Cultural cauldron

Last Updated 27 November 2011, 07:15 IST

Seventeen years back, when my soon-to-be husband turned up at my dad’s house a day before we were to be married, just to say hello, women in the family gasped at his audacity. Having stayed away from our small hill town most of his growing years, he didn’t know that in traditional Garhwali marriages, the groom is not supposed to see the bride between the engagement and the marriage ceremony.

As punishment, he was served a cup of tea with a few teaspoons of salt generously stirred in and I vividly remember my sprightly old grandmother, a beautiful wrinkled 75, asking him with a naughty twinkle in her eye, if the sugar was alright. And he, smiling right back at her and saying it was perfect. He did it with so much conviction that after he had left (having drained off the last drop), my dadi summoned the aunt who had been given the task of adding the salt to check if her instructions had actually been carried out.

Cultural differences bring an exotic new flavour to life (sometimes tea as well) and what better way to sample this than to have a cross-cultural marriage. A cousin who married a Japanese girl he fell in love with during a work stint in Tokyo had drilled the ritual of brides-to-be having to touch their in-laws’ feet so deeply in her mind that when she landed in Delhi for the first time and met my rather intimidating aunt, she lay prone at her feet and almost passed out due to stress, nervousness and jet lag. The gesture caused my alarmed aunt to leap half a foot in the air, but did help the new bride to win her heart, though her inclination to touch all feet — travelling salesmen, gardener and maid included — did evoke growls of disapproval from my class-conscious uncle, her honourable father-in-law.

When Flight Lieutenant Puneet Pareek, from a conservative Rajasthani family in Jaipur, married Dr Deepti I-do-not-wear-jewellery, a microbiologist from Delhi, some interesting episodes took place. Puneet recounts how his wife would keep bangles, mangalsutra and bindi in the car dashboard and quickly put them on just before their car entered his parents’ driveway in Jaipur so that his mother would be pleased to see a traditionally attired daughter-in-law. He was also a strict vegetarian and often subjected to his hardcore non-vegetarian wife bringing sausages and salamis home in the car, windows rolled up, sniffing appreciatively, while he would be ready to puke but too much in love to say anything.

A slightly kinky sardar friend who married a Welsh girl, decided to have some fun when he brought her home to Punjab for the first time to meet the family, who were very apprehensive about the kind of moral values a white girl would bring. He told her to say, “Theke jana hai (we have to go to the liquor shop),” when she had to go to the gurudwara.

Relatives who wanted to invite the newly-wed couple home for Sunday lunch would be shocked when the salwar-kameez clad, demure looking, gori bride would innocently tell them that they would not be able to make it since “theke jana hai”. When the young bride, trying so hard to make a good impression, did find out what her husband had been up to, she offered to break a few bottles on his head. Now, almost two decades later, communication is not a problem since she speaks Punjabi and her in-laws have caught on with her Welsh accent.

When Boston-based NRI Prithvi Raj Banerjee fell in love with his Benaras Hindu University classmate Anisha Mahajan some years back, there was a face off between Bengali bhadralok and boisterous Punjabi cultures. Since Bengalis don’t have a baraat in marriages and Punjabis can’t believe a wedding can take place without one, groom-to-be was given a crash course on the topic by his would-be wife and her brothers, who even arranged a band for the visiting Bong brigade.

“Since the Banerjee clan (including my parents) had never attended a baraat, they had no idea about its logistical constraints and didn’t turn up on time on the D day,” recounts Prithvi. So, after an hour-plus of waiting (with only him and his young friends having arrived), the band party started muttering that they had a second shift to attend and would not stay much longer. Common friends of the bride and groom even hinted darkly that the band (as well as the baraatis) might just defect to the bride’s side and be at the gate to welcome him when he eventually turned up.

The distraught groom had to finally take a call on it and decided to go ahead without the seniors. The baraat wound its way to the bride’s house with his tipsy friends and a lone uncle doing him proud by dancing all the way. “My Mom still regrets that she could not dance at my wedding. I’ve asked her to be punctual when it’s time for her grandson to have a baraat. I don’t care where in the world his bride is from, we will have a baraat,” he laughs.

Frankly speaking, how many of us can say which gene pools future members of our family will come from? With the world shrinking so beautifully, life is becoming a cultural cauldron. To quote my Kiwi pal Julie Middleton (who incidentally married her mate of 14 years in a Hindu wedding ceremony held in our garden two years back): Crikey! Who cares so long as we learn to celebrate our differences instead of letting them build walls around us.

(Published 26 November 2011, 17:04 IST)

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