Today is my Grandmother’s 7th day death anniversary. And it reminded me of an incident she narrated to us kids – about her marriage.

The story of how my Grandma (hereafter referred to as ‘Amma’) got married is rather amusing. Eons ago (well, to be honest, must be the 1940s), Amma was at the tender age of 18, and being the oldest of the flock, had to be married off. This was my Great-Grandma’s decision (referred to as ‘Ammamma’ from now on). Now, Amma was supposedly the Miss World of the neighbourhood (in her own words, not mine) because she was constantly being picked to give flowers to visiting Bishops, for any special functions at Church and so on. So, once she reached 18, it was imperative that she be married off.

One fine morning, a matchmaker came home with the news that a prospective groom’s family was coming that day to meet the girl’s family. The boy was supposed to be fair-skinned and with loads of property and cash. Now in those days, when the prospective groom’s family arrived, they would be served the most sumptuous lunch (with chicken, no less!) to indicate the financial affluence of the girl’s family. Now, the family came, had lunch, saw the Girl and went off, indicating that they would tell the matchmaker about their decision. A few days later, it was intimated that the family liked the girl.

Again, a few days later, the same matchmaker came with another proposal – this time, he warned that the boy was dark. Being from a fair-skinned stock, Ammamma was apprehensive, but decided to let the family see her beloved daughter.

As usual, the family came, had lunch and saw the girl. They too informed that they liked the girl. In those days, the boy would never come to see the girl. The very first time the boy and girl get to see each other is at their own wedding! So, now Ammamma was in a quandary – on one side there was a fair boy and on the other side was a dark boy – both vying for her daughter. The issue was that, Appappan (my great-grandfather) had died one year ago, and Ammamma desperately needed someone at the helm of the house, someone who could take good decisions in matters pertaining to the family. And her hopes were pinned on her future son-in-law.

She contacted the matchmaker, and posed the question to him – ‘Who among the boys is more responsible and trustworthy?’ Without any hesitation, the matchmaker answered – ‘The dark boy.’ Ammamma now wanted the boy to come and see the girl. When the dark boy was informed of this situation, he flatly refused and replied – “If they want me to come and see the girl, then this marriage is not going to take place.” It was deemed as an insult if the boy had to go see the girl in those days. And thus it was decided to marry off her daughter to the dark boy.

Chatta Mundu and Melmundu
Chatta Mundu and Melmundu

The traditional attire of a Syrian Christian woman was the ‘Chatta and Mundu’, and the first time the girl would get to wear one was at her wedding. After that, it would become her daily attire. Until then she would wear long skirts and blouse. Thus, wedding preparations were in full swing. Amma was fitted out with a brand new Chatta and Mundu with a Melmundu decorated with embroidery, for her wedding dress. Also, Syrian Christian women of those days never wear a bindi; instead they crush a red fire ant on the forehead and this leaves a sting and a mark like a bindi, thus bypassing the Church’s decree to abhor bindi.

During Ammamma’s time, brides were also supposed to get their upper ears pierced for a huge golden ring called “Mekkamothiram” to be worn. Luckily, this practice had dwindled by the time

Mekka Mothiram
Notice the huge Mekka Mothiram dangling in her ears

Amma was getting married and so she didn’t have to endure it.

On the day of the wedding, the groom’s family set out in bullock carts to the girl’s family church. Again, in those days, coming in bullock carts for the wedding was seen akin to coming in a Roll Royce today. Thus, they were married and they set off towards the groom’s home. Amma was accompanied by several of her aunts and they stayed for about a week at the groom’s house to get her comfortable at the place.

On the last night of their sojourn, Amma noticed them moving her belongings to her husband’s room and wondered why that was so. She was having a great deal of fun with all her aunts and her sis-in-law. She asked her sister-in-law, “Nathune*, why don’t we all stay here like this?”. Sis-in-law, though younger than Amma by a year, answered that she was supposed to stay with her husband from now onwards. In Amma’s words, she refused to go and stay in that room; and her aunts forced her to go in and locked the door from outside J. Unfortunately, no matter how much we prodded she wouldn’t say what happened inside after that 😀

*Nathun : term for sister-in-law in Malayalam