Indian weddings and the art of tracing lineages


A great grand aunt twice removed once called out of the blue to invite us to her granddaughter’s wedding. “What, you don’t remember me?” she shrieked in abject horror into the phone, and proceeded to explain the exact and excruciatingly complex web of relationships that connected us. “Why, I was right there at your parents’ wedding!” I apologised that I had missed that event, probably because I hadn’t been born yet. She snorted at the namby pamby excuse. As far as she was concerned, in terms of namby-pamby excuses, it was right up there alongside “I was out fighting a war!” or “I was in the hospital having a baby!”

Making the connections

You see, the Great Indian Wedding is the ultimate ‘do’, where you are expected to turn up, togged up in all manner of finery, so that you can chalk out all sorts of circles of reference between everybody present. A wedding is not declared complete until all those in the hall have been linked to everyone else, and everyone has been introduced to everyone that can be introduced. That’s why a good wedding takes anywhere between 2 days to 4 days. The good old six degrees of separation simply doesn’t work with everyone and the old family tree has to be literally uprooted and examined to find invisible tendrils of connections that link the brat who has set up base at the ice cream counter to the matriarch to whom all lesser mortals are kowtowing.

Matchmaking seems to be a part of our genes. We seem to have this primeval need to desperately form patterns all the time between everyone we know, a need to prove again and again the cosmic interconnectedness of the universe. Facebook and LinkedIn help by showing us exactly how many people we have in common with every person we know on the planet.

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Do you know this person?

“Oh you’re in XYZ company?” people ask me ever so often. “Do you know so-and-so? I have no idea what department he’s in or which branch. In fact, I barely know his full name. What, you don’t know him?” The company has about 30,000 employees across about eight offices in the city. But that makes no difference. I still have to endure the accusing and disappointed glares of people whose so-and-so I have just refused to recognise. And what if, by some miracle of probability I do actually know the person? How does it help anyone, really?

No wonder then that a wedding is a rite of passage of sublime importance, higher on the scale than even births and deaths. Never mind if the bride and groom have already been living together for a few decades. Never mind that both have been married several times earlier. Great grandmothers are still in attendance with their wheelchairs, oxygen masks and other apparatuses in place. Hugely pregnant sisters-in-law are expected to keep their contractions down to a decent frequency.

And now we can breathe again

Of course, at the critical moment in the wedding, when the nadhaswaram has reached its crescendo and drowns out all the chatter around anyway, all conversation comes to a standstill and the whole family along with its extended branches and circles holds its collective breath as the wedding garlands are exchanged and the mangalsutra is tied tightly in place. A sigh of relief wafts through the hall like a hot summer breeze. The attendees can now go about the business of living. Grandfathers can now have their insulin injections, hungry babies can now be fed, the sisters-in-law may now deliver their offspring in peace.

And of course more matches can be made. “You know, I have this lovely divorcee grand niece of mine, you wouldn’t happen to know a handsome widower or divorcee, would you? Wait, you do? He’s in IBM? Wait, you know, my husband’s mother’s sister-in-law’s nephew’s colleague’s father-in-law is in IBM. Let me ask him if he knows him.”

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