The Rohtak that I saw from the balcony of my home was the city of marriage processions at least for a quarter of the year. The marriage season in North typically begins during Navratras in October and continues till mid-January. Those three and a half months were the busiest months for me.
I was a part of all marriages in which the Baraat crossed Bhiwani Stand. No, of course I wasn’t invited to them. But remember, life placed me at the most strategic position in the whole city. You had to cross Bhiwani Stand to go from anywhere to anywhere in Rohtak of those days. Or, let’s just say that my world was too small to account for anything that maybe proceeding outside of Bhiwani Stand. For the not so innocent bystander perched on a Balcony in Rohtak, if there was a marriage procession in Rohtak going to the bride’s place, it was going through Bhiwani Stand. Period.
I would be anywhere in our first floor home and a sound of drums mixed with pan-pam-pan-pam would reverberate down my ear drums. It was a music that strangely confused itself with the tune of the latest Bollywood song. But whatever it was, it was blaringly inspiring enough for me to run to the balcony. I would open the door to the balcony, stretch my neck out, look for any stray monkeys and on finding none, take the first scared step into the world just waiting for my blessings. Well, stray monkeys is another story and I will write about that later. So there I was on the balcony, thoroughly entertained by the phenomenon that was termed as essential to express happiness at finding your arranged soulmate.
In the procession, first came the guys who carried the wooden stands with tube-lights and bulbs on their heads. These men formed the perimeter of the procession. These lights and bulbs were linked to an electrical generator. The generator grumbled loudly enough to add that extra power to the thumping music. The two scrawny men in tatters would push the generator on a wooden trolley at the end of the baraat. These guys looked deeply contrasted in destiny with the guys who danced around lights. The next concentric row in the procession were the the bandwallas. They played musical instruments incongruently to get out something close to the tunes of a Bollywood number. These guys were dressed in red and white uniforms resembling something that I later learnt was the uniform of Army bands. A guy scratching his throat out on bollywood songs would be standing on an open air platform kind of thing with four wheels, a steering wheel, and a driver to run the show. It looked like a small stage on wheels, rumbling slowly to tone down the singer. The bandwallas walked in two rows, ahead of the singer’s stage. In between the two rows were the men in the baraat, kids, brothers, friends and uncles competing to catch something up in the air that wasn’t visible to me and wouldn’t have been visible to their blurred eyes. By the way, this game of jumping up was supposedly in tune with the singer and the band and it was called dancing. If my dad would follow me to the balcony, he would say, ‘pi rakhi hai khoton ne, akal toh hai nahin. Abhi ucchlenge, baad me ulti karenge.’ (These donkeys are drunk. They don’t have sense. They will jump high right now but vomit later.)
Behind the group of bandwallas and dancing guys, walked a group of some elderly men, kids, and mostly women who wore every golden or red thing they could find in their wardrobes. The doting relatives threw coins and small currency notes in the air. The beggars and urchins lingered with the crowd to collect that money. The groom, sitting on a she-horse, wore a head gear that made his head look like a bag of pebbles sitting over a human body. On top of it, jasmine garlands were stitched at the front of this head gear to cover the groom’s face. The horse-owner would be walking with horse’s harness in his hand, keeping her under control and moving at a leisurely pace with which the whole procession moved ahead.
I loved them all. They had something in them that no one outside of a marriage procession had. Bystanders looked at them, traffic let them pass and no petty thief would jump at the jewelry that women wore. No one would snatch the wad of notes from the men. No one dared object to the crackers they burst right in the middle of the road. Forget objection, onlookers were enamored, enchanted, entertained or not interested. But no one ever was disturbed. Even if the procession was on in the middle of the night, no one jumped out of their beds to shower them with obscene words. Even if it would block traffic, it was spared all the road rage. A marriage procession was greeted with an accommodative spirit by all.
A marriage procession was also greeted with curiosity by women. Women liked to see if the groom, or whatever they could see of him from the dangling flowers of his head gear, was handsome. I have no idea why they were interested seeing in the groom, but this interest bordered on the verge of obsessive compulsive disorder. It wasn’t just about the groom. My mom and all the women I overheard when we went to a marriage party would not leave for home till they saw the faces of bride, the groom, their ritual of exchanging garlands, and then discussed their anatomy, physiology, clothes, and make-up.
Anyways, coming back to the marriage processions I saw from my balcony, I remember the one I watched with my Naani Amma, my mom’s mom, whom I call Amma. She was visiting us and I was finishing my homework when I heard the familiar sound of drums. Now I had never seen Amma so excited. She almost dropped the cup from which she was drinking tea. My Dadu, that’s my dad’s dad was sitting right there too. So, for reasons I was too young to understand, my usually talkative and hyper-active as a kid Amma was supposed to be demure, restrained and peaceful if Dadu was around. I learnt much later that it’s called izzat and lihaaz from a wife’s folks to a husband’s folks. Amma was so excited that for once she let her veil of control slip and shouted at me as I ran to the balcony. ‘Guddu, guddu, mainu leke nahin jayengi baraat vekhan?’ (Won’t you take me to see the baraat?)
When Amma asked you something like that, that too with Dadu around, you didn’t stop and grab her hand and walk to the balcony. Instead, you came back and asked her, ‘Amma, baraat dekhne chaloge?’
I didn’t wait for her answer though; neither did she give me one. The moment I asked her that question, I ran and she rushed behind me, startling Dadu and tearing all her efforts in image-building.
It was a bigger than usual baraat with almost fifty men dancing and playing music. We both clapped. Amma could hardly contain herself for the first fifteen minutes during which we saw only the dancing men filling the road ahead of our balcony. Then came a huge group of women in the baraat. Amma pinched my arm, ‘hun dulha vekhna, inni soni baraat hai’. (It’s a beautiful procession; I can’t wait to see the groom.)
Could any woman of her era resist watching the Indian masculinity, expressed in a tall groom riding a strong she-horse with élan? I doubt. The groom came, a short and thin guy on a small horse, wearing the usual head gear. My interest happily went back to my homework. But Amma was crestfallen. Everything she had risked her reputation for ended in one glance at the groom. She turned to go back and repair what she had left behind and met my Mom on the way. When my Mom asked her why she looked so sullen, she answered, ‘kutti jiddi ghodi si te addha maraya dulha si.’ (The horse was as big as a dog and the groom was so weak and small that he looked half-dead.)