I can claim to be an expert on the Goan marriage, I have been to the altar thrice, but the bells have pealed to herald another’s wedding. The chimes have got nothing to do with the rationale of giving the sobriquet of Bestman to the person not marrying. Being a Bestman has given me an opportunity to be part of Goan weddings without having to bear the ring of the aftermath.
A Goan marriage is not made in heaven; it’s the sum of many choices, parts and roles. Though choosing a mate is key, there are many other crossroads like creating the right religious ceremony, venue choice, menu selection for the reception, the music and the ambience. It takes family veterans to pull this off.
If love hasn’t blinded and beguiled the eligible women and men to the altar, families step in. Photographs of the prospective bride/groom are made and distributed to match – makers with a CV and a brief on what the family is looking for. They are not official marriage bureaus, but members of society interested in repaying the favour, usually housewives or retired women, with a few males.
Match-makers have a genius to file and extricate information. Their elephantine memory reaches back in time to get details for possible matches. Like putting together a jig-saw puzzle, they pick up snippets like family background, education, ambition, willingness to relocate, etc., to find the right fit. On finding something suitable the match-maker informs both sides. With the surfeit of information provided in the CV’s combined with the photo, families begin making discrete enquiries about each other to verify each other’s credentials. If all things align a meeting is arranged between the boy and girl by the matchmaker or the boy’s family.
In Goa these meetings are held at the coffee shop of Hotel Mandovi. Old fashioned families send a chaperone along with the girl or her parent’s get a discrete table. The choice of place shows the level of detail that goes into the matchmaking process. The place is spacious and service slow and unobtrusive.
If the tinder shows combustibility the couple spend time peeling the layers trying to get to know each other. Sightings of the couple at feasts are portentous. The engagement is announced and the party is hosted by the girl’s family, it is a family affair – food and alcohol are at their best, served on family cutlery passed down through generations. Rings are exchanged; the couple blushingly oblige a kiss under peer pressure.
This lip-lock heralds the next stage which is the planning for the wedding. Hidden in the mundane of choosing party halls, sifting through invitee lists and comparing menus of other marriages and those offered by caterers are esoteric decisions like gospel readings for the service; decorations for the church and hall; heights of the flower girls and page boys; and attire. All occasions for the couple’s first major fight.
There is the usual fracas of the bridal gown, never has so much money and tears flowed for a piece of cloth that will be worn for a few hours. Things are practical for the groom as a suit can be worn for different occasions. A few days before the wedding each family has the Roas, a Goan version of a haldi ceremony. Konkani songs are sung and the elders of the family bless the boy/girl.
On the Day, relatives gather in the respective houses where a meal is spread and eaten while clothes are ironed, babies bathed and last minute decisions made; in one room beauticians add finishing touches to the ladies. Things swing between chaos and calm. Men who have been through this winepress remember their big day; sharing horror stories. The groom is immune. An official photographer shuttles between the houses photographing pre-decided poses.
The decorated church is now filled with people and the groom waiting for the bride. Not many know the hymns as the nuptials are made special by choosing those rarely sung. This need for ceremonial uniqueness is a ritual followed by everybody. Ultimately, there are commonalities – couples offer, at the altar, things which are dear to them accompanied by a brief explanation. All offer a model of a house (the design will differ) with the prayer for a happy home, the Bible for a prayerful family etc. These can lead to bloopers; for a lawyer’s wedding a copy of the Indian Constitution was offered with the statement that they would ‘try to uphold it in their practise’.
Once the mass is over, people head for the reception joining those who gave the nuptials a miss. The hired MC checks the mike while the band tunes their instruments. The bride and groom go for a short ride in their bedecked car to ensure that they enter to a packed hall.
The band strikes up the ‘Bridal March’ and the couple enter, followed by their proud parents and relatives. They end up at the centre where an elaborate cake has been set up under a larger version of the centre piece. The MC cracks a few recognisable jokes. The cake is cut and the centre piece is manipulated to shower the couple with confetti.
A toast to the couple is raised by a close friend or a family member. The groom does not bat an eyelid as skeletons tumble out of the closet to everyone’s delight. The groom replies, which now includes a vote of thanks to the caterers and band, the Bride also pipes in.
The newly wed couple take the floor for the first dance to a song specially chosen by them. For flawlessness, the couple would have practised their steps before, the parents and then everyone else joins in. The music for the evening, like the attires of the guests, varies from modern to the old.
Snacks include – croquettes, elfin sized rainbow sandwiches, rissois- prawn savouries, cheese toasties etc. The bar does service to the Goan’s love for a good tipple.
The buffet table reflects the Goan’s secular palate. Representatives from various hooved and Piscean species share space with the fowl. The much loved pig comes into its own here; a roasted piglet, dishes like Sorpotel and Cabidela indicate the versatility of this animal vilified in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Salted tongue, rice, Goan bread, prawn curry; Chicken Xacuti find place. There are North Indian vegetarian and recognisable continental dishes.
Desserts include Bebinca, a multilayered egg yolk based sweet; Letria, which is egg based; Dedos-de-Dama, coconut based; san rival, which uses almonds; and Burnt Custard pudding. The North is also represented. In the hurly burly the Matchmaker is quietly thanked and introduced to other families. She also keeps her eyes open for the eligible.
Things wind down by 12. The bride and groom finally have a chance to sit; someone brings leftovers from the buffet for them. It does provide an indication of what life has in store for them – there will be many opportunities for them but only some will finally make it to their plate.
(Lookout for my soon to be published travelogue ’1400 bananas, 76 towns and 1 million people)