Our wedding was fixed for 29th December. The year was 1969!
This was an era in which ‘love marriages’ were frowned upon. Parents would filter candidates, and check whether the girl and boy had similar backgrounds and educational qualifications, also whether the boy had a good job or family wealth. When all the I’s were dotted and all the T’s were crossed, the girl and boy would meet and give their final approval. This is probably why most marriages of our era lasted. The ‘love’ quotient came after marriage!
Once the ‘boy and girl’ had decided on their life partner it was up to the families to sit together and thrash out the details such as: date and time, location and church, who will host the reception, and most importantly the size of the dowry.
The word ‘dowry’ has unfortunate connotations as there has been misuse over the years. However, a dowry was the girl’s inheritance given in advance, in order to help the young couple start life. A sensible and practical arrangement.
My parents, having lived most of their married life outside Kerala, did not have the wherewithal to find a bride for their older son. They were relieved that their son had found his own and absolved them of this responsibility!
Since Mrs. Mary Kuruvila, Premela’s mother, had lost her husband a few years earlier, she asked her sister and brother in law, Mrs. & Mr. M.M. Philip to mediate on her behalf. This was fortuitous as my parents knew the M.M. Philips from our days in Patna, and later in Delhi. Mr. M.M. Philip, belonged to the prestigious Indian Civil Service (ICS) and was highly resourceful.
The wedding invitation is traditionally delivered to close relatives personally by the parents. I am not sure if my parents did that but Mrs. Kuruvila drove down from Ooty and called on her relatives in Kerala to hand over the invitation card.
“Premela is getting married on 29th December, you and your family must come!”
“Oh! That’s wonderful news! Who is the lucky boy?”
“His name is Philip John. He works in J. Thomas & Co, a Tea Company in Cochin.”
Some had no clue of who I was. However, I am told that some others expressed surprise.
“You mean, Philji!?”, their voice taking on an edge, which was intended to create a sense of apprehension in Mrs. Kuruvila’s mind.
I was born at my maternal grandparents’ home in Thiruvella and had spent my early childhood there. My grandmother was delighted and her home became a hive of activity from the day after Christmas. She put out fabulous meals for uncles, and aunts, and cousins arriving from far and near.
This was the first wedding of a grandchild in the Rev. P.J. Philip family. My father’s younger brother P.S. Philip took charge of operations and conducted my wedding in a memorable way!
Premela’s people stayed in Karukachal where the M. M. Philips had a Rubber estate. I drove over on the 27th and invited Premela to where we were staying. Traditionally, the bride does not visit the bridegroom’s place prior to the wedding. But by now it was clear to everyone that we were not going to follow tradition!
She was warmly received and my parents met their daughter-in-law to be for the first time! My parents were delighted with Premela and congratulated me on my wise choice.
As mentioned in an earlier post my JT colleague Jani Uthup had come down from Calcutta for the wedding. He and I had a bit of a bachelor’s party the night before and I was a bit hung over on the morning of the wedding. The household came alive early with my grandmother knocking on my door. She beamed as she put a gold chain and cross around my neck. That was a touching moment as my grandmother had brought me up in my early years.
It is customary for the family to gather at home for a time of prayer and blessing before the service. Usually the officiating priest would come to read a passage from the Bible and pray. I remember Mr. & Mrs. Philip Ninan, parents of Ajit and Rajit, being there. They were like my local guardians during my early years at work and had sprung me out of a couple of difficult situations.
At the end of the ceremony at home everyone made their way to the Thollasery Church and I awaited to receive my bride to be, at the altar. She arrived in a beautiful white silk sari, escorted by an uncle. Premela looked resplendent as a bride!
We said our “I do’s” and I put a ring on her finger, tied the minnu (thali) around her neck, and draped her with a red silk sari, as is the custom. At this point, there is a change in the bridesmaids – a relative of the bride officiates till the thali is tied, when she is replaced by a lady related to the groom. This is to symbolise that the bride is now part of the groom’s family.
We walked down the aisle as man and wife to receive greetings from family and have pictures taken. It was not like weddings these days when a whole film crew takes over and gets in the way of the priests and audience. They then produce an elaborate video set to music but I don’t know if anyone ever looks at it once the wedding is done and dusted!
T.C. Satyanath, Richard Warren (who had flown in from London for the wedding), and Jani Uthup represented my employers, J. Thomas & Co at the wedding.
For the wedding reception Premela changed into the red sari I had draped her with. This is a traditional symbol of the bride coming out of her father’s headship and moving to the groom’s.
The reception was a sit down lunch in the school hall close by. The menu consisted of Fish Moilee and bread for starters, followed by Duck Roast, with rice and accoutrements. The final course was the wedding cake and payasam (a Malayalee sweet). Premela’s mother had provided a feast for the guests! Nowadays many Kerala wedding receptions consist of Biriyani and a dollop of melting ice cream.
There was a final ceremony at home. The bride and bridegroom were given a cup of sweetened milk to drink. I found this to be the most difficult part!
Then my mother in law put a ring on my finger, and I gave her a silk sari. Strange custom but I guess it signified her accepting me as her son in law, while I thanked her for giving her daughter – to have and to hold, from this day forward.
Well, that was exactly 51 years ago!