I contemplated about the title for a bit - you see this blog has predominantly been a funny one. Adding a funeral to the title sobers the reader up instantly, even those regular readers who are used to my style of comic writing. But I couldn't help myself, so here goes.
First the wedding happened. Then the funeral. Then the next wedding.
My sister decided to tie the knot. Life was fun for her, she had a job, friends, great looks (thanks to being my identical twin), and dotting parents but then people on the left and people on the right were getting married and suddenly disappearing in this zone of couple-hood where past friendships are neglected. Single-hood so far had been hip and happening and marrying seemed like a fitting way to end it. The search had begun sometime ago and the groom was chosen. The D-Day arrived and so did I.
To chronicle what goes on in a typical Bengali marriage is an onerous task. My mother, whom I believed to be the know-it-all had another know-it-all whom she frequently rung up, exchanged the usual Bengali greetings which began with "How are you doing..." and without waiting for an answer continues onto , "..and what to say my daughter decided to get married and all...and you know how difficult it is ....I have forgotten so many teeny tiny rules....so why don't you tell me...", and the conversation pauses only for breaths. My mom tried to override almost everything the older aunt of hers was trying to get in edge-ways. But Bengalis are tenacious people. They just don't give up. My mom and the older-aunt who by some default Bengali nomenclature is called ranu-di"( a didi suffix instead of aunty), kept going back and forth as to what an ideal Bengali would do. Apparently both have no idea who handed out these rules. "Pandits, uff!" said my mom when I bothered her with historical queries. After much huffing and puffing and imaginative brain-storming they came to a consensus for what-to-do for "kulo saajano( the plate decoration used to welcome the groom)", "aayi buro bhaat", "dudhi mongol", "gaye holud" and "bidaai".
The rules are massaged according to convenience and laid out. Ranu-di was infinitely happy at being sought out for advice by my mom who hadn't really been in touch with her for goodness-knows-how-long. My mom was happy at nailing it down as well. She went about shopping. Much of it has been done before I set foot on my Bongland i.e. Kolkata. In my family, my advice is usually the last sought and the least followed. There is a genuine distrust in my americanized thinking even if I am brimming with Bengali-ness.
Before the D-Day the Bengali bride is home-fed with delicacies - the ritual is called "Aayiburo bhaat". If literally translated it means Spinster's Rice. If figuratively translated it means the food prepared especially for the bride-to-be before she departs forever to be fed by her husband/ in-laws. Because of the "forever" attached to it, the dishes are grand and myriad. I was overwhelmed with number of items that mom managed to prepare. Needless to say I got a fair share of the amazing Bengali cuisine as well.
On the D-Day, the "Dadhi Mongol" occurs before sunrise. The bride is blessed by parents and elders and water from the Ganges is gathered by the parents. My sister was given "khoi and doi" as the first and last meal till she got officially married. For the first time I got to act like the 2-minutes-elder-sister that I am and bless her along with the older relatives.
The "Gaye Holud"( Yellowing the Body) follows later in the day. The groom's family appeared with gifts and "holud" or turmeric for the bride. Of course when they spotted me, no matter how many times they had been told of my existence, they still stopped and stared a few minutes. One of them told me of a game they were planning to play later on, "Spot the Difference!". It sounded like a fun activity for them and a scrutinizing event for me. Thankfully it never happened.
The Bengali bride is usually starving on the day of her wedding, until the 3-4 hour long ceremonies are over. My sister needless to say was a brave-heart. She managed to decline my offerings of jumbo-sized rosogolla thrice! On the fourth attempt, she gave in. She promised she would return the favor when my turn arrived.
There are many intricate things that a Bengali bride and a groom are made to wear and carry. My sister was clasping her "Gachh kouto" and wearing "Shakha Pola (white and red bangles)", "sholaar mukut(hyacinth crown)", the traditional Benarasi Saree, the netted "choli"(veil) on the head, the ornaments, the deep red "Altaa" on the feet, the "payel (anklets)", the toe-rings, the trendy "mehendi" on her hands and the attitude of a beautiful bride. She looked fabulous. For once we weren't identical. She was a princess to behold and I was a mere side-kick!
The groom wears the huge and towering "topor", made of shola/dried hyacinth leaves. He wears paper silk punjabi and designer dhoti to look regal and important and groom-like.
My sister had gone to a parlor close to our home for her bridal make-over and they managed to make her look fabulous after a freakishly long time. You see, weddings are fun events. Beauty parlor assistants tend to rejoice and join in without invites. They started engaging in gossips, and tales and each regaled the other and so forth until, someone remembered that there was a "muhurat (auspicious wedding time)" involved and they better hurry up. My mom almost went into fits when I insisted to have my Saree fitted in a different manner than what was done after two long hours of my being there! My mom went to the extent of leaving the parlor with just the bare necessities - her purse and the bride. I was left behind. Thanks to my boot-camp days, I managed to outrun them and squeeze into the car that was about to leave for the "mandap (place of wedding)". Phew!
The eighty-year old punditji (priest) was a bubbling cauldron of activity and sarcasm. My dad had been involved since morning with rituals to please his fore fathers and invite their blessings for the wedding. He was starving as well. When the wedding started around 7:30pm, right after the "Ashirwaad", he wanted to get things going at a faster pace. He tried getting the punditji on board with his plans.
"Err...are you sure this needs to be done this way? There could be a quicker version available, no?" My father asked the pundit innocently.
The cauldron boiled over. He snorted loudly and smirked hugely.
"I have been doing this for Eighty years! There are no updated versions available, Got it?!!!"
That silenced my dad for the rest of the wedding session. I was left wondering how punditji was presiding over weddings even when he was a year old! I guess some professions don't have the age limit criteria.
Amid smoke, fires,video-graphers, photo-graphers, two squabbling pundits, several opinionated relatives and guests, some gate-crashers, careless kids and their angry parents, and some bemused non-Bengalis, the ceremonies concluded. The photographers decided on their own that their job was of supreme importance and hence they kept instructing the couple more frequently than the pundit. Our angry-old-man pundit became pretty docile when he was promised hero-like photos of his own to keep. I remained mesmerized by the fact that my sister was able to pose for countless cameras, big or small, real or phoney. Every one wanted a picture. Weddings are the one occasion where you are held as royalty. I was made to get into some of the pictures which later appeared on Facebook of friends titled, "Groom + 1.5 Wives", "Spot the Difference", "Real or Mirror-aginary?".
The newly wed couple were escorted for food. I joined them. For everyone it was a buffet but for THE Couple it was sit-down-service-several-times-over.
For the night of wedding, "Bashor Ghor" is organized. The young members of the bride's and groom's family congregate for a night-out filled with fun, games, gossips, music and endless talk.
Bengalis are good at talking. They are the most versatile talkers I have met. Give them any topic, from pin to plane, they will have something to say about it. My sister's Basor Ghor was fun because the groom's side was filled with amazing singers. They sang beautifully, male and female and buoyed by their encouragement I oped my mouth to sing. When I finished my extra-long Rabindra-sangeet my sister was the only one not snoring.
The D-Day passed into "Bidaai (farewell)". Amidst tears and howls my sister departed with her hubby. The mandap stood forlorn and the relatives dispersed quickly afterwards.
Receptions followed after a day. None were as significant or as memorable as the wedding day to me. I returned to my California with indelible memories of a Bengali Wedding.
It was soon after that my grandmother fell down. She hurt herself and was rushed to the hospital. Her condition stabilized for a while when she returned home but that was just a pause in the endless struggle she was about to undergo. She left us after a month of tormented existence. I have always been close to my mom's mom, my grandmother. She was the amazing cook whom my mom never equaled, she was the story-teller and the savior when our mom was about to give us a sound beating and she was the one who gave very practical advice to make our lives better. She had struggled all her life and never cowered under pressure. When she visited the hospital - it was the first and the last time in her eighty year old existence. I was lucky to have her at my sister's wedding. My parents attended the solemn funeral held in Kolkata.
Last month, I went back home, this time for my wedding. This wedding was Bengali but wasn't in Bongland. It was organized in Mumbai. It was Bengali in essence and yet adapted differently. I was prepared for all the rituals this time, having seen one just a few months ago. Suffice it to say, it was a marriage of the East and West, like the "2 States" by Chetan Bhagat.
Like a movie that is still rolling, the end isn't there. It is the start of a new life for everyone - for those that married and for those that moved on from this life. And with everything new, is the feeling of freshness. Life forges intrepidly ahead.