One of things that scared me about marriage was big gatherings. Not just gatherings with relatives, but even gatherings with friends. And if you know anything about me, that’s strange. I love being with people, and I have always loved noisy laughter filled evenings with people I like and care about. But when I got married, I was quite skeptical whether I would enjoy such sessions any more.
The reason was simple.
My mom and dad are one of the most devoted and compatible couples I know. And they led a very social life till they retired. As people living away from Kerala, their life was more peppered with friends than relatives. As I was growing up in Devlali, we had a constant flow of people in the house. My mom’s colleagues, my dad’s colleagues, people from the Kerala association, neighbours, my friends and their families. I remember evenings when my dad would open the rum bottles bought from the canteen, my mom would be cooking a storm in our kitchen, and me running between the sitting room and the kitchen. Those were happy times. I mean why wouldn’t you be happy when you have egg pakodas and peanut masala and fried fish, both in the kitchen and sitting room. But those were genuinely happy times. The house would be full of laughter, which would often drown out the music that my dad would play in his old trusty tape recorder. The house would smell not of any air freshener, but with the aroma of rich cholesterol laden food. The dining table would be laden with our best crockery and cutlery, which we would not be allowed to touch when it was just us. Best of all, I would be allowed flit around the house, book in hand, sometimes dirtying a page with oily hands that had just grabbed an egg pakoda. I was mostly told to keep away from the sitting room, but I would often sneak in, and some Uncle and Aunty would oohh ing and aah ing over me. Okay, I made that part up 🙂 But yes, I would sneak up, and the Uncle and Aunty would make grown up conversation which I loved, and I would sit in one of those old fashioned arm chairs, while they talked and laughed. I was often banished within 15 mins, but who cared when you could go to kitchen, sit on the floor, be served curd vadas, and read your book? I loved our kitchen. It was small, but it was stuffed. After years of saving up, my parents had managed to build cabinets which were made up of ply wood, but which had dark sunmica over them. Each cabinet was stuffed with huge stainless steel dabbas, which were always full of goodies. When people came over, my mom would somehow manage to place rickety steel chair in the kitchen, hoist me on to a low wooden stool next to the fridge, and then become super woman. People would turn up suddenly, but within one hour, the kitchen slab would be laden with dishes. And the best part? My dad would join her. He wouldn’t be doing the actual cooking, but he would be in kitchen on some pretext or the other. Roasting peanuts, or peeling egg shells for the hard boiled eggs, washing the crockery, cutting the chicken, playing with the kid of the low wooden floor. He was always there. And the conversations were like a conjunction, connecting sitting room to kitchen, without any barriers.
But things changed when we shifted to Kerala. My parents lost their group of friends, and gained a hoard of relatives. As gains go, this one was not nice. We had a huge house, but the laughter had died down. People came home, but not often. We had occasions, but it was different. Weddings, engagements, birthdays, naming ceremonies, all kinds of occasions. But it was not the way I remembered it to be, or maybe a child’s perspective is different.
When we now have gatherings, there was noise and laughter, but it was different. The men sat in the drawing rooms, or outside the house in verandas, or the shamianas, enjoying the heat of the day, and the heat of the conversations. The women laughed in the huge kitchens, directing the help, working on conversations as efficiently as they did on their fish curries. The men folk talked, but they never came into the kitchens. The women talked lots too, but they never sat in the verandas chatting with the men. And I wasn’t a child any more. And I didn’t fit in either space. I was as uncomfortable in the kitchen, as in the verandas.
Years later I moved to Bangalore. It opened a new world, and I found my own personal space in my own set of friends, my own mind, my own actions. But even within the urban world of Bangalore, there were still places I was not totally uncomfortable. As I grew older, my set of friends included married couples. Friends, colleagues, neighbors. And even with all the level of sophistication, sometimes things were weird. Not with all of them of course, but with some. Wives wore hip clothes, husbands drove fancy cars, and when they got together, there was noise and laughter, but it was different. The wives still hung out together, conversation typically consisted of houses, food, clothes, and of course children. Nothing wrong with any of these; in fact I like all except the last. But always? Men would sit with their drinks and reminisce about their good old college days, and pretend that they were still living those days. Sometimes there would be intelligent conversations, sometimes not. Of course this was not true of all married couples, I know some who are so cool, they made want to give up my single existence, and that’s no mean feat. Still, I would be bored at these gatherings, and I would always wonder if marriage did that to most individuals. Was there a secret gene in women, which blossomed after marriage – which made them bond them with other women and recipes of onion sambar? Do couples have to exist as couples, where friendship and bonding meant shared conversation with other couple friends? Is it possible to exist as individuals with your own unique quirks, your own opinions, and more importantly, was it be possible to seen as an unique individual when you were in a gathering?
I did wonder about all of this when I got married. Not worried, because as a newly wed, your focus is so much on your partner, relatives and friends are at the periphery of your world, and you only think about it when you have to. I still don’t have answers. But I do have experiences. And they have been good. I have been lucky, I admit. I have got married into a family which is as realistically modern as I would have wanted it to be. The married women wear saris, speak Malayalam, have plaited hair, but are as irreverent, as outspoken, as intelligent, as any of my single hip friends, and the men like them that way. But it’s also about choices. I realized that I could choose to be in the kitchen, but I didn’t need to if I didn’t enjoy it. I could choose to take part in conversations I wanted to, and I could choose to talk about things that I wanted to, rather than talking about other people wanted to. I could choose to talk about latest fashion in sari blouses, or Chris Gayle and T20, or about FDI in retail, a review of a book, my travel plans or a recipe for chocolate pudding pie. It was my choice. I could choose to shrink and act bored, or I could choose to voice my opinion, and give credit to people that they would appreciate it. And it wasn’t difficult. I would sit and talk cricket when the hubby and the brother in law watched the World Cup. I would discuss travel and places when the hubby had dinner with my friends. Or politics with his friends. Or fashion.Or…
Things haven’t changed completely, and strangely it does not bother me. I do go for some gatherings, where I actually just with sit the women folk, and gossip with them. It even feels good. I no longer get nostalgic over the good times in Devlali, I have started weaving my own memories. I don’t get hassled so easily, and even I do, I try to do something about it. Over so many months, all that I have realized is that no real rules, no real stereotypes, and even if they were, it’s not so difficult to break them. All that it takes is a little bit of conversation. 🙂