Writing about Mappillai Azhaippu and Nichiya thartham reminds me of two or three incidents that happened at our family weddings.
My sister Sarada got married in 1936. I was just nine years old, but I still remember the commotion raised by one incident on the day of the nichiyathartham. Though I did not understand the reason at that time, later on I got to know the details.
A young child, not even two years old, had gone missing. His father was my mother’s cousin. I still remember the baby, such a beautiful healthy boy. Whenever we visited them or they came over, we used to play with the baby never letting him down from our arms. The baby could not be found anywhere and the whole locality joined with the police to look for the boy. But all in vain. There were whispered rumours that an old lady with a baby was found in Palayam area. Another rumour mentioned that there was a baby crying in a lonely area – all false and misleading.
Despite this, the wedding went on as planned, while the search was going on. In the evening during the Mapillai azhaippu procession, a woman was spotted with a baby in her lap at a shop’s doorway. Upon close observation, it became evident that the baby was the missing child. The woman refused to part with the baby, saying that since the baby’s ears were not pierced she was trying to pierce them. And what she was using was a dressmaker’s pin. It took a lot of cajoling and pressure from my brother and his friends to remove the baby safely from her. The parents’ relief knew no bounds, and all were thankful to God that no harm had come to the baby.
The woman who took the baby turned out to be another cousin of my mother and the baby’s father. She was generally known as Prandhu (Mad) Ponnamma. She used to undergo bouts of madness during certain days, a week or ten days at a time (possibly to do with the phases of the moon).Otherwise she was a perfectly normal woman, with a family of her own. She had also come to the wedding, and had probably in a moment of madness taken the baby away.
Whenever someone did or said something silly, the general teasing in our family was that surely there was some relationship to Prandhu Ponnamma.
In 1941 when Babuji’s father’s cousin got married, Babuji and other youngsters in the family decided to tease the bride and have some fun, for they felt the bride was too hoity toity. During the mappillai azhaippu procession, the bride was also in the car along with the bridegroom – a custom followed in many families. The bride was getting annoyed for she found a young woman sitting in the front seat, talking non-stop to the bridegroom, sometimes even getting familiar like touching his hand or slapping his wrist, which added to her irritation. (In those days, I must mention, boys and girls did not mix freely and kept their distance from one another). In a flash of temper, she had the car stopped, got down and started walking back. The bridegroom and the young girl also got down from the car, laughing and enjoying the bride’s show of temper, followed her and caught up with her. They tried to pacify her - but it took a while, and a lot of patience, for them to make the bride understand that the young girl was one of his male cousins, dressed as a girl in jest, just to tease her. After that she got back into the car with the groom, and the procession started again. And that cousin was none other than Babuji.
Me,(left) Babuji (centre) and Viswam (right, partially seen)
behind the couple at Viswanthan's wedding.
behind the couple at Viswanthan's wedding.
With this incident in mind, I played a similar trick when Babuji’s brother Viswanathan got married in 1952. Babuji’s parents, especially Ammaji , was very thrilled at the idea, and gave me her full support. So on the eve of the wedding I put my plan into action. One of Babuji’s cousins Viswam , a young twelve or thirteen year old boy, was very handsome and slim. I took him into my confidence and told him about my plan. He readily agreed and promised me that he would do his best. With the help of a few women and a lot of pins, hair pins, false hair pieces and falsies, and make up, there emerged a beautiful willowy girl, dressed in a red printed georgette sari, with a matching blouse. His natural shyness added to the charm. Our idea was to introduce ‘Vishi’ to the bride and her people during the nichyathartham ceremony.
Accordingly, ‘Vishi’ entered the pandal during the ceremony and went straight to the groom and sat down next to him. Everyone was taken by her beauty and her audacity. Women started whispering, and Ammaji joined in. She, put the whole blame on me for her son getting friendly with such girls, for Viswanathan was then staying with us in New Delhi, where he was working. We made everyone believe that ‘Vishi’ who was introduced as an employee of AIR, had become friendly with Viswanathan during lunch hours, for their offices were close by. The bride’s face was a study of suppressed anger. After a while Viswam got bored with the game, and he went straight to the bride’s father and took leave of him with folded hands, addressing him as ‘Mama’. The ‘Mama’ also, fully taken in, requested her to stay for dinner and take the thamboolam.
Once we were back from the pandal, we all had a good laugh, and congratulated Viswam on his performance.
Even after so many years, when I started writing this, I cannot forget the appreciation and admiration I got from everyone, including my mother and Moorthy who also attended the wedding.
More in my next. . .