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October 08, 2018

My big fat Jain Scottish Welsh Venetian Indian Wedding

Illustration by Sudeepti Tucker

What’s it like to have cross-cultural, cross-continental nuptials that include a whole lot of fun and confusion? Verve gets a peek into journalist — and author Tishani Doshi’s husband — Carlo Pizzati’s humorous memoir, Mappillai — An Italian Son-In-Law In India, that tells it like it is…

There is only one fool at every marriage ceremony: the groom

There was a young maid from Madras
Who had a magnificent ass;
Not rounded and pink,
As you probably think—
It was grey, had long ears,
and ate grass.
-Adult Limerick

It was on 4 January 2014 when for the very first time in my life I found myself trying not to fall off a cart pulled by two giant water buffaloes.

That’s right, I was not riding a regal white horse, nor was I perched astride a majestic elephant, as I had originally asked, but…bullocks! I mean, literally.

Ok, the cart, or matavandi, had been freshly painted and adorned in bright, festive colours. The buffaloes sported two Pongal-style pink and magenta horns and the conductor’s white turban and new lungi competed with my golden kurta and bright orange turban.

From up there in the matavandi, it felt very much like Games without Borders, the TV competition I’d watch enthusiastically as a child, pitting nation against nation in a European-wide TV show.

The bridegroom’s team was donning orange turbans; the bride’s relatives were sporting pink ones. The bridegroom team had no idea what it was doing, but luckily two generous cousins, Pankaj and Kunal, betrayed their ranks to instruct the vellais on how to play their part in the ceremony.

I had gathered my cosmopolitan tribe. There were a lot of dear, lifelong friends from my hometown Valdagno, Tania, Elisa, Nicola, Luca, Sara, who on that trip got renamed ‘Wild-agno’ in honour of the wild times, or maybe of the Wildlings, the Free Folks of Game of Thrones, as this is what the rustic folks from my valley must look like to the more refined people of the Venetian plains.

There were some friends from London, New York, Naples and Rome, friends met in Mexico, my mother, my sisters and their children. We were ready to take on the town. And the countryside.

Make no mistake, my wife and I were fully aware that marriage ceremonies are puppet acts in which bride and groom are there to provide entertainment for family and friends.

The betrothed are not the real focus of the party.

The real focus are the guests, the relatives, the public of that pantomime.

Marriage is scientifically proven to be the main cause for divorce, yet having an Indian wedding provides a greater antidote against divorce: who’s got the energy to ever repeat such a torturous process?

This is what I was thinking about, as I wobbled along, dragged by the two colourful buffaloes, while my wedding army was instructed to chant in Hindi: ‘Here comes Carlo the King!’

Although I rather think I looked more like an overdressed buffoon, up there in my unlikely cultural-appropriation of a turban, for a second I did picture myself as that King coming to get his Queen. Oh, Narcissus, how I love thee! I believe in a reign called Carlo Pizzati, I’m the number one patriot of Carlolandia!

Little did I know the ceremony is a game played on several levels, where ‘the conquering army of the groom’ is duped into believing it is coming to whisk the bride away, only to be ensnared into the spires of the hosting bride’s family. Which, in this case, was bound to triumph.

Isn’t this the perfect allegory of most marriages?

As we approached the house, all the slow pitfalls became clear.

There were several symbolic games to be played. One of them was that my best man Fabrizio had to protect me from my mother-in-law, who was supposed to grab my nose.

This must have looked quite odd to the Italians, considering that in the language of Dante, to ‘catch someone by the nose’ means to make a fool of him.

And as Lorenzo, my brother-in-law, had reminded me many years before when he married my sister Editta: ‘There’s only one bischero, only one fool, at a wedding.’

Yes, you guessed it: the groom.

So my nose was caught and then Peter, my half-Japanese half-Belgian giant of a friend, hoisted me on his shoulders while the strongest cousin provided support for Tishani, as we jousted in the garland game.

This, I was told, is a way of establishing who will rule in the house, whether it is the husband or the wife. The spouse who first drapes the other one’s neck with a marigold and jasmine garland will be the boss.

I slyly pretended for a couple of seconds to overpower my betrothed only to bow in submission and be festooned by my wedding garland which still hangs, alongside my wife’s, in our bedroom.

Finally we reached the wedding stage draped in a baldaquin, where we sat down with our parents.

My future in-laws were sitting on Tishani’s side, while on my side there was my mother, alone.

In 1993, my father had stopped talking to me, my mother, and my three siblings for no understandable reason except that while divorcing my mother he had opted to get rid of the whole burden of the family he had created.

Although he’s now passed away, my father keeps living within me like a non-lethal incurable disease. Could be the reason why my first novel is about a patricide.

Perhaps. Enough said about his absence there. Let us not allow him to spoil the party.

As the preacher admonished me to ‘be a good boy’ in my marriage (yes, he said that to a 48-year-old man), and while my father-in-law, for the first time in four years of knowing me, showed a menacing side, almost threatening me up close to make sure I took care of his daughter (subtext seemed to me: ‘If you ever leave her, there will be consequences!’), and my mom looked slightly disorientated by what I thought she might have found to be a bit too much of a pagliacciata — a clownery of overdressed, over-coloured, etno-chic weirdos — I was asked to choose a friend in the audience who’d come and perform one of the functions of the long ceremony.

This is where something very strange happened. I was told that the person I would pick for the next ritual would get married by the end of the year.

So I pointed towards my nephew Colin. He had been in a steady relationship with a sexy Ivorian-Belgian lady, Jutta, and I was convinced they would get engaged any day.

But Colin, bashful and shy like his mother, my dear sister Maya, skilfully dodged my index finger, pretending I was pointing to someone behind him, a much beloved long time friend who I’d met in New York in the late ’80s.

But Carlo Vutera, also known by his stage name as Carlo Montecarlo, a powerful and intense tenor who I’d warned and begged not to sing any Italian opera in order to avoid the caricature of Italians at a wedding, had been one of the most successful playboys I’d ever met.

He would never get married by the end of the year! He was allergic to it. He was without a doubt the ‘least likely to get married bachelor’ at any wedding.

Yes, you can imagine how this specific story is going to end.

Colin, who dodged coming to my wedding altar, broke up irreversibly with Jutta within months, while Carlo, who joined us, up there on the ritual stage, startling every single one of his friends, actually did get married before the end of the year to a lovely Cuban-American lady!

Watch out what you wish for in India, the superstitious yoga-people vellais always say.

But later Carlo Montecarlo had another surprise in store for us.

*

This whole Arya Samaj wedding process spared me from changing my name to Harsh Sadhaka and allowed me to retain Carlo Pizzati, although Tishani would love for me to add my mother’s better sounding last name of Dal Lago, as in Carlo Pizzati Dal Lago.

I was also fine with all the Indian contradictions contained in the ‘Vaidika Marriage Ceremonial’ booklet. First among many, the fact that it was sold to me for 100 rupees, although the price on the back cover says 50 rupees. Vellai prices, sir.

“‘Marry the person you love’ is the slogan of the Western culture. ‘Love the person you marry’ is the command of the Veda.”

Udayavir Vedalankar, ‘popularly known as Viraj’, is the author of such booklet which tackles the thorny issue of arranged marriage, about which I have an unpopular opinion which I’ll explain soon.

‘It does not mean,’ Viraj explains, ‘that a person should marry a spouse he or she dislikes or even hates.’

No, indeed, you don’t have to marry someone you hate….

Western friends will laugh at this, some Indian friends will put on a sad face, knowing way too many people in that situation, I mean way from the start of married life.

‘Marriage should be arranged by parents and well-wishers of the prospective bride and the bridegroom, but must be approved by the bride and the bridegroom.’

I know this is difficult to take for ‘the Western mind’, whatever that may be, if it even exists. But, nowadays, how many in the West are letting an algorithm help them select their future spouse? That’s modern and acceptable. Scientific. Allowing parents and ‘well-wishers’, whatever that comprises, to chip-in is frowned upon.

Let’s stop to consider what the wedding booklet said next: ‘There are hundreds of instances, where intense love evaporated within a few years after marriage. Where to love a married spouse is considered a sacred duty, such a tragedy is less likely to occur.’

Ok, not modern at all. I know.

This means you have to sacrifice your emotions in order to respect a contract decided by parents and, you guessed it right, ‘well-wishers’. Hard to swallow.

But try to take a more ecumenical approach and consider it is often true that the fire that lights up in a flash goes out in a flash — falling in love is not equivalent to love.

Desiring someone physically with all your being doesn’t mean you will be able to spend your life with them. Proven, tested, guaranteed.

So, there is something to be said in favour of certain aspects of arranged marriages. There’s something to be said against the hallucination of modern love, as it has developed since the French Revolution, thanks to the artsy courtesans who were able to get the enamoured noblemen to marry them, as socially inconvenient as it was at the time — this is historically how love marriages became more widespread in Europe and later in America, which propagated the concept elsewhere.

Before that, passionate love rarely ended in marriage. Think of Romeo killing himself over Juliet in Montecchio (Montague), half an hour away from the town where I grew up, so I know what I’m talking about.

Let’s not forget that on the topic of love Italians can claim the lineage and expertise of the likes of Gian Giacomo Casanova, Lorenzo da Ponte (the librettist for Don Giovanni), Rodolfo Valentino and Marcello Mastroianni, just to name a few.

And yet, of course, love should know no boundaries. There should be no prohibitions against marriage between people who love each other. There should be no regards for differences of gender, caste, class, race or nationality. Obviously. I think most republican and democratic constitutions actually guarantee this, and in no way do I argue against that. I defend it, rather.

But coming from an overly romantic country of constantly fighting Italian families, and having lived for 11 years in the country with the longest standing highest divorce rate in the world (if you don’t count the Maldives and Belarus) — America — I see some wisdom in using your mind, not only your heart when choosing a spouse.

It makes sense to seek help from people who love you to get honest advice about real compatibility between you and the person you want to marry. And I think it is wise to profoundly consider what is being said to you, before deciding to get married.

Published with permission from Simon & Schuster India. Mappillai is scheduled to release on September 25.

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