To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reminiscing about a wedding in the 70s...

The topic of a family reunion has been flying in the air, in my (online) interactions with certain clan members (some settled out of India now) lately.  F2F (that, for those uninitiated, is short or text lingo for face to face), it came up when I met an aunt (my later mother's cousin, let's call her "SM") after decades, ironically at the home of her daughter who's been staying in the same town as I for quite a few years now, but whose husband and children I met for the first time (and they likewise, with my family)! And how did the meeting come about?  Ironically, aided by an online tool, the ubiquitous Facebook, where SM (perhaps the only one of her generation in our clan active on FB) saw my message and responded with a phone call.

So, as often happens when you meet a relative after such a long time, we got talking about previous family gatherings.  One of the interesting ones was when we had gone to Patna for SM's wedding (isn't it curious that in those times, despite our resource constraints, we managed to go attend family gatherings in other towns, whereas now we don't do that even for many functions in our own town?).  Interestingly, the eldest daughter of our aunt at Patna, who was actually older than SM, was called "... mashi" (aunt) by SM, in a sort of reversal of roles.  I guess this disparity between age and relationship is not something unique in our clan.  More interesting was the case of one 'meshomoshai' (uncle), who was the brother of one of our 'didimas' (my mother's aunt).  He was called '....da' (grand uncle) by some, including those who probably knew him before he became a 'meshomoshai', while the rest of us (including I) continued to call him '..... meshomoshai'.  I met his son my cousin recently while he was in Delhi, and he mentioned having visited '....da' (or elder cousin), the son of the said 'didima' (who was meshomoshai's sister), who most of us call '.....mama' (or uncle)!  Go figure.

I digress (and will continue to do that off and on).  The wedding in Patna happened when I was perhaps 6 or 7.  Not 5, as far as I remember, because I would've been 5 when the Bangladesh war happened, and we had trenches dug in front of our house in Delhi Cantt., to take shelter in case of a bombing, which mercifully never came about (we had all sorts of theories on the reason for the 'Z' shape of the trenches, including that it was so because a bomb, if it fell on a trench, would just roll to the end of trench, sparing the 'occupants'!!).  Anyways, to return to the wedding, we traveled from Delhi to Patna on a train with a steam engine in vogue those days (now I hear the Indian Railways is charging a bomb letting people travel on heritage trains with steam engines, some of which keep breaking down being not very well maintained).  It was probably better than travelling on a train with a diesel engine (as happened later on another travel for another wedding), where the soot tended to get into your hair and face if you so much as poked your head out to catch the wind.  For us children, the train journey used to be the highlight of any travel, while our parents were probably pulling their hair out trying to manage the whole affair.

I don't remember much about the wedding proper, except the dressing up part.  What I do remember are the episodes around the wedding where we children had the most fun.  It was of course quite a madhouse, what with relatives of all hues milling about the large two-storied house.  Once, when we children were sort of locked up on one floor, perhaps as we were making two much nuisance, we threw down the footwear of all guests which were piled there - quite a sight!  Once, our eldest cousin '....da' (the son of our aunt at Patna), made quite a hash of 'chicken leg'.  What happened was that he wanted to treat the whole household and guests to a sumptuous meal of chicken curry and rice, ensuring that each one got a 'leg piece' (something prized in those days, unlike now when chicken legs are treated at par with red meat and avoided due to health concerns, even exported on 'cut price' basis).  So he got quite a number of dressed chickens home.  When it was time for the meal, it was found that the chicken legs were not sufficient for everyone.  The reason?  '....da' had counted the number of people correctly (being fairly good with numbers, as he was a manager of Cole biscuit co.), but had then divided that number by FOUR, to get the number of chickens required!!  We had quite a laugh, ribbing '....da' on the number of legs a chicken had.

But the high point of the function was undoubtedly the proper theatre skit we children put up.  I remember because I had a walk on bit part, of a 'suited booted Englishman'.  It was a properly done affair, with a well made stage, backdrop, curtain drops, props, dresses, et al.  It was orchestrated by our talented cousins from Kolkata who ran Children's Little Theatre group, a minor rage in the Gariahat area in those days.  At the end of the skit, there was even an award distribution ceremony.

Ironically, it was an interaction with the elder of those cousins, now in US, which brought back many of these memories ('purano smiriti').  Talk of the world being round...