Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 8

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Mom was the first child of my grandparents. Seven uncles and three aunts followed her. That was some work by my indefatigable grandparents. Can you imagine? Seven uncles and three aunts! I was only seven when my eldest uncle got married. My youngest uncle was married only a few years back. So you can imagine the number of weddings I had to attend, along with my family. Each wedding was special. All, but one, took place in Chennai. Raju mama's wedding took place in Tiruthani, one of the abodes of Lord Muruga. We are iyengars and our weddings stretch over a period of three days. For us kids, the longer the weddings lasted, the better, as it meant more days away from school. The weddings comprise some important rituals. The Janvasam was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The groom would be seated in a car, a decorated one, and it would go round the streets around the wedding hall. The groom would be clad in a veshtee - a white dhoti, and a garland around his neck. The kids would be all over him throughout the whole procession. The groom had a smile stuck on his face and it seldom masked the obvious irritation caused by the brats who kept screaming right into his ears. Suresh and I were a little mature for our age, so we usually just sat next to him, watching the circus. The procession would end at the entrance of the wedding hall and the groom would be escorted in. Everyone stays at the wedding hall for the night. That night would be an eventful one for the kids as well as the grown-ups. While we played through the night, the grown-ups came up with their own arrangements such as booze and cards. Prasad mama is an expert gambler. He made a lot of money in these weddings by washing the wallets of the other players clean clean. These get-together acts provided a nice opportunity for us to socialise with the other party - the bride's folks. The grown-ups had no problem with getting along until Prasad mamaís brilliant cards did them. We kids, a huge gang from 'my' side, were notorious for our mischief. Suresh once caught a frog and somehow managed to† slip it inside the pants of an unsuspecting kid. The kid's screams, I thought, could have been heard in Uranus. I, on the other hand, had a way with the girls from the bride's side. My quick, witty tongue and my good manners impressed them, I guess. I never bothered about the boys. They can wait, you see. The guys thought that I was a girl-crazy nut. I never disputed their claim. Everyone is entitled for their point of view and sometimes impossible statements are made by envious minds. I always chose to ignore these statements.

The muhurtam is the climax of the wedding. The pundit would chant slokas and mantras, with the homam, the sacred fire raging in front of him. The bride and the groom would be seated in front of the pundit and they had to repeat all the tongue-twisting Sanskrit slokas that he chanted. After the couple endure the heat and the smoke of the homam for a few hours, the pundit would then announce that the groom could tie the 'mangalyam', the sacred thread, around the bride's neck. The bride would be seated on her dad's lap and the groom is supposed to tie it in that rather clumsy position. I found this boring, as it offered no entertainment for me. Nevertheless, the ritual is very sacred and I firmly believe that there is a reason why it's all done in such a manner. Our forefathers are very wise and there's always a reason behind all the traditions and rituals. While all this is taking place, music is played in the background. The musicians just position themselves in a corner and play on and on. The pundit would wave at them whenever an important phase of the ritual is reached and the musicians will increase the tempo and go all out. There was the thavil- the percussion, and the nadaswaram- the wind instrument. Nowadays, the saxophone is also used. I was drawn to these instruments from the minute they started playing. Sometimes the musicians allowed me to touch the musical instruments. I even tried my hand at the thavil once while the band was having lunch. The leader of the band thought that I had a good ear for music. I was on cloud nine. I asked my dad why they didn't play the guitar or the drums, and he explained that those were only used in Christian weddings. I strongly doubted it.

The food served at our weddings is a gourmetís delight. It has a wide variety. I used to steal the laddus while Suresh stole the fruit. We used to carry the bounty back to Chittoor. It was pretty simple. Before the guests are invited to the dining hall, the cook and his assistants would arrange the banana leaves, on which the guests ate. They would then place a laddu, a pappadam and a glass of kheer on the leaves. My task was very simple. Armed with a plastic bag, I would walk along the tables, on which the leaves were placed, pick the laddus up and drop them into the bag. The most important element in this task is to look very casual - as if you were only there because of your curiosity and nothing else. And always smile at the cook's assistants, who rush about like scientists about to launch a spaceship. I suppose I had lady luck on my side, for, I was never caught. Once in Giri mama's wedding, Suresh was caught stealing fruit from the storeroom. That idiot, instead of finishing his task and escaping from the scene, was blissfully munching away on an apple. One of the assistants caught him with a huge bag that contained half of the fruits in the storeroom. Mom and dad were so embarrassed and incensed by Suresh's atrocity. Dad slapped him in front of all the guests. Suresh started to wail. I made a mistake of smiling at his miserable fate; almost sure that he hadn't noticed it. Unfortunately, he did. The expression on his face changed from agony to that of anger.

He pointed an accusing finger at me. "He was stealing laddus from the dining hall. Why don't you look into that!" he shouted.

I prayed that the ground would open up and suck me in. My dad looked at me, with his eyebrows knotted.

"N-no!" I blurted out.

There was a cynical smile on Suresh's face. "Check the pink plastic bag in our room, beside your suitcase mom, and you will know," he said. I had a murderous look on my face. My blood was boiling. There wasn't any reason for him to two-time.† He didn't want to be a lone thief, I guess. We were ordered by our dad to stick by him till the wedding ended. No play. No fun. My pocket money was stopped for a month and that was that.

But when I moved to Chennai, I never imagined that those eighteen months there would teach me a lot about the strange ways of life. I had to sit at home and wait for the new academic year to begin while Suresh was in his second standard. We found a home just next to my grandmother's house. For the first time in my life, I was faced with the prospect of living among ten other families.

38, Seethammal Road was an old building, probably not white washed for years; the ground floor that was divided into ten portions. The owners of the house lived on the first floor. The tenants, ten families in total, had to share two bathrooms. I found this rather unhygienic, but was forced to come to terms with this practice.


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