by Dr. Madhav Prabhu
Belagavi is a city that is always in a festive mood. With Diwali done, the city has to pull its socks up for another season, one that brings back life and sales in the markets of the city, one that brings together families, one that brings young people to the gym, one that brings inflation in gold prices, the season of marriages.
The season ritually starts from the day Diwali is over and extends up to the school vacations in summer. It’s a high octane event in the city which is the bastion of the middle class, a class which cannot afford event managers and has to do it all themselves. For most people, marriage happens only once (luckily), but it is worth a lifetime, well at least you have to say so in front of your wife. There are two things they say a brave man should do once in a life, get married and build a house, this is true for the middle class for whom life is a struggle with the budget all the time. Let’s have an overview of what preparations are involved in the opera we call marriage.
Let’s first understand the origin of marriage, it’s my belief that marriage was a concept originating out of a group of possessive women, and in saying this I am not being sexist. See I don’t believe human males are used to being tied up, irrespective of their race or religion, men are like butterflies, it is in their nature to be curious about many flowers. Secondly, men are lazy, they cannot come up with deep, dark conspiracies like marriages. The concept may have originated right after humans learned taming bullocks, tying a wild bull and making him do domestic work is exactly what must have sparked this concept.
Well coming back to Belagavi, we are obsessed with marriages, we even get the Tulasi in our Angan married, sons and daughters have little choice. If you are not married you are not normal, there has to be a problem with you and this is the subject of gossip in the city. Every uncle in view is like a potential marriage counselor, fixing a marriage is the favorite time pass of every aunty in town. There is always an auspicious time to get married, the results of the marriage could be anything but the start has to be auspicious, and this season is considered the best.
In Belagavi marriage is not merely an event, its a statement, it’s a status symbol, it’s an identity. Marriages are made in heaven but the bills including the GST are paid in real time. It’s not merely the marriage, its the gossip about it that follows too, a good marriage is one on which at least seventy percent of the guests give good feedback in gossips in real time. There are a few standard attributes of a good marriage, a beautiful venue, up-to-date fashionable costumes(a shalu, saree, a sherwani worn only once in a life), heavy gold ornaments, ornate decorations of the venue and delicious sumptuous irrationally wastefully quantified food.
The process of a marriage starts with the selection of a suitable partner and it is our practice to visit the girl’s house for the same. Nothing sexist about it I guess, if the bride visited the groom she would be horrified looking at the bachelor’s room plus there would be no chance of testing the culinary expertise of the would-be bride.
It’s a simple process, you sit across with your families and question each other’s credentials, there is this universally accepted dish called Kanda pohe which is the essential element of such an August gathering.
It’s our belief that if a girl can get the flavor of pohe and the blend of tea right, she can manage a household. Once the palates are satisfied with the pohe there is the ritual of praising and exaggerating the qualities and achievements of both the sides, which decides who will have the upper hand in the proceedings. The groom to usually keep silent as his mother has a complete questionnaire ready to satisfy her expectations and that of her family. The mother of the groom is the most difficult to please in the entire episode. The city is relatively new to online dating and matrimonial, this is one safeguard from the online impostor NRIs I guess, but there are a few marriages happening online too as every household in Belagavi today has a son or daughter abroad, but nothing like Kanda pohe.
In the good old days matrimony was the responsibly of persons who visited multiple households, very few people did this, plus that person should have had the time to chat for an hour to know the existence of a proposal, the said person should also be one with whom you could share your every secret and trust your life and only one person suited did, the family barber or shall we call the family hairdresser. People chatted with their barbers as while having a haircut they had nothing else to do, people trusted them to an extent that they allowed them to hold a knife on their throat and not cut them too. Well, these days there are many a jobless uncle’s, scandal cashing aunties and professional match fixers who fill in this vacancy caused by the opening of hair salons.
Let’s not get wavered, coming back to the Kanda pohe, it is not that you don’t have a chance to talk, you are allowed to talk under the supervision of a brat called a niece or nephew, who somehow is old enough to supervise and insignificantly small enough to encourage a conversation.
The multiple love marriages happening around miss this part of the marriage of course. Love marriages are like fast food they are good on the palates but cause a lot of trouble in the tummy, avoid most formalities but double the troubles with the family.
Well, ultimately both the types of marriages come to a common scene and that is the kanda pohe where the families try to convince the other that this marriage is a poor deal for their perfect ward. If the outcome of the pohe meeting clicks we move on to the next ceremony called the yadi making or in simple terms an engagement, this is nothing but a custom where you make a contract annexed with the list of things each side needs to contribute, it includes the responsibly of marriage, the household utensil, and the ornaments to be exchanged, all this solemnized by the priest of the family, a few close relatives and the pancha mandali of the galli. It’s not like the Ambanis and the Piramals but the process is equally serious.
The priest of the family in my view is the catalyst to the conspiracy of the marriage because they are the only ones who benefit out of it. For them arranging a marriage is like a no risk high return investment. You need a priest to fix the date of the wedding, for officiating the marriage, select the date of honeymoon and as the outcome, also all the rituals of childbirth and follow up. The only other person that I can think of who benefits from marriages is a gynecologist. Soon maternity homes will advertise at marriage halls, no don’t be surprised, most guests in the marriage give a blessing to visit a maternity home soon if all these blessings came true, India will have an even bigger population explosion. Multiplication is a legitimate expectation in every marriage.
So once the yadis are ready its time for the shopping, this is the most difficult part of the marriage and I will tell you why. The shopping list consists of clothes, jewelry, crockery(rukwat) and in some cases electronic goods and cars. The last items are for the elites, we the middle class stick to the rest. What makes this ordeal complex is that there are multiple stakeholders to this, there are also multiple dynamics attached.
Let me explain, the shopping is for everyone from the kids, to the ajjis in the house, and both the extremes of ages are most fussy. The shopping has to satisfy the tastes of the grooms mother, his sister(the dhedi ), his sister’s husband, his sister’s mother in law and his sister’s sister in law. It is like doing a shanti for the devils. These are the panchamahabhootas of every marriage. The problem is not merely shopping the taste of every one of these stakeholders is different and latest fashion adds to the complexities. Now, the dynamics are also complex, if the families like each other they will like what has been shopped for each other but if they don’t there will be only reconciliation. There could be specific relatives who will never be satisfied. There could be unrelated outsiders who can affect these dynamics just for vindictive pleasure. Most often the mother in law and sister in law, are the ones whom nothing satisfies. The shopping had no budget, in fact, the whole affair of marriage has none. And planning for the marriage is usually started at the time of birth of the girl itself. Most expenses are borne by the girls family, this is most unfair as the girl is a treasure in herself, but then times have changed for the good and today there is equity here too. I hope someday this practice of burdening the bride is done with.
In Belagavi as soon as a girl is born the parents start planning for her marriage, an insurance policy, periodic purchase of gold, money in safe boxes, investment in shares, fixed deposits and real estate, parents don’t spare any efforts to invest for the marriage, money which could be a pension for the ailing parents is spent in the pomp and show of this event.
Belgaumites traditionally have undisputed fixed shops where they trade for their fashion accessories and apparels KB Naik, Mangaldeep, Virupakshi, Shivaprakash, Uma, Deshpande etc, we also have fixed tailors too. Very less happens in the fashion world here.
All our choices are mostly Angrezon ke zamane ke tailors and shopkeepers, rates are usually fixed but discounts even if one percent is compulsory. In Belagavi we are not after Manish Malhotra or Behl, we are happy with simple designs, or even imitation seconds and our brides look just as beautiful. The new stalls and fashion outlets have made lives easy and with the readymades, you don’t have to wait for the tailor to comply with timelines as your parents did.
We also have our fixed jewelry stores, Potdar, Vernekar, Revankar, Anvekar and so on, it is not the designs that matter, its the purity and trust. Gold is like the most essential element of Indian marriages, we start storing gold right from the cradle, the mangalsutra is compulsory and we can fill it in with a lot of assorted jewelry, a minimum exchange of gold is an expected feature. I guess Its an asset for the newly married just in case. Recently a volley of designs has hit Belagavi, we have Malabar, Kalyan, Joyalukas, PNG and others, where we have perennial discounts especially on the making charges. Somehow they always seem costlier and we don’t trust new entrants, that’s not in our genes.
The first and the most important thing to do after a marriage is fixed is however to book a venue. The venues are usually booked months in advance and are decided as per your capacity to pay and show off. The range starts from small temples and extends to big lawns with theme weddings. The venues are priced exorbitantly and you need to keep the substantial amount for the same. Proximity to home, parking, social status, grooms preference each has a role in deciding the venue. The pandal guy, the electricians, the florist, and the DJ are next to be sought after, they are like the superspecialists in multispeciality hospitals, they are in high demand, they are paid more and they do very little work.
Once these are sorted comes the king of the marriage ceremony, the caterers. The caterers are next to God or in some cases the Devil, they can make or break the ceremony, if the guests have their palates satisfied they will give the choicest of blessings. There is an assortment of choices, basically, you have to have starters, bread, the main course with vegetables, pulses, fritters, and rice. The number and the variety depends on how deep your pockets are, there is an entire menu and you have to merely mix and match as per your taste. You can also choose your cuisine Gujarati, Maharashtrian, North Karnataka or Lingayat( basically brinjal or Badnekai) are usually the ones that do the rounds.
Some order Chinese, Thai and Italian but that’s not fashionable for marriages. Traditional cuisine is always more acceptable, you can have a reception in the evening to prove that you are liberal in your cuisine choice. Belgaumites are foodies, the incorruptible sweet tooths, you cannot make mistakes in food. We eat with the same devotion with which we vote in elections, we are very choosy, our choice in politicians may go wrong but not in food. The way to the heart of any Belagaumite is definitely through his taste buds.
While all this is going on the bride and the groom are busy boosting the sales of telecom companies, I bet Ambani got his son and daughter wedded out of the profits of Jio in the last marriage season. Endless, seamless, pointless conversations, somehow after marriages this one thing never happens. But in this period of courtship its wise to have the best telecom tariff plan.
Last but not the least you need to find the photographer, your marriage is only as good as the photographs that are preserved, the only person who dares to stop the proceedings and dictate the action in weddings are the photographers. They can even ask for an instant replay of the pheras and the malas. There is a new trend where photographers are hired to do pre-wedding shoots too, here we have the bride and maid, exchanging flowers, declaring dates and showing affection, this show is not merely for each other but needs to be publicised on Facebook so the world’s can see. Its a private public display of emotions. The photographers are also busy and you need to book in advance.
The last of the preparations involve the baraat or simply put the marriage procession, to those wondering what this is, it’s where the groom is decorated and paraded like a goat to be sacrificed. Few things need to be planned here. The groom can be ferried by a simple car, a horse, a camel, an elephant or even a silver-plated motor driven chariot, this depends again on how deep your coffers are, the groom is the prince for a day and he deserves all this I guess for the lifetime of troubles that follow. You also need a band, in the city bands have singers too, the songs are absolutely unrelated to the marriage and range from bhajans, to sad songs to songs of brother and sisters love, it’s never the choice of songs that matters nor the voice because in most cases both male and female voices in duets belong to the same person, I guess the occasion is overwhelming for the bands too. In any case, the baratis are so drunk that they do snake dance in blazing sunlight on anything that even feels like a song.
And so with the grace of God, all the preparations are over. Months of preparation leads to the big day. Bank loans, bookings, gossip, printing, stitching, bonding is all done as we come to the day of the wedding. It’s a day of high drama and emotions. It’s a day every young heart longs to have at least once in a life. The city is at its festive best as two hearts commit to spending a lifetime in the comfort of each other’s love. It’s an event we are looking forward to and even the state parliamentary session cannot deter our excitement. We hope every Belgaumite enjoys this season for the generation to come.