An Analysis of South Indian Brahmin Wedding Feasts

Growing up, life was full of mysteries waiting to be unraveled. The wedding feasts I used to attend represented one such enduring mystery. The dictionary meaning of “feast” had led me to expect a lavish spread of dishes, while actual experience was utterly at odds with that expectation. There were quite a few dishes, but the course that was served first and which overwhelmed everything else was rice and saaru (rasam). Everything else served later was in small quantities. A young boy with a small tummy, a habit of eating slowly and an ill-developed strategic approach would easily get overwhelmed by the feast. He would find, as I did, that the meal he had at the feast was less rich than the what he consumed on an average day.

Let me illustrate this point for my North Indian readers. How would you like it if you were lured to a feast and served copious amounts of dal with rotis, and when you were almost sated, minuscule amounts of paneer butter masala and malai kofta were plonked on your plate? The wedding feasts I attended were like that.

I grew to adulthood without the puzzle being solved. I learnt to cope by consuming less saaru, eating faster and by developing a better appetite. In time, as the cares of the world began to weigh down on me, mysteries that challenged me during my boyhood receded from my consciousness till the debates over Sainath’s and Utsa Patnaik’s assertions that the poor are consuming less food brought back the memories.

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Taboos Are Funny Things-II

My wife loves wearing sleeveless dresses. In fact, it would be accurate to say that she has a fetish for them.  If she ever gets  salwar kameez with a long sleeve, she won’t wear it till it has been altered so that the sleeve is short enough for her comfort. I once gifted her a nice full-sleeved shirt and to my horror she wanted to mutilate it to sleevelessness. it took all my powers at emotional blackmail to dissuade her.

There is one exception, however. Once while discussing how she wanted a saree’s blouse to be stitched, I suggested a sleeveless blouse. She looked at me with disgust and said: “That is what whores wear!”.

My guess is that this is what happened. A generation back, the saree was the only dress for most people. In North India, fashionable women took to wearing sleeveless blouses. In  South India, they did not, and  wearing a sleeveless blouse was considered daring and mildly disreputable. Over a generation, young women over most of India have made the transition from sarees to other forms of dress. So, a woman in South India who wants to look fashionable will wear  a sleeveless kameez. This means that if you have grown up in a town in Karnataka, it is entirely possible that you have never seen a woman wearing a sleeveless blouse with a saree. The only exception would be whores. Of course, all this will change with the introduction of the Tata Nano.