Romance

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Surely few cultures offer such an exquisitely romantic announcement of marital celebration as this lovely board in a prominent place in Tiruvannamalai town!

Although the institution of marriage inevitably seems to harbour temptations of dominance on one side or t’other and demands great effort and compromise to achieve success, nevertheless weddings thrive on denial; a wedding is nothing but a celebratory occasion of superb optimism.

Endearingly the Tamil people seem to me to be tremendously interested in themselves. Although within India they also seem to have a reputation for roughness, in my experience they are also very refined, the overwhelming Tamil style is modest, co-operative and cheerful – playful, in fact. The Tamils are the funniest people, Tamil Nadu the funniest place in the world. It just happens that The traditional Tamil folk culture contrasts in such interesting permutations with the directed-thinking Euro-American culture of my conditioning that something akin to a cross-current-jam of neurones happens somewhere in the frontal lobe or some such zone, that feels very very funny, often so not funny it’s hilarious.

Digital printing on acres of rain-proof plastic hit town a few years ago; the posters have the distinction of being recyclable on a massive scale, one irreplaceable application of which is as roofing on poor houses during the monsoon – a particularly versatile commodity. The gigantic boards that most commonly advertise politicians and their capers and recently upcoming (arranged) marriages, are extremely funny.

Photographs often are funny in this society, wherein photographs hanging on living room walls in the early seventies were almost always of dead family members; there remains a residual hesitancy about having ones photo taken. Twenty years ago pregnant mothers would never allow you to photograph them since it would certainly jeopardise their child’s birth and even now people will form a line like firewood standing up if expecting to be photographed.

Political boards are funny because ubiquitously overly happy politicians are in reality the ones ripping everyone else off; the posters are designed to encourage you to vote them in to power again so they can continue to be the happiest blokes around at your expense. The marriage boards are funny because poker-faces were universal, brides always looked freaked, bride and groom stood side by side like a couple of surf-boards and long rows of men’s small poker-faces were ubiquitous – they were His friends. Brides didn’t have friends.

But all of a sudden last week – look at this:

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What a shocker!

No brides friends yet – don’t expect too much.  The big grin on one of the men on the right isn’t the issue – that’s normal, that’s one of the VIP friends of the groom, maybe a politician. It’s the happy looking bride and groom that’s so stunning, that and the risqué bride’s hand on groom’s shoulder, that does it. How BOLD! Ten years ago this would have been unseemly. And what about the invitation at the top: we are All invited! Do they really mean that?

It was marriage board bonanza today a little further up the road:

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Big political friends enter the picture here.

See below on right side – the poster for a different marriage, there are two romantic versions of the couple, one with the groom’s arm around his brides shoulder. It seems that after all these years we can acknowledge by tastefully hinting at the affection we all hope will develop between wife and husband. In this culture almost all marriages are arranged by parents. And look: there’s even Maid Marion there . .

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That was a nice touch to give this blog a little coherency boost.  Local women say it is essential there be political congruency between the families joined by marriage.   A marriage party came through a little further back, that was appreciated too:

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Within two days other marriage posters popped up using the same new template more or less; one was stuck up on the bus stand outside the Arts College main gate – right where lots of prospective brides and grooms lurk especially during student protests and strike days. And another – a full length one, right near the Kali Temple: full length is very unusual.  

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The silver screen’s mixed up in all this, so is Politics, deeply, and the question how come the bride has no friends never, ever gets asked.

It should be mentioned that often the political connection appears to be paramount:

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It’s reassuring to be invited to acknowledge the bride so immediately however looks like the political factor takes the prize here not the husband-to-be.

So I asked several local friends of both genders what they thought about this brand new marriage-board trend and the answers were gender specifically univocal: the men thought the stunning aspect of the new image – that is: happy looking couples with a romantic overtones in the bride’s bold gesture, was just a new fashion, a matter of style – posing like a film star was somehow suddenly acceptable. The men thought there’s no coinage here as indicating a new development in gender relations, not at all. Nothing’s changed, they were quite sure.

On the other hand, the women whose opinions I asked saw this new trend quite differently. They all felt times have changed.

Let’s at this point welcome that marriage procession leading the groom as it arrives at the bride’s parent’s house:

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In the early seventies from where I can legitimately speak, girls and women did not ride bicycles even though bicycles, cycle rickshaws and bullock carts were the overwhelmingly common forms of transport besides rickety buses. Ambassador cars were few and far between.

Girls and women walked because it was unseemly for their peddling legs to be exposed and undignified for their behinds to perch on meagre bicycle seats. This is what I was told – I’m not making this up.

In a joint extended family home, the utmost precautions were in place to prevent attraction crossing filial barriers – for example if a son entered a room occupied by a brother’s wife, he or she would immediately scoot out to avoid trouble arising between them. Since most of these homes contained a minimal number of rooms, we foreigners were flabbergasted at the internal restrictions placed on family life.

Particularly it was the male students of the local Arts College not far away who made their presence felt at that time, holding frequent bandwagons in late night/early morning raucous loud-speakers blaring down the main drag for their union election season and organising surprisingly frequent, equally noisy, protest marches monopolising the highway into town, shouting slogans, carrying banners and the works.

In the mornings, two gender-segregated crocodiles on either side of the road didn’t begin to intermingle – thereby enabling young women to accompany young men, not until the mid to late eighties by which time females has transcended onto bicycles also.

It sounds as if it was a very visible transition but it wasn’t, it happened so slowly that we hardly noticed, not until we began to comment to one another about the emergence of occasional young women sitting on benches around the hill-round route talking to young men. The degenerate appearance of condoms on the road or amongst leaves in the forest came later.

Times changed but this nation bides it’s time more often than not – especially in unsophisticated places, with reserve, with modesty, with respect for family values.

So the women friends to whom I put the question about the new trend in marriage boards – even though each one of them made sure I realised she was an old-fashioned girl whose attitude towards the opposite sex has not been updated, nevertheless they considered gender relations have undergone radical change that is now mirrored in the new trend.

Without first-hand experience nevertheless I can contribute with this: in the early seventies here and for some decade following my arrival, cine posters were subject to censorship that would be described as ‘puritanical’ by less refined, unchaste, immodest visitors from so-called ‘liberated’ countries: no visual sexual references were permitted; this was a refreshing change for many foreigners at the time.

So the present context of this blog allow me to present strong evidence for some sort of radical change in gender relations in this culture by including an image taken from another blog of mine: http://sonagiristories.net/marooned-for-an-hour-in-India/:

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This speaks for itself and although we can laugh I’m not at all sure that KaliYuga has much of benefit to contribute right here. What do you feel about this?

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