Tony Deyal: Here comes the bride
When Indians came to Trinidad and other Caribbean countries as indentured immigrants, they brought many of their customs with them, some of which have still not been completely excised, including arranged marriages. In the old days, some scams were perpetrated, which led to 'Indian' weddings earning a reputation for violence and sometimes mayhem. In the village of Carapichaima, where we lived until I was 11, weddings were associated with alcohol and fights, sometimes over trivial things, but other times over matters considered serious, including the dowries paid to the groom to persuade him to complete the ceremony, which was not actually expected to be consummated on the night of the wedding, but about ten days after the blessed event.
In terms of the violence, I remember when at a family wedding, which, fortunately, I had not attended because I had a cricket match to play, the groom's family, who came from another village were incensed with how they was treated. They drew their sticks (lathis) and cutlasses (pronounced poo-yahs) from their cars and attacked the bride's side of the family. My Auntie, who it seemed was most vocal in her condemnation of the groom's family, had to jump from an upstairs window and damaged both ankles, proving that in regard to her argument with the visiting armed delegation she didn't have a leg to stand one.
Indian tradition had it that a period of about ten days must elapse before the wedding could be consummated, and to ensure that no hanky-panky took place to disturb the rhythm of the Universe, not to mention the bedsprings of the bridal bed, a chaperone (called a 'lookhanie') was engaged to accompany the bride to her new place of abode and ensure that by staying between both parties, night and day for three days, and ensuring that the bride was always in her sight, especially when the groom was around, the customs were duly observed. The bride would then return to her parents' home for a week and then sent back to her husband who, by that time, would be in a fit state for appreciating and exercising his marital rights.
As time passed, both brides and grooms started to rebel, and many
stories abound about the wedding car stopping in the middle of the cane fields because of flat tires and engine malfunctions that necessitated emptying the vehicle so that repairs could be duly effected. Many a 'lookhanie' was abandoned as the bride, groom and their entourage took off minus the martial watchdog. It was a case of who most needed to go for cane.
As my father said, what made some 'bad licks' pass was the practice of switching brides at the wedding ceremony. He claimed to have personally experienced it, but refused to give details except that when it happened, he and his family stormed out of the wedding. Whether their departure was accompanied by hostilities remained unsaid.
The story usually went like this. A man in the village had several daughters, one of whom was the prettiest girl around. The village's official matchmaker, generally in league with or in the pay of the father (although receiving money as well from the groom's side), would arrange a meeting of both parties, where the prospective bride was displayed to the satisfaction of the bridegroom and his parents. Given the beauty of the young lady, the groom generally could not wait for his wedding day to come. The marriage was duly arranged, but since the groom was not allowed to see the bride until after the wedding, so heavily wrapped and covered was she in the various garments, the switch was not detected until after the wedding, and at times, even after the consummation. Some grooms and their families sought to return the bride, and fights usually broke out or vendettas initiated. Lathis, cutlasses and even guns sometimes marred the bucolic charm of these rural confrontations. Other grooms were so drunk or, as St Paul phrased it, 'burning', that by that time it did not matter to them whether Good Friday fell on a Monday or the bride was a 'ringer', especially given that she was already beringed.
I am sure the same or similar events unfold in India, especially given that brides tend to wear saris. However, despite that arrangements have been consummated before the marriage ceremony is completed, some brides are picky. About a month ago, a bride in Uttar Pradesh married a wedding guest after the original groom had a seizure and collapsed at the wedding venue. The groom's family had not revealed that the groom was epileptic. The bride's family threw a fit. While the groom was rushed to a hospital in Rampur town, the bride asked one of the wedding guests to step in and married him.
The one that takes all the condiments and savouries is the story of the Indian bride who walked out of her wedding ceremony after the groom failed to solve a simple math problem. The bride tested the groom on his math skills, and when he got the sum wrong, she walked out. The question she asked: How much is 15 plus six? His reply: 17. The groom's family, who never counted on something like that happening, tried persuading the bride to return, but she refused. She said the groom had misled them about his education.
"The groom's family kept us in the dark about his poor education," said Mohar Singh, the bride's father.
"Even a first-grader can answer this." Local police mediated between the families and both sides returned all the gifts and jewelry that had been exchanged before the wedding. Unfortunately, they did not include a calculator.
- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the wedding was suspicious from the beginning. Something just didn't add up.