Sarma garu, as he was respectfully called by everybody in the little hamlet by the sea was a man who took everything in his stride. Nothing mattered too much to him, he was what the present generation would call ‘cool’. If the rickshaw arrived late, he would simply shrug his shoulders and ask Ramulu if there had been an emergency. Ramulu would look sheepish and mumble a denial. How could he tell revered Sarma garu that he was nursing a hangover from last night’s excesses at the toddy shop? A fruity odour that assailed the saintly Sarma garu’s nostrils told him the true story. Sarma garu would smile to himself and wonder when these people would learn.
Sarma garu extended this ‘live and let live’ philosophical tenet to his family as well. When his oldest son, at the age of eighteen, fell in love with the village belle, all of sixteen years of age, he gave his consent to their wedding readily. A more worldly-wise Anasuyamma, the long suffering spouse of Sarma garu, insisted on an engagement first, that lasted a year before the child-like couple tied the knot. The engagement was a trying period for both families as chaperones would give up the sacred duty entrusted to them, because they simply couldn’t keep up. When helpful well-wishers approached Sarma garu and tried to tell him of their exploits, he would smile and say Chinna pillalu! Young children! The families heaved a sigh of relief as the day of the wedding dawned. And that wedding, that wedding was a sequence out of children’s make-believe world of play. Bommalapelli. The wedding of dolls. Really, the entire hamlet and other guests were taken aback by the antics of the bride and groom who refused to follow the priest’s instructions. The priest looked to Sarma garu for support, but Sarma garu was laughing the loudest.
The second son decided he didn’t want anything to do with a high school education and happily settled for a mechanic’s job at the local repair garage. The priestly Sarma garu did not bat an eyelid and gave his approval. Children should be allowed to do whatever they wanted. It was their life, after all. When this boy fell in love with the daughter of the head mechanic, Sarma garu gave his consent to their wedding as well, despite the different caste the bride was from. All these are man-made barriers, Vasudhaivakutumbakam, the world is but one family, he mused wisely to people who looked up to him as if he were the Lord incarnate.
The youngest boy, Venkatesh, was the apple of their eye. Anasuyamma doted on him. Sarma garu loved the boy to distraction, for he symbolized everything that Sarma garu had aspired for, all his life. The boy was extremely brilliant in studies, prepared night and day for the civil services, got a decent rank and was all set to become the ‘collector’ of the neighbouring district. Sarma garu was proud of all his achievements and when the boy wanted to get married to the postmaster’s daughter, he gave his blessing. After all, the girl was educated, beautiful and from a vaidiki family. The postmaster was a learned man and spent the better part of his salary on books. English, Hindi and Telugu novels decorated the shelves of their spartan home. The postmaster would declare -I cannot afford to give a dowry to my daughter. My books are all the wealth I possess.
Sarma garu approved. Wherever Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning reigned, Goddess Lakshmi , the goddess of wealth and prosperity was bound to dance attendance!
And so we received the wedding invitation. I decided to attend the wedding with my daughter for I held Sarma garu in high esteem and he was like a father figure to us all. He had been my mentor all through school and college. The muhurtam, the auspicious moment, of tying the knot was at three am, in the wee hours of dawn. A disgruntled Supraja sat by my side, evidently resenting losing out on her sleep. I stifled a yawn and tried to strike up a conversation with the oldest daughter-in-law, now the mother of teenage twins.
It was time for the sacred ‘taali’ to be tied by the groom around the neck of the bride. The taali had two pendants, the pusti and one, each, had to be given by the bride and the groom’s family. There was a commotion when Anasuyamma discovered that the bride’s family had not got their pendant, the sacred pusti. This was not the time to raise questions. She hastily looked for a turmeric root that could be used as a substitute for a pusti, the pendant. The tray with the green tender coconut and other auspicious elements was brought to Sarma garu for his blessings. Sarma garu, took one look at the solitary gold pusti twinkling away on the sacred thread smeared with turmeric paste and the humble turmeric root on the other thread, and froze . Anasuyamma tried to explain knowing well that her husband would brush her concerns aside, saying ‘Paravaledu‘ -it doesn’t matter.
Sarma garu looked up at Anasuyamma and a mad gleam entered his eyes.
A resounding crash of a brass metal plate hitting the floor brought all the conversation to an abrupt end. I had been taking a selfie, at this very moment, with my daughter and this photograph captured our shock at the amiable Sarma garu displaying such uncharacteristic behaviour. The mellifluous notes of the nadaswaram came to a halt and there was absolute silence in the hall.
Sarma garu refused to let the wedding go on. All the village elders, family elders, even the priest pleaded with him , but to no avail. Sarma garu did not listen to reason. He kept saying, how can a wedding happen with one pendant. Were they so poor that they could not afford a simple gold pendant for his Venkatesh? How could his bright illustrious son tie a humble turmeric root around the neck of his bride?
Matters had to be taken into hand now, for the bride burst into tears and sat immobile in front of a thousand guests, humiliated beyond words. The groom sat statue-like , pale and expressionless. He couldn’t say anything to his father, for Sarma garu was beyond reason and he could not leave his bride’s side. He reached across and held her hand. They sat there for an hour. Their friends sat around them in a circle of support. But what would happen next? It was like the scene from a movie. Unbelievable, unheard of in this age and time. My daughter perked up, all sleep forgotten. She fumed indignantly, asking- Why doesn’t the bride walk away? Where is her self respect?
Sarma garu‘s unpredictable behaviour shocked everybody. How could he have lost it, over such a trifle? Surely, he could have been the understanding father he had always been. What had triggered it off? Nobody knew. Sarma garu never referred to this matter.
The wedding? It resumed after an hour. Since no goldsmith would open shop till eleven in the morning, a gold pendant could not be procured from a shop. My aunt, Savithramma, had a brand new pendant made for her daughter’s wedding that was to be solemnized in a month. She went home in the wee hours of the morning escorted by the relieved postmaster and his family and gave the pendant to them. She said she was glad that she could be of help for, nobody ought to begin a new life together under such circumstances. She had a daughter, she could feel her parents’ angst. Well, Savithramma was the hero who saved the day.
But nobody considered Sarma garu as the villain. Old people can be unpredictable, they said, shaking their heads, and returned home after breakfast and coffee the next morning.