Inspite of the fact that I am no big Chetan Bhagat fan, I could not resist the temptation of picking up a copy of 2 States on a recent visit to a book store.
2 States could pretty much be the story of my marriage too, except that it was lacking in all the dramatic paraphernalia, the dysfunctional family syndrome and the extreme emotions that make up Chetan Bhagat’s novella.
I do not think there exists another nation so diverse in its cultures, peoples, beliefs, and languages as India. Travel from one end to the other and you would be asking yourself if it was the same country?
My boss in LA once asked me, so was it a cultural shock when you first landed here? I was like not at all. We Indians have enough cultural shocks traveling from one state to another that it is actually a relief to be in a place where all people atleast speak the same language.
What happens when a UP Brahmin girl brought up and based in Delhi decides to marry the “purest of pure” Tamil Iyer boy from Madras (Chennai, it is now)?
Ofcourse, there are the initial fireworks – My dad asked me in disbelief, “Are you serious?” I was. The “how’s”, when’s”, “who’s”, and “why’s” followed.
The most difficult is obviously the WHY!
“Why do you want to marry him?”
I like him.
“Why do you like him?”
He is nice
“But why him?”
No answer to that one!
The next set of questions, even more flabbergasting.
“Why did you not tell me?”
What am I doing now? I am telling you.
“No, why didn’t you tell me when it happened?”
When what happened? I love him and want to marry him, and I am telling you that.
“Why didn’t you tell me when you fell in love?”
No answer to that one too!
Fortunately, the course of our love was not very turbulent. My mom readily agreed. Vish’s parents were also very welcoming.
My dad took some time but happily came around after asking a trillion and more questions such as how will his hyperactive, slightly spoiled, “feminist” and completely stubborn daughter adjust in Chennai, in a South Indian family set up; the distance between Chennai and Delhi (I forget in what unit); what about the language barrier, how will Vish handle fights and my mood swings (not that my dad doesn’t think much of me, I think he wanted to give Vish the worst picture possible in the vain attempt to dissuade him :)!); family background (so important in an Indian wedding); can the wedding be in Delhi – North Indian style?;
And patiently Vish did answer in great depth and as genuinely as he could – I am sure he did not know the actual distance between DEL and MAA – I think, love makes you patient and persistent ;)!
Then, came the onslaught of curious relatives: Is he dark? (And I thought “fair” was considered important for a woman); Does he speak in a madrasi accent? (Is our Delhi/UP accent something we should be very proud of); They consider fish vegetarian, no? (No!); Does he always wear a lungi? (WTF!); Do they get fresh milk in Chennai, there are hardly any cows seen on the streets of Chennai! (Ok, do the stray cows in Delhi supply the milk?); Do you get atta – wheat flour, they only eat rice, no? (That’s a genuine question :)); Do they wear silk all year round? (Kinda, but silk is a natural fiber!); Do they have pubs and malls in Chennai…do people go to discs? (Yes, please ignore the ignorant North Indians); Do they cook all their food only in coconut oil? (Cudn’t give a damn!); South Indian men like only “healthy” women no – u see all those movies. (No response to that one!)
Our families coming together brought in a lot of cross cultural awareness. Many myths were shattered, and some firmly reestablished.
Everybody learned a few facts, first ofcourse, that there is more to an Iyer Madrasi than oiled hair, geeky looks, engineering degree, and overseas relatives; Tamilians have tasted inter-state and international cuisines, though curd rice still remains their favorite dish; Not eating “paneer” does not make them any less normal; Delhites are more flamboyant but we also observe traditions like they do in the south – only maybe not at early morning unearthly hours; We do not and cannot understand how a DJ can be substituted by Carnatic Music at a wedding; Just like everybody in the south is not from Madras, everybody in the north is not from Punjab;
More importantly - Moms on both the sides are fiercely protective of their sons; Relatives in both the states can get pesky; Everybody loves gifts;
And most importantly finally it’s not what community you belong to but who you are that makes all the difference – Generalizations are superficial!
All’s well that ends well, they say, and I agree. The wedding went off smoothly – North Indian style with my dad making some improvisations like making me sit on his lap for the “taali” (any need!) – and yes, I did wear the complete nine yards during the “pheras”.
Post the wedding, life’s changed – only slightly.
Sambhar-sadam goes along pretty well with paneer makhani, as does masala dosa with chhola bhhatura ;)!