Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kulti Capers

The whole thing was a set-up! Right from the beginning to the final boarding of the train to Howrah, the story played to a script, and a very interesting offbeat script it was. Marriages are usually occasions when the most well planned things beautifully fall apart; an invisible law guiding the smooth disintegration. The occasion in this case was Putli Didi's (My cousin sister's) marriage. But this marriage was destined not to play by the rules.

Consider first, the primary groups donning leading roles. The bridegroom's side with a group of boisterous Haryanvis, whose simple and down-to-earth nature I have comprehended almost completely, during my four year stay at good ol' REC Kurukshetra. Add to that, the bride's side (my family) of mellowed down Bengalis, plus the American friends of Jiju and Didi who looked overwhelmed enough by their first taste of India, let alone a cross-cultural marriage of epic proportions.

Then consider the setting. The "continent" of Kulti, the hometown of the bride and also the place where my father, uncles and aunts had been brought up. The steel plant where my grandfather had worked had long since shut down, succumbing to the inefficiencies that plague most state run industries. The little town sustained itself through the requirements of the people who continued to live there. It was a golden place where golden people reigned in a golden age, if you sided with my fathers' family point of view, or you could join the cynical smiles of which too there was no shortage.

9th March '07 :

My arrival at Kulti station was an achievement by itself. It involved making an all out sprint through a packed Howrah station crashing into dozens of people without having the luxury of even saying a "Sorry" to board the train just in the nick of time. From Kulti station, it was a ride in Ashim Kaka's amazingly well maintained Amby (1961 First edition!) to his beautiful, old house all spruced up for the wedding. The last time I had been to his house, I was of a negligible age and the sprawling gardens surrounding his house had my imagination working overtime with impenetrable forests and giant pythons a distinct possibility. This time around, 18 years later, the place still impressed with such a vast expanse of space. Accompanying me was Mumun who promptly joined forces with Rupli Di, building 2/3rds of the fearsome triad of "saalis" that harangue every Jija who dares step into the Roy family. The trio would assume full strength with the arrival of my sister the next day.

Overworked that I was in the office that day, and as a result of the exertions of the dash to make it to the evening train I fell asleep turning a deaf ear to the accusations of my cousins. The accusations were in the vein of "You're so lazy! You come here to work for the marriage and sleep instead." Though it is a matter of mystery to me how by chit-chatting through the night, and labeling that as work, one adds value to the marriage as my cousin sisters claimed to have done.

10th March '07:

The next day was spent in wrapping up presents for the "totto"(Gifts sent between both the parties at the marriage), and trying to get friendly with Bhuli, one of the two pet dogs of Ashim Kaka. For some inexplicable reason, she remained immune to my charms throughout the wedding. Dogs have always liked me and vice versa but this one seemed intent on barking, growling and cringing away in fear whenever I approached. But sometimes in life, you've got to accept things for what they are! So was my acceptance of Bhuli's dislike for me. My efforts at packing the gifts took their toll, and I slept through the afternoon, leading to more accusations of that "lazy" nature of mine.

Sunday, 11th March:

The pre-marriage hullabaloo reached a crescendo. High pitched voices shouting conflicting instructions, dazed looks, people tripping up on strewn luggage, kids seeking desperate ways to grab attention (like going full pelt for the stairs), hyper excited dogs, a million people tramping in and out of the house, the arrival of the bridegroom's group and similar events kept everyone involved in the wedding on their toes. The day saw the entry of almost all the invited guests, and led to a flurry of trips between the various guesthouses and the house.

On the same evening, the big ticket event of the marriage, the DJ night disguised under the traditional name of "Sangeet", apparently a staple of all Haryanvi weddings. Enter DJ Ramandeep Singh with his crew, who had to be instructed approximately 10 times on the phone for directions to reach Kaka's house. Some politically incorrect sources put his confusion down to his religion!

Well, he finally arrived and set up a great set of speakers, strobe lights and we had an awesome dance-till-you-drop session from 7 to 11, enjoyed thoroughly by both the young and the young-at-heart. The sheer energy of the visiting team on the dance floor initially stunned the home team into a corner, but by the end of the evening the home team was matching the visitors step for step. The sweat dripping off everyone by the end bore testimony to the hard work involved. Once again stretched to the limit, I popped off to the guesthouse and as usual dropped dead.

12th March, D-Day:

D-day was here, and for me it had started before it was scientifically correct to call it a day. There was a top secret pick-up to be made in the wee hours of the morning from Asansol station, and this all important task was entrusted to the usual suspects, P. K. Da and me. Bleary-eyed we turned up at Asansol station to pick up Jhumpi Di who had the time off her tight schedule at IIT Kanpur, to just make it to the wedding. The pick-up was a completely smooth job with us entering the station just at the same time as the train, and we delivered her to the guesthouse just as ordinary mortals were stirring out of their slumber. While Jhumpi Di was being swamped by a pleasantly surprised horde of relatives, I like all good heroes was hoping to fade into the background, and catch up with my old friend, Mr. Sleep. But no such luck! I eventually got up with a scowl on my face, the kind you see when you've been lying in bed, for 2 hours and haven't been allowed to sleep (A special thanks to Didi and Dada for that). The rest of the day before the marriage ceremony was like a film in fast forward with the action only slowing for some great grubbing sessions. I was in the right place at the right time to sample the delicacies of the dinner beforehand, and prepare myself accordingly. Even the sampling session ended up in something like a second lunch.

Evening saw me dressed in a 'dhooti', that garment where every step is a potential disaster story. Thankfully it stayed in the place it was supposed to and later I was lighting big firecrackers wearing that very same blessed garment backed by some newly found foolhardy courage. The bridegroom arrived in Kaka's grand old lady, the Amby, and his party kept dancing for what seemed forever before he arrived at the 'mandap'. The dhol's beat was infectious, but I had 'dhooti' considerations to keep in mind. Putli Di was then air-lifted to the 'mandap' and the usual games of who's higher- the bride or the bridegroom saw a tough fight between Haryanvi muscle and Bengali presence of mind. The matter was settled by the fact that presence of mind is of no help for lack of sheer muscle power in some cases! Though the losing side continues to claim "We let them win, 'coz eventually they had to exchange the garlands!" Hmm… Whatever!

As the ceremony continued another professional hit job was carried out and the bridegroom's shoes disappeared into thin air, with yours truly playing the major role in the heist. This operation was to yield great monetary dividends later. The marriage ceremony was completed without any major hiccups, with the purohit's all-too-frequent reference to the book of 'mantras' a cause for mild amusement and confusion. The food which followed was just too good, and even the Americans were spotted hogging away at spicy Indian food; after-effects early next morning be damned! And all this while, a 'shehnai' player, who many claimed was imprisoned on top of the 'pandal' gate with the ladder which had taken him up put away, performed his job to the best of ability. No tempatation on earth could have taken him away from his task of continuously piping out tunes whose quality was strictly debatable. Nonetheless, he deserves a special mention for his sheer dedication to the cause!

Ceremony done, the time had come for Mahesh Bhaiyaa to withstand the real trial by fire. He had to survive a night with his bride's cousins and obtain his missing shoes without any heart-attack inducing financial losses. Supported only by two of his brothers, the prospects were grim, especially for the second condition to be fulfilled. The ransom was fixed and as usual the kidnapped shoes' owner feigned a total lack of interest in them. As we waited for the inevitable to happen, we killed time by playing a strange mix of 'obscure word' Antakshari, Dumb-C and also has an impromptu Shiamak Davar dance workshop led by Mumun. Two heavyweights from the bride's side switched their allegiance to the other side (Case in point, my sis and Rupli Di). Unable to withstand the shock of this treachery and the absence of P.K Da due to his tough travel plans the next day, the bride's team was creamed well and proper in all the above mentioned contests. As the Antakshari moved from obscure words to completely weird ones, and the songs that both sides were coming up with seemed suspiciously like on-the-spot creations, there came about a general confusion as to the purpose of the night. So led from the front by the bride herself, majority of the populace fell asleep just as dawn was breaking, including the so-called 'active' people. From then on in, it was sheer 3 rd degree torture as Rupli Di assumed the role of police interrogator and Mahesh Bhaiyaa unwillingly the role of the accused. The crime: Not paying enough money for the shoes. After a superhuman struggle, the accused accepted all charges leveled against him, and looked tired enough to admit to any crime at all. End result: The kidnappers were 5K richer.

13th March-14th March, '07:

Daylight saw me more on the road between Kulti and Asansol than the home itself, as I bounced to and fro from the house to Asansol station, first to see off the bridegroom's party and Jhumpi Di in the morning, and in the evening to bid goodbye to the newly wed couple. Sleepless as I was for almost 2 days then, I would have put a zombie to shame. When we returned post the departure of Putli Di, the house was quiet again and the 'pandal' almost completely dismantled. There was this overbearing sense of completion and emptiness that follows all great events, like this marriage surely was.

Then time again for some laidback chatter and well earned sleep, and after putting mom, dad and sis on the train to Gujarat the next day, I took the train back to Calcutta. Back to a humdrum existence and the killing monotony of office life. But now I had all the memories of this incredible marriage to turn back to, which never fail to bring a smile to my face time and time again.


somdutta said...

I just had time to read your blog on our wedding...I don't think the wedding was as much chaos and fun as my dear brother has penned it to be!!! You are so right, this wedding is an amusement when looked through your view point! Awesomely written!!! Kuddos!

R I T I said...

That was one incredible wedding !