The Tale of Gregory, part 1

If you are wondering what this post has to do with some one named “Gregory”, it will be clarified at the every end (like an S Ve Sekar play)

In a another couple of weeks, I will finally move into my own apartment. What took us so long, one might ask and the response to that is, I felt, worth a blog post.

I got married in a fusion Iyer-Nair wedding, but the fusion part is a bit misleading. An Iyer wedding is like saying:

“Jesus reflected on his situation and felt irrepressible sadness. His tear-ducts filled to a point where they could hold no longer and had to be released”
A Nair wedding on the other is more on the lines of:
“Jesus wept”

I wrote in detail in about that a while back, so long story short, that my wife managed to wear a 6 yard saree instead of the traditional 9 yard Madisaru was, by itself a coup of unimaginable proportions. The only Nair element of the wedding was the traditional white “Neriyal” saree she wore during the Oonjal ceremony, and white is a colour that repels elderly Tambrams like sunlight repels zombies. Otherwise, the wedding was yet another homogenous sequence of homams, loud-mouthed priests and badly pronounced Sanskrit imploring the newly wedded couple to produce offspring exclusively of the male kind.

Once the wedding was over, there is usually this small matter of deciding where the couple would start their new life before families get down to the more serious business of nagging them to procreate (unlike the priests, there is no gender preference for babies specified here). Typically in middle class families where new flats cannot be purchased at whim, the couple usually moves into the boy’s parents’ home. In our case, the problem was that we were spoilt for choice. It was between a smallish old flat in Besant Nagar, close to my parents’ home OR the first floor of my wife’s parents’ home, which was a separate place by itself.

While we formed an internal committee of 2 to investigate this matter and come up with value-added suggestions on the course forward, we found an intermediate arrangement that seemed satisfactory to all stakeholders. We spent weekdays in Anna Nagar (my in-laws home) & weekends in Besant Nagar (my parents’ home). It did not take me long to realize that, at least on the Tambram side of things, this was not a comfortable state of affairs.

It turns out that it is more acceptable for a boy
  • to be unfaithful,
  • kill a couple of kittens,
  • beat one’s wife
  • to demand dowry and lose it on horse races

than to spend more than a few nights under the roof of his wife’s parents’ home. The Tamil term to describe a chap who (even temporarily) takes residence in his father-in-law’s house is “Veettodu Mappillai”, which, if I may translate metaphorically, is someone who lacks several crucial internal organs (like spine, heart, blood at high temperature, reproductive system etc).

You see, everything about the Tambram wedding ceremony screams “Agreement between 2 parties for the transfer of female property from the Vendor, who will hereinafter be called the Girl’s father to the Purchaser, who shall hereinafter be called “The home of the Mother-in-Law”. There is even a mock “Grihapravesham” during the wedding when the daughter-in-law (more precisely, her right foot) makes an auspicious entry into a small room that, for symbolic purposes, is designated as the boy’s house, and more importantly, her future home. There is also a formal “Gotra change”, where the girl moves from her father’s cow-pen to mine. This posed a bit of a problem because when that annoyingly bigoted priest who officiated at my wedding asked my father-in-law what “Gotra” he was, his response was “Manusha (human being) Gotram”. As I said before, we dispensed with this particular ritual, so my wife continues to be a human being while I claim to follow some ancient chap called Sage Vadoola.

What made this situation even more piquant is that my wife comes from a matrilineal family and didn’t quite understand why this would be a problem. Even her name (Vijayalakshmi Smitha) keeps with the Nair tradition of daughters  taking their mothers names as their surnames (sons take fathers’ names) and every time someone in my family would refer to her as “Mrs Ashok”, she would correct it to “V Smitha”. She had no intention of going through that silly charade of changing one’s name the marriage, and I had no intention of sharing my name with anyone else.

But we stuck to our shuttling routine, blissfully ignoring subtle hints from my side of the family that I was starting to resemble a slightly dark complexioned grazing animal with wool. I must admit that my parents accepted this with equanimity of the kind that’s rarely seen in middle-class Tambram families. There were no honour killings involved and somehow, they made peace with me living in Anna Nagar.

That brings me to another point. If you are an unmarried middle-class chap, take this from me – there’s nothing better in life than to be treated like nobility at your in-laws place. Your wife, on the other hand, will always be a second class citizen at your parents’ home, not because your parents are bad people, but because that is simply the social norm. She will be expected to help out in the kitchen and household chores even if she is a working woman. In my case, that wasn’t such a big problem. It’s the subtly forced culture shift that I found not too palatable. If I was living only at my parents’ house, my wife would have had to give up her daily need to consume something aquatic. She doesn’t mind helping out in the kitchen etc, but I definitely mind forcing her to turn into a vegetarian.

So, we had got so used to this arrangement that it was only occasional conversations like these that reminded me that something was mildly needle-gone in the state of Denmark.
Mom: So, when are you planning to look for an apartment of your own? (Subtitles: When are you going to spare us the ignominy of being parents of a “Veettodu Mappillai”)
Me: Ah yes. I am looking. Since this arrangement is comfortable, I am not in any raving hurry to find a new place. I mean, right now, we have no household responsibilities anywhere. Cooking, washing et al are taken care in both homes and I get lots of time to blog haha..
Mom: Yes, but don’t you want a home of your own, something that you can invite your friends to (Subtitles: When are you going to spare us the ignominy of being parents of a “Veettodu Mappillai”)
Me: Ah well, that’s not a big deal really
Mom: Sigh

Eventually, it was our carbon footprint that convinced us to find an apartment a little closer to our places of work, and that began our 18 month long search involving all manner of unsavoury real estate agents and other assorted brokers who finally led us to the place we eventually bought, after several shady dealings with banks over loans, EMIs and interest rates. But that’s for another post. Next week perhaps, after I move into “Gregory” (yes, that’s the name of my new home, named after the only man my wife is likely to leave me for)