The Engagement Trip

Tuesday, September 20, 1988

The date fixed, we made our plans to travel to Kerala for the official function with a good friend Priya Menon who has been a good steady friend from Kodai. My mother made arrangements in Kottayam, Kerala at a cousins place which has always been our base location every visit to Kerala as we did not have a “Tharavadu” or family home since the partition and subsequent sale by the four brothers .

The three of us took a bus on 18th from Kodai to Kottayam via Theni, Cumbum, Kumily down the ghats and tea gardens which is where my maternal family is from and on to Kottayam. Jaya and Priya took another bus from Kottayam to her cousin’s place in Chengannur. The plan was to assemble at the house for the “vakkukodukkal” or “giving the word” which was the equivalent of a formal engagement.

On the scheduled day about 60 of my relatives landed up and there was a general buzz in the air. At the scheduled time a group of about 30 descended and took up the seating in the room. I was in the kitchen generally hanging about, when someone shouted for me and told me that I was wanted up front. I had a rubber band in my hand and took it along with me to the room. I walked in and took the only available seat, a four-legged stool and sat leaning against a wall. As I sat there twisting the band around my fingers making various shapes, sweeping the room with my eyes trying to spot Jaya in the midst of strange faces, Priya being the only exception. I did not see Jaya and thought she might be in a different room. I felt eyes looking at me, checking me out and hushed whispers. I was told later by Jaya that I looked too young to get married although I was turning 26 on the 22nd of September, which was to be the original day of this event.

Then the date of the wedding was decided by the elders and Jan 9 of the following year was finalized. Location: Bangalore. I did not know much about the conversations between the elders, who left soon after lunch was served. One of the first question I was asked was why did not Jaya come for the event as all the relatives wanted to see her as they may not make the trip to Bangalore for the wedding. I had no response as I had no clue of the formalities of an engagement. It was my only one, dammit!

We were due to go back couple of days later and we were to meet at the Kottayam bus stand for the return trip to Kodai. My mother had a brainwave and asked me to bring her to my cousins before our return trip which was not on reserved bus tickets. I went to the bus stand where the Chengannur bus arrived and told her of my mother’s request. She was in travel clothes (jeans and a top) and did not want to meet my folks like that, but I forced her to come anyway. My mother met her and asked whether she had a saree with her. Fortunately she had one and was ushered into a inner room where she changed and presented herself for a scrutiny much like mine. She was happy with the positive comments and our hearts settled down with the acceptance. On checking with her as to her absence the previous day, she clarified that in her family the girl does not come and will accompany the troupe only if requested by the boy’s people. Different traditions in different parts, who was to know?!

Since our return trip was through my uncle’s home among the tea gardens, my mother took another decision to visit him before we went back. We spent the night there (not together, mind you) and took a break at the Hotel Ambady, Thekkady to celebrate my birthday before we went back to Kodaikanal to excitedly break the news to the rest and plan for the wedding in four months away. Jaya did get a sounding off from her mother, berating the lack of virtue of spending the night at the boy’s place before the wedding but it was a case of too little, too late

A big thank you to my cousin Sunnychayan and his family for always being the gracious host and all the good memories and holidays that I have had at my maternal side of the family, the tea gardens and factory and the stories there.

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