Professional Wedding Guest
They were professional wedding guests, two among dozens of the tribe, and they
knew each other as such. In the spirit of the old adage "Two of a trade
never agree" they looked askance at each other when meeting in the same
dining hall on the occasion of a festive wedding. When the hymeneal season
was far off, as in the cold frosty days of winter, they met with a degree
of cordiality and talked genially. But in the wedding season even a distant
glimpse of the other's face made each of them react with a start and when
one confronted the other in a dining hall, "jealousy" was a very mild word
to express the reaction in their minds.
of this chapter may appear a little paradoxical or confusing to those who
are not "to the manner born." Ordinarily, a man or woman assumes the status
of a guest when he or she attends a function in response to an invitation
accorded by the host. One can never be a guest on one's own, i.e. unilaterally.
The number of guests is usually limited and nobody can be a guest on his
own choosing. But Kashmir is a place where the number of guests is never
limited, especially on weddings which are celebrated with feasting on a
large scale. Over a thousand guests have their dinner on the wedding of
even a humble man or woman. Everybody who walks in is entreated to favour
the host by participating in the feast and plates full of savoury food
are sent round to neighbours, friends and relations. Any one can take advantage
of these conditions and assume the status of a guest, and if a person is
gifted with some perseverance, he soon blooms into a professional wedding-guest
and makes the best of the wedding season.
wedding-guest is generally a bachelor out of necessity. This presupposes
a low social and economic level. There is no female living in his house
either as mother, sister or daughter, and he has to cook the meals himself.
This shortcoming also affects the number and nature of his social contacts.
He, therefore, looks forward to the wedding-season as a period of relaxation
from the drudgery of cooking. During these days he is raised to the status
of the vast majority of fellow citizens who have meals cooked for them
by a servant or a female member of the family. He puts on a clean dress
of old-fashioned respectability and he steps into the dining hall in solo
company. Day after day in that season he dines out wherever his fancy carries
him. Though he may feel a slight diffidence while making his debut, in
course of time he is galvanized with confidence and the right of prescription.
When the dinner is over the hosts compare notes to find out who were missed
and they are thus enabled to know who were the `'professional" guests.
This gives tacit recognition to his initiation and if anybody so much as
raises his eyebrows, he can face the person with perfect nonchalance and
even rise to the occasion to make a suitable retort. But the established
professional guests resist the entry of every new member into their fraternity
even as the poets of the past frowned on every aspiring versifier. The
hardened professional guests do not accept the fait accompli till
the new entrant establishes his survival beyond any shadow of doubt.
guests met in the dining hall on the occasion of a wedding when the tastefully
decorated hall was occupied by about 150 other guests accompanying the
bridegroom to witness his winning the lovely bride. Each of the professional
guests shied at the other, though unobtrusively. "What an ill omen! " was
the reaction of each of them, "would that I had never stepped in here."
But it was too late for retreat which would have amounted to utter route
by the enemy and exposing one's identity as a "professional" guest. So
each of them decided in a split-second to stay put and to make the best
of a bad bargain. By a curious herd-instinct they sat on the floor—all
guests in a community dinner of this sort sit on the floor—in rows facing
one another and the two "professional" guests would have been seated face
to face but for the interposition of two "amateur" guests.
was being served and the guests relished the fare if one can relish viands
prepared at a time for the consumption of nearly a thousand guests. To
give utmost satisfaction to the guests the hosts went round requesting
people to accept another helping of one course or another. One of the "professional"
guests was persuaded to accept an additional helping of rice and cauliflower.
The other "professional" guest, the elder of the two, who had missed the
opportunity, rued his loss and could not contain himself with jealousy.
He burst out,
"Look, sirrah! how much will you gormandize? Won't your belly go burst?"
The other was
mentally prepared for an onslaught from his fellow-trader and without in
the least minding the environment—the bridegroom, the wedding guests and
a legion of hosts' he gave himself away when he retorted, "That leather-bag
of your belly has already been stuffed with all that you could lay your
dirty hands upon. I take no notice of the ravings of pariah-dogs or uninvited
guests like you."
This was a
grave provocation and the first was hardly worth his salt if he pocketed
this insult. He retaliated befittingly and in fact overshort the mark.
The festive dining hall was converted into a fish-market with everybody
looking in the direction of the two uninvited guests who gesticulated and
exchanged filthy words. The hosts considered this ugly development as an
unfavourable omen. The father of the bridegroom concurred and one of them
led the two guests by the ear out of the dining hall.
It was a situation
never dreamt of by the "professional" guests even in their blackest nightmares.
They at once forgot the mutual jealousy and helped each other flee the
locality lest they be subjected to further indignity. After being on their
feet for ten or fifteen minutes they felt comparatively relieved and could
not help apportioning blame for this grave insult.
"Had you not
said the foul words . . .," started the younger one to which the first
replied, "What though I said a few harmless words? You are none of the
babes muting in their cradles...."
But this mutual
recrimination did not survive long. Both came to the graver issue of the
insult under which each was smarting. They were exposed as uninvited guests:
the cuckold is reconciled to his lot ordinarily until he suspects people
perceiving his horns; a gossip is happy only till the moment he is sure
he has not overreached himself; and an uninvited guest goes about his business
with a fund of self-confidence till he feels he has betrayed his identity.
It was shocking, no less than the actual insult.
out thus by the ear with a thousand eyes looking upon me," said the elder,
"think of it, my friend. I have been going about thus for forty years,
long before noodles like you started babbling and, I swear, by all that
is dear to me, that all through I was respected almost like a son-in-law.
Now I see why my left eye was throbbing since early morning. If the earth
gaped wide enough I would very much wish to jump in."
one gave him a patient hearing and finally retorted, "I wouldn't talk so
if I were you."
are you upto after that last licking?"
"I have accepted
their challenge and I shall certainly be even with them. I'll have mv retribution."
retribution! What language is that? Are you raving?"
"I am not raving,
but if you follow my ways, you will see how some of them who insulted us
"professional" guest was thinking ahead of the day as one gifted with imagination
does. They had not been turned out by the principal host, the head of the
family whose daughter was being married. He was known as a man of peace,
tolerance and humility. They were led out under the instructions of a cousin
of his who belonged to the nobility and was consequently haughty and clever.
The younger "professional" guest knew that he had a brood of children to
marry in the course of the next few years and he looked forward with robust
optimism to an opportunity for revenge.
They had not
long to wait. The news of the betrothal of the nobleman's son with the
daughter of another nobleman soon spread out and the wedding was being
solemnized the very next year. The bridegroom led the wedding procession
from his own house to that of the bride's father. Hundreds of people participated;
members of the local gentry, high officers of the State and many others.
They had chosen the evening as the propitious time for the weddin', and
the illuminations glared to the best erect in the dark. Everything had
been done in great eclat and everybody was almost bursting with joy. There
was only one minor set-back and that was on account of the weather. In
the month of July when the marriage was celebrated the weather is as unsteady
as the lovers of yore, and there had been a shower earlier that very day.
The hall on the second floor, covered with precious carpets became the
venue of the festive wedding-dinner.
took their seats of distinction in accordance with the protocol. Longstanding
prescription gave precedence to guests who held high public offices or
who were closely related to the bridegroom. The bridegroom's father was,
of course, the boss whose every word was law. Having seen to the comforts
of his peers he was satisfied and he did not mind the rabble—white-collar
clerks, distant relations or humble folk who felt honoured at this invitation.
Nor did he notice the presence of the uninvited "professional" guests,
"wretches" whom he had driven out of a wedding-dinner one year back.
the dinner was being served. The guests had started tasting the delicious
dishes which only the nobility could prepare. They were just in medius
res when somebody started from a corner, made hastily towards the entrance
and shouted with a touch of pathos, "slack! my pair of shoes" and almost
raced down the staircase. Before the guests could really grasp the situation,
another man left his row with restrained alarm, shouted louder, "The rascals!
they have made away with my pair of shoes. Shoes, sirs, our shoes, thieves
are prowling about here," and slunk away.
There was an
alarm. Almost every guest felt upset. Who relishes the loss of a pair of
shoes? Not even the bravest amongst us can stand walking home bare-foot
at the end of a dinner. There was unconcealed panic writ large on the face
of every guest and before the mischief could be inquired into or other
steps taken to allay panic or suspicion, almost every guest was on his
feet making towards the entrance. In this melee what was served
for the tongue to relish was crushed under the panicky feet anxiously itching
for the familiar kiss of the shoes. The hosts tried their utmost to stem
the tide but their heroic endeavours bore no more fruit than seeds in the
sand. Confusion, perplexity and despair were now stalking the festive dinner
hall was the cynosure of all eyes, the lovely bride who richly deserved
the bridegroom. But the news of the stampede came to the guests there with
a bang. "What has happened?" "Why are the people fleeting?" "They have
not had their dinner Yet" was on everyone's lips. There was panic here
too which nobody tried to allay. "What is this foul augury? What sins have
we committed? Wherefore the sting of a serpent while reaching my hand for
a flower?" shouted the mother of the bride. Wild rumours were being whispered
by lovely mouths. "The bridegroom's father has been insulted." "There has
been a quarrel between the heads of the two families." "The bridegroom
fell in a fit and. "
hours of a wedding conspiring with the fertile imagination of women resulted
in rumours varied, pungent and infectious. The mother of the bride who
was the first to faint was loyally followed by several others. The bride
herself turned deadly pale but did not lose the presence of her mind out
of an inherent courage or modesty. By this time, however, the cause of
the unexpected turn the events had taken was fully established, the ladies
came to or were restored and the nobleman related how he had dealt with
the uninvited "professional" wedding guests earlier.
"True it is,"
said an old woman, "we can make atonement for misfortunes created of our
own, but it is impossible to make atonement for the misfortunes which we
suffer on account of the sins of others."