This practical sense bowled her over!
These meetings do leave some indelible images too. Even after 65 years, my mother remembers how the dark, handsome boy (i.e. my Appa) had cupped his hand, plucked a leaf from a plant on the driveway and had given it a blow with the other hand.
It was entertainment, but only the boys had all the fun. Malpractices were also there then—but they are prevalent in this age of online chatting, matrimony.coms and love marriages too. If in those days, it was showing one girl and marrying off another, the present-day cheating is done with the help of technology and social media. But one thing is for certain: Who ties the knot with whom may be a heavenly decision, but the couple meet and play out their risky lives down here.
Dr Lalitha Ramakrishnan