The Comrade’s Wedding

 Our boarding mistress was the person who first introduced me to the topic of communism. It was somewhere after Josef Stalin died and Nikita Khrushchev succeeded him in the Soviet Union. She told us horror stories of all that Stalin had done and all that his successor would continue to do as a communist leader. At age eleven, it was difficult to figure out how it would affect me and how an evil communist would scale the high walls of the convent and come to persecute the boarders.

 Then one day not long after that, there was much excitement in my granduncle’s house – his granddaughter, my cousin was about to get married and she was going to marry a man who was a communist. My granduncle was thrilled but others in the household (like our boarding mistress) had their own intangible concerns. In those days, nobody really understood communist ideology but everyone cuddled a negative prejudice.

 In the weeks leading up to the wedding, the prospective bridegroom was at my grand- uncle’s house every evening. I watched him from a distance as he sat in the open drawing room talking to the elders. There were no similarities between him and the commies that the boarding mistress had lectured about.  He spoke little and had little opportunity to speak to his bride as well. Instead everyone spoke about him – he was a communist. That was the protagonist in the story.

 They had a night wedding in April 1954. Hundreds of relatives, neighbours and friends were invited to the marriage ceremony. The grounds around their house were enclosed with pandals[i], decorated and illuminated. The grandeur of the event was unforgettable! The couple stood on a carpet within four floral pillars. Each pillar was made of several white flower garlands that dropped down from the ceiling of the pandal and were held in place on the floor. I stood on the steps at an elevation and enjoyed every bit of the brief ceremony. I don’t recall what the bride wore, but the groom was in a double mundu[ii] and a white shirt with long sleeves.

 The traditional wedding sadhya[iii] was lavish and the finest I had ever eaten. It was served on banana leaves that were laid on the floor. My leaf was so large that I had to gather up my long light- green taffeta skirt, kneel on the lower half and stretch out to get the food on the top half of the leaf. It was worth every bit of the exercise.

 A few days later the married couple left Calicut for Madras en route to their new home in Bombay on what was then known as the Mangalore Mail. My mother took me to the station to see them off and we waited till the first class coach was attached to the train coming from Mangalore. This time I remembered what she was wearing – a  red silk sari[iv] with a black blouse that had a lattice window on the left, a little above her waist. That open patch on her blouse fascinated me for years!

 Back at boarding school after the summer break, I never told the mistress that there was possibly a card-carrying-communist in our family. Three years on, a Communist-led government began governing the state.





[i] Temporary structures put up during weddings and festivals

[ii] Seamless garment tied at the waist

[iii] A banquet

[iv] Seamless woman’s garment