Swahaa!

by Ashish

Of the three seasons that the good lord above has blessed Pune with, I like winter the most. If that was all I was to write about in this little post, it would be very little indeed. For winter is bound to be the favourite season of all Punekars, save for the Puneri Masochist Nagrik Sangh.

Winter is full of wondrous things. The cool (but not freezing cold) nip that stays in the air for most of the day. The wonderfully warm and toasty feel that your toes achieve when they snuggle under a couple of rugs. The way your throat and a sip of ginger tea meet, like old friends reunited after years. The appreciative growl that your stomach gives off because of the keener appetite one acquires during winters. What’s not to like?

Weddings, that’s what.

Everybody who has not been married yet, statisticians have conclusively shown, will likely get married in the months of November, December and January. Laggards may yet pull off their nuptials in February, but that only goes to show that they were snoozing during the Marriage Hall Booking season, which kicks off in early March, and reaches an orgiastic frenzy by early July. In August, much fun can be had by simply positioning yourself outside prominent marriage halls in the city, watching hopeful hordes steam in on Sunday morning, only to be transformed into dejected droves by the realization that every single date is blocked until early March.

Here’s the bad news, though. Simple arithmetic shows that a fourth generation Punekar, such as I, must know more Puneri families than there are rupees in Swiss bank accounts. Which means that those mass nuptials throughout the season guarantee that your evenings are ruined at least once a week.

Weddings, and let’s be manly and face facts here, happen only so that the most publically accepted form of torture can be filled up. I am speaking, of course, of the Wedding Photo Album. The Wedding Photo Album is your chance to get back at all those people who have tortured you with theirs. When they come to visit you for the first time after your marriage (and it doesn’t matter if this is happening well into your second decade of married life), you are legally entitled, under some prominent section of the Indian Constitution, to drag out your WPA and bore them to death with it. If you viscerally hate them, a subsection in the Constitution allows you to play the DVD as well. With the shehnai in the background. Naturally.

So, when you land up to at the photo shoot that masquerades as a wedding, your first (and most critical mission) is to Join The Line. The Line starts (always) to the left of the guillotine stand as you face it. You stand there, artificial smile firmly affixed to face, waiting your turn to go up and bob your head up and down at the couple and their hapless parents. Cursory introductions are made, a couple of “Arre wahs!” are said, and then you gather around the couple, smile at bewilderingly bright lights, and eventually, the photographer mercifully allows you to move on. This is your contribution to the WPA, and as far as the bridal couple is concerned, your job at the wedding is over.

Except, of course, you’re damned if you’re going to come all the way here and get out without eating anything. Your second mission at the festivities is to get yourself a meal. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first, shall we? It’s most likely vegetarian.

But even as a dedicated omnivore, that is not my biggest grouse at these shindigs. My biggest grouse are the line-cutters. Allow me to explain.

Weddings nowadays must be as fancy as one can make them. Which means there must be, at the very least, a chaat counter. Fancier weddings have pasta counters, Lebanese counters, dosa stations and I attended a wedding recently that had a Vietnamese Pho stall. But the downside to all this exotic-ness is the fact that these dishes take time to assemble. And so you must form a line.

Here’s a tip from a veteran. The shorter the line, the lower will be the median age for that line. Because, you see, the line isn’t really short. It just happens to be made up of hapless teenagers who have been told by the elders in the family to stand in line. As they come closer to the head of the queue, the rest of the family traipses up, makes remarks about how remarkable a coincidence it is to find said youngster here, and joins youngster. Hijacking complete.*

Since you are either already related to these people with subterranean morals, or are related as of now, given that this wedding is happening, you can’t do anything more than glare at them weakly. So you grin and bear it, and await your turn to hog at the pani-puri stall.

That’s just one wedding, of course. It’s barely mid-November, and you have three wintry months to survive. And so pretty soon, December and January turn into one endless line of well-dressed acquaintances that you must bob your head at uncertainly. And that, dear readers, is the only blot on the undersigned’s otherwise pristine love for winter.

Now if you’ll excuse me. A particularly bothersome aunt has just landed up at home. I need to dust off my trusty DVD copy.

*Oh, and by the way, this happens at The Wedding Photo Album Line as well.

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