I belong to “Bihar”. My state is known for its rustic charm, straight forward language and clear definitions of masculinity. Now some might turn around the same points and say it’s under developed ,has abusive and harsh language and is full of male chauvinist pigs but as they say “To each its own”.
Few years back I was invited to attend my cousin brother’s marriage. This was pleasantly surprising since I had almost managed to break up the previous nuptial knot of another cousin by getting him drunk on the marriage day. Therefore instead of giving the family time to realize their mistake I decided to jump on to the next plane and then the next train and then the next bus and finally the next boat and just after a little walking after getting off the boat I reached my village (Don’t even think about the point of Bihar being under developed; if you do, I hunt you down and voodoo you).
Now for the uninitiated a typical marriage in Bihar is an extremely elaborate affair consisting of small ceremonies which are spread over at least 15 days or at least till closest family members get hospitalized due to exhaustion and malnutrition whichever comes first. I think the sole idea behind the invention of making the marriages so elaborate was to discourage this ridiculous practice called marriage but I know for sure that this message was lost in the course of history.
Anyways among these innumerable ceremonies was the one called “Cheka”. This is where the “would be Father in law” visits the groom’s family and kind of confirms the booking for the groom. In fact come to think of it even the literal translation of word “Checka” mean “confirmation of previous booking order”. This might not sound like a big deal but throw in all the other family members, neighbors and their pets that are coming along and you get a small platoon of individuals coming over with sole intent of finding faults in arrangements and hosting family and you might start getting the picture.
The night before the ceremony when I was just planning on sleeping I saw this young kid coming up to me. Now you might question the language but he was in fact coming up (climbing the precariously balanced broken wooden ladder). You see I and my other likeminded cousins were deemed unfit to sleep with family and were allocated the unfinished portion of rooftop for our nightly sojourns which also suited us well as no one ever came to know of the beneficiaries of the empty bottles of the bootleg whisky that appeared every morning behind our house.
Nevertheless ignoring my natural desire to see people get hurt trying to accomplish ridiculous goals like “I climbed a broken ladder” I stopped the kid and went down to meet him.
“You are Kumar” he asked. “No, I am the reflection of his departed soul“was my usual reply. I think the kid lacked the intellectual ability to comprehend my profound statement because he muttered under his breath “They were right”. “What did you say” I asked bringing the practiced malevolence in my voice usage of which is reserved for such smartasses. “Nothing, they are calling you down”. “Who?” “Those who want you departed because they don’t think you have a soul” laughed the kid and ran away.
I realized that the kid had the required potential and so I made a mental note to look after, mentor and nurture his growing talent so that one day he can be a worthy successor to my current title of “Most Embarrassing Family Member” and started on my way down. On the way down I was trying to figure out tales of which one of my latest attempts of being accepted as alpha male within my cousin’s group has reached them. I was sure it couldn’t be anything to do with my antics of making catcalls and whistles at neighboring lady because just that evening I think she had smiled at me and not frowned like usual.
Now you may call me cynical but trust me I had reasons to be so apprehensive. Seldom have I been called in family meetings and whenever that has happened t was always about some complaint that they had received from some female who would have misunderstood me as a bigoted cheapo striving for attention. I mean; C’mon just because you happen to be standing on the next rooftop when I am researching for my article on the topic of “Exhibitionism – Origins and social standing in India” you can’t think my actions were intended for you.
Anyhow now that I was called for I prepared myself for the worst, promised to defend my honor by all possible means even if it meant a little character defamation of the accusing party and entered the room. Now I pride myself on reading faces but surprisingly in this instance I couldn’t figure out anything by looking at the faces since all of them were contorted in weirdest of shapes which I could only align with the faces that I tried to make whenever I have remembered the most hilarious and vulgar joke in the middle of the regular counseling sessions that I undergo with my wife, boss, dad or neighborhood society’s president.
“Good you came; we need you to handle a small but very important responsibility during marriage”- Came from the family head. My jaw dropped in surprise; pulled it back up quickly and asked in my most sincere tone “Of course, you know I am always ready to do anything for family. Tell me what is it that you expect of me?” Ignoring my humility he replied with a barely suppressed smirk “can you please take care of clicking pictures during the ceremony?”
This was a pleasant surprise. I think if I have to rank it in my list of pleasant surprises that life has awarded me with, this definitely goes above the time when I surprised myself and everyone else by scoring 43% marks in my tenth grade exams. I mean, I know I take good pictures but going by the public reaction to my pictures that I had taken during last family outing I wasn’t sure if I will get a camera in my hand in any family get together ever. I was confident that people lack the ability to understand or appreciate my preference of the artistic challenge of zooming and bringing to light the otherwise neglected dark interior of a vessel containing “Chicken Tikka” instead of not zooming in and capturing faces of people standing next to a pillar just to prove to the world that they have been to the particular monument.
I was filled with joy. I realized that finally my family has realized my value and have assigned me a task accordingly. To make sure that they know they are taking the right decision I said “Sure, I will get my camera, it’s a SLR with wide angle zoom and in fact I have even brought the tripod which will help me take better images.” “No, we have hired a professional photographer for that kind of work. Take this one. It’s been in family for generations and we want a family member to handle it” – said the man and pointed towards the big old brick size mass of black sitting on the corner table which had escaped my attention so far. “But, but, I don’t think now we even have any studio in town which will develop the pictures taken by this one” – I stuttered.
“Enough” suddenly thundered my dad. “It will at least hide the fact that you don’t have a moustache and will also stop you from jabbering unnecessarily with the guests and humiliating the family”. There was a pin drop silence for almost 8 seconds and trust me those were looooong 8 seconds and then suddenly the room was filled with voices. “See!! I told you it’s pointless to try and make him useful” screeched an aunty. “Yes, but what other option did we have to hide him from the guests?” – Chimed another uncle. “yes, but he doesn’t have the moustache. What will the guests think about our family?” “I know; there isn’t enough time for him to grow one” added another elder cousin with fake sadness in his voice.
Blah, blah, blah, blah they went on and on. It was as if I had suddenly become invisible they went on talking about the difficulties of having a moustache less person in the family, the social issue that arise out of it and the stigma that my dad has to carry. I wasn’t really sure why is it a big deal, I still am not sure but nevertheless I decided on the spot that I will grow a moustache if for nothing else then just to shut up the elder cousin who has managed to find a place in family meetings just by the virtue of having the ability of making intelligent noises which signify agreement with whatever is being discussed. With this decision made, i felt a little lighter and had my mind focused on the new task "what style of moustache should i have?" but i guess the details of that adventure will have to wait until later.