The following is a true story. As seen from the eyes of a child.
My mother’s closest friend was getting married. To her best friend. I was .. maybe.. 7. Some details are fuzzy.
But I remember many evenings over tea and fresh pakoras lit by their laughter. The house they visited buzzed with their joy. (No, this is not a story about whether he was a good husband or not. Carry on)
The lady came from a Gandhian family. Her mother and father had both worked closely with the Mahatma. They were Gujaratis from Ahmedabad. They were academics and writers. Activists and thinkers. Khadi was a way of life for them, among other values – I am sure. Khadi is what she wore to the wedding. A little border to a plain sari.
The gentleman came from Uttar Pradesh. Well, not quite, for I remember his glorious tales of ravines and dacoits that held me spellbound. He came from a family of poets. Some famous. Others erudite. They came to Ahmedabad for the wedding.
Some were startled at the simplicity of the affair – simpler than most Gujarati weddings. (Another day I shall tell the story of how some Punjabis came back from a wedding, starving, having only been fed one tiny icecream. Those were simpler times). It was, as tradition would have known.
As with North Indian weddings, the boy’s side seemed to take the lead. As with Gujarati weddings, the girl’s side began to look – and look away. But they were a well matched family. The bride and groom walked the seven steps together. The bantering was fast and furious. The jokes irresistible, the repartee quick.
As the pandit wrapped up, the guests got into their stride. It was time for the baithak. The famous poet, who was the groom’s uncle, had composed a poem for the occasion. After the metaphorical candle had been passed around a few times, he took centre stage. The poem was on marriage. On the perfect marriage. He spoke of Ram and Sita. Of their marriage that began young. Of their devotion to each other. Of their commitment to their joint cause – the maryaada. Of the sacrifices and suffering in the cause of what was right and just. And their unshakeable loyalty to the glory of Ram.
(As I write this, I am reminded of a little ceremony that I saw in a Bengali household. The bride was made to watch over the boiling pot of milk – to ensure prosperity – that must not boil over, for that would mean waste. And then she was to hold the pot with her bare hands, indicating her willingness to endure for the sake of the household. I kept my mouth shut that day, for the husband had no such ceremony.)
Back to the wedding and the poem. As the poem gained momentum, the restlessness on the bride’s side increased. The bride and groom were colleagues at work, equals in every way. The girl’s pedigree was certainly very visible to her family. They were evenly matched, word for word.
A subtle huddle ensued, pen and mind were applied. The words flowed.
They composed a poem right there. And then recited it – it was the story of Shiva and Shakti.
Of how Shiva was the desired one, of how Shakti in her various forms sought her salvation. Her purpose and her path were through Shiva. And of how he was incomplete without her. Of their perfect understanding. Of empowerment. Of how stories strengthened their bond. Of how the only time things got messed up for them was when families intervened. Of how the perfect wife and perfect husband were a team. Regardless of appearances and extreme moments. Of investing in continuity.
As the poems were exchanged through the night, a seven year old stayed awake.