October 26, 2001

with best compliments, from…

family issues in india can get really sensitive, especially when there’s a wedding round the corner.

four-member-non-interfering families turn into surprisingly huge-extended ones where distant relatives pop out of nowhere, to tell you how ‘chweet’ you were when you pranced about in your underwear as a toddler. these sweet nothings disguise themselves as expectations as you grow, how you grow, and what you become. like a popular quote i read once outside vidyavihar station: “success is relative; the more the success, the more the relatives.

how you handle your relatives of course, depends on how good a family politician you are. this may sound rude to those sensitive, but be part of any famly get-together, why…enter any house with over three families in it and you’ll find fresh tales being cooked in the kitchen. you don’t have to be involved though. i enjoy because i’m an observer.

at times however, i have to switch roles…like last week. my father and had a major difference of opinion regarding including names (of extended family members) that had to be printed on my wedding card. since i cannot save my own life with my malnourished and inexperienced political sense, i decided to be plain old stubborn me. i tried to use logic instead, and surprise! i won. like what the hallmark greeting cards say: if you cannot convince, confuse.” here’s a bridged version of the discussion we had…

chitti and amma: but beta, according to what’s being followed everywhere over many generations, the wedding card has to carry names of relatives on the paternal side of the bride. so why should it bother you if we do it for your wedding card too?

me: no way! alright. i’ll give you more than two reasons against the one that you’ve given:
a) more names will only clutter the card,
b) we’re no longer living in a male-dominated world. if my father’s relatives will be named on the card, my mother’s relatives deserve a mention more rightfully, since i’ve spent more time with them!

chitti: i don’t understand why you’re being so stubborn. in india, the woman — be it a wife, would-be-bride, daughter or mother — is always associated with her sasural (husband’s house). beta, sometimes we all have to do things that we don’t like.

me: not if we choose not to help it chitti. those were the olden days. just think about it…i have no ill-feelings about my father’s relatives. it’s just that the geographical distances between us have not allowed us to interact at all. when i dont know my uncles, when they haven’t really contributed to my life, why should their names be on my wedding card? in fact, even if i have interacted with anyone, it’s with the women in the family.

[i now turned to my mother, and my sister, who i knew would support me on this] speaking of women, and if you do want to get into the details, let me remind you that we as nairs are a matriarchal family. so its the women who get to be on the card. right?

chitti [turning to my mother]: she does have a point there. i think you should talk about this before going ahead with the printing.

my sister, and me: we’ve never met our grandfathers. why don’t we put both our achamma (dad’s mother) and ammamma’s (mom’s mother) names instead? that way, we’re being fair without being untraditional.

amma: hmm, sounds okay to me, but will your father agree?

fifteen minutes later, my mother was upset and hung up the phone angrily. father did not want any change in the card; it had to be his way — conventional — and he said we could ‘discuss’ when he got home. we decided to put the matter away for a while, and savoured hot masala chai in a silent suspense about what should be done. when chitti was leaving, she asked me if i would change my mind. i laughed. “no, i won’t. i’m not asking for much am i? if both my grannies’ names cannot go on my wedding card, no one else’s will.”

for two days, nobody talked about the card. i knew i had upset my father, but i had no mind to give in. i was already making regular trips to the printer’s workshop, checking for minor typos and getting my favourite type and font (lowercase, garamond) on the layout.

the third day, my father handed me a printout that had two lines on it. he asked me to include the new addition on the card. here’s what it said:

with best compliments from: p k devaki amma and family . saroja d iyengar and family

————–

today, almost ten evenings later, i had the first sample proof in my hand, and my 75-plus granny by my side (saroja, my mother’s mother). slow with her english and squinting without her glasses, she read her name, and stopped. she read it again silently, and again. i watched her face as she exploded hysterically after two minutes…

“this card has MY name on it! my grand-daughter’s added my name on her wedding card!!” grinning from ear to ear, she grasped for words as she recollected: “i have had five children and i brought them up alone. i had to get them married all by myself because my husband left all of us when the youngest was three and the eldest was 16…none of their cards had my name on it. today i do nothing for my grand-daughter, and what do i see here!!?” her excitement suddenly turned to suspicion and she frowned: “radhu, tum mazaak to nahin kar rahi ho mere saath?” (you aren’t playing a prank on me, are you?)

it was like refreshing comic relief after days of planning and running around for the wedding work. ammamma’s excited words and naive questions like “what will people say?” made all of us laugh heartily. as i sat closer to my granny, i saw tears in her eyes. they might have been tears of joy, because she herself seemed surprised. grannies are like that. they live such a hard life of realities, they don’t usually shy from crying aloud. but here she was, she couldnt understand.

i had never imagined things would turn out this way. initially for me, it was about proving a point. but the joy in my granny’s eyes showed me that it had been worthwhile. i wrapped my arm around her small frame and told her i was glad it made her so happy. my father looked up from his daily planner. he was smiling too.

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