How to marry wrong, or going from caste to outcast

Forgive me. I do try to stick to writing about writing, but I just feel like venting about the caste system in this post, a soliloquy occasioned by a wedding I attended this past weekend. In the aftermath of the wedding, I am left dealing with a smorgasbord of emotions.

caste at work

caste at work

The groom is from a family of folks who are inlaws to a family of folks who are inlaws to my family of folks—a kind of 2nd connection in LinkedIn parlance. He is a young Brahman lad who chose to marry a girl from a “lesser” caste, thus alienating his close family (his parents, paternal grandmother and a sister who is married into the 1st connection family that links his family and mine), his extended clan, his brother-in-law’s clan and the Brahman society at large, especially in the small, rigidly conservative temple town of his origin.

All of these fine folks found reasons to skip the wedding, except for the parents and the grandmother. Hindu weddings are usually elaborate affairs graced by relatives and friends of all types: people you know you know, people you don’t know you know, people you know you don’t know and people you don’t know you don’t know. “Elaborate” is a relative term, depending on the financial strengths of the contracting parties. The norm is for financially challenged families to go deep into debt rather than skimp on their social obligations. These obligations can be particularly odious for girls’ families, exacerbated when they face unreasonable dowry demands.

The groom’s father bowed to his son’s wishes; the mother was hard core anti and was present only because of the father’s desperate pleading. The granny was enjoying the show, not because she approved of her grandson’s choice of life partner, but because about thirty years ago, her daughter-in-law had seduced her son into eloping and she, the granny, had got to know of her son’s secret wedding 22 days after the fact. Though the unwelcome daughter-in-law came with the saving grace of being of the Brahman caste, she had committed an unpardonable crime. She had blindsided a conservative Brahman woman with only one son.

As far as the grandmother was concerned, this was payback time. Her grandson, too, was an only male child. This time, the grandson’s unsanctioned choice of bride meant the purity of the family’s bloodlines would be tarnished forever.

The mother refused to attend any of the rites. All through, she was steadfast in her venom: wishing she had never delivered such a son; wishing she suffered a fatal heart attack before the nuptials; wishing her son got run over by a truck before marrying that girl; wishing that girl got struck down by lightning before the wedding. Hindu wedding rituals are tiresomely long—they stretch over two days of morning, afternoon and evening sessions—and she did not eat at any of the feasts laid on. She did not participate in any of the traditional rituals required of the groom’s parents, such as the formal exchange of greetings, invitations and gifts with the bride’s family; the formal greeting of arriving guests; or the formal acceptance of the new daughter-in-law.

She took several sleeping pills on the morning of the second day, prior to the most important function—the actual marriage rites. She was incredibly lucky that the sleeping pills did not cause serious or even terminal damage, and she had her way: she stayed out of all events. Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned, because hell knows when to get the hell out of the way.

That morning, a panic-stricken bride’s mother, a widow, and the groom’s father hustled my wife and me into accepting the role of groom’s parents’ proxies. Normally, paternal uncles and their spouses or maternal uncles and their spouses—in that order of preference—substitute when a father or a matter is missing for reasons of disability, divorce or death. In the total absence of blood relatives, any distance removed, of the groom and the self-imposed infirmity of the groom’s mother, my wife and I were the nearest “relatives”, even if we were twice removed inlaws with no blood involved.

And so I, a father of one son and one daughter, got a son married off and still have one son and one daughter who are unmarried. Go figure.

All of a sudden, I am beginning to feel my age. I mean, you know, I am probably looking at proxy grandchildren in the near future.

Later this week, the groom will be hosting a reception in his town. You better believe it is going to be thinly attended. You can safely assume that people who do attend will do so for the gossip value. You can also lay odds that once the groom leaves town—he works abroad and will take his wife with him when he gets back to work—the outstanding folks of his town will swab his house and all roads leading to it with cow dung. Hindus believe that sacred cow poop deep cleanses sullied places. Like Brahman areas where another caste has trod.

I fancy they are not going to stone the couple to death now or in the foreseeable future, but they have other fatwas to declare. The young couple and the proxy grandchildren that I anticipate are condemned to a life of exclusion. From caste to outcast: quite possibly a fate worse than death by stoning.

I guess every religion flourishes around a strong pillar of intolerance. You agree?

P.S.: Writing this post has been kind of cathartic for me, and you may need some relief, too, after reading my crap. Hope you enjoy this video, even if you have seen it before.

  • Love this post! I hope the couple defies tradition and lead a very happy and fulfilling life together. 🙂

  • venkyiyer58

    Jenni Gate:They can, if they stay away from their relatives and the traditional areas of domination of their castes.

  • proboscis

    Interesting. I can translate this very easily into Portuguese culture. Just replace “caste” by “social class”, water down the attitudes a bit and it’s done. These thigs are the same in all cultures, they are “wrapped” differently but the “present” inside is the same.

  • venkyiyer58

    proboscis: Of course. Like you say, discrimination exists everywhere, only the basis may differ. In America, it is money. The billionaires are the Brahmans.

  • Biswanath Bhattacharya

    Extremely well written! Hope that the couple lead a good life and it may be possible if they shun their relatives!

  • BB

    Excellent- Superbly scripted. I wish they stay away from their relatives

    • venkyiyer58

      Thank. Time will tell.

How to marry wrong, or going from caste to outcast

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 4 min