The rains have all but resolutely bid farewell to the green shores of Kerala, leaving behind bits of tar all held together with a vast continuous networks of potholes some the size of minor sovereign European Principalities.The roads back home are the worst I have seen anywhere for years. Actually ever. And I know a bad road when I see one. I have been in and out of the Imax here in Wadala for three years now.
So while we drove in our ever dependable and severely over-air-conditioned '84 Ambassador to Thrissur we were tossing and shaking like fresh martinis on a cruise ship.
Our destination is the sprawling Bishop House Complex that lay vast on one fringe of Thrissur city. (The locals always call it a "town". I personally see no reason to not elevate its status by a notch. It has enough ATM's, multi-cuisine restaurants, and KFC-copycat fried chicken outlets to vouch for city status.)
The motivation for this trip is the long overdue marriage of one of my most eligible bachelor cousins. The swashbuckling youth works in the gulf and is bordering on what most Mallu parents consider perfect marriageable age: 3 years from date of issue of work permit by UAE government.
Unfortunately for him his lack of enthusiasm to get married is directly proportional to his parent's eagerness to slaughter a few thousand chickens as soon as possible for the wedding feast and then serve Royal Challenge secretly in storeroom upstairs. Otherwise what will people say? And how much will random people drink?
Things are further complicated by the fact that the parents of the local single lasses no longer have the thing for the NRI that they once used to have. It is a sign of the times that the youthful NRI, prized mallu marriage material of decades gone by, have now been relegated to a pitiful mid-table slot in the marriage league.
Engineers, MBAs, Software professionals, Bankers and even, sigh, Chartered Accounts, have successfully overtaken the selfless homesick gelf-kaaran in the knotstakes.
So my valiant cousin now finds himself spending his latest Kerala-side annual leave perusing maidens. Honestly speaking he is not one of those "super model into the Birlas or no way Jose" type guys. All he looks for is a simple but capable girl who will argue a little with mother-in-law but not too much.
The parents of the girl on the other hand need to see the Family Visa and Employment Permit right away in original or attested copy.
The guy has now been through so many wedding brokers and ladki-dekho visits that he actually now knows all of the single Roman Catholic Syro-Malabar women within a 20 kilometer radius of our little village by face if not by height and last obtained educational degree.
With just weeks left in his leave we had finally decided to take the next drastic step in the process:
Check the "files" at the Bishop House.
The Bishop House is a misnomer for what is really a large complex of Church-related offices and buildings that are laid out in the vast estate around the bishop's house. (Archbishop really. Yet another reason to call Thrissur a city if you ask me.)
And one of these offices is the Family Aspostolate Center that has been established with the sole purpose of making socially-acceptable arranged marriages as painless as possible.
This means everything from marriage training, marriage planning, post and pre-marriage counseling, childbirth issues and so on.
But the most important function the FAC serves is to be some sort of clearing house for, literally, hundreds of single boys and girls to exchange profiles, meet each other, and ease the overall alliance finding and closing purpose.
The jewel in the FAC crown is, without doubt, the "files".
After we parked the Amby under a tall and slightly aslant coconut palm, Dad and the cousin proceeded into the FAC office. The missus, mom, the sis and yours truly waited in the car. How long would it take?, we wondered in folly. How big would these files be after all?
Apparently they were like Ullyses, that masterpiece by James Joyce that I bought many years ago and still try to gift away with dignity.
Dad quickly ran out after ten minutes and suggested that I help poor cousin instead.
There were three files on the table. Cousin was flipping through one. A man and women went through the other two taking down notes feverishly.
Thankfully they left after a few minutes and I sat down with a file, mentally rolling up my sleeves determined to get the cousin I Do-ing in a fortnight tops.
The file had a hundred or so folded and well-creased leaves. Each double sided leaf had a photo of the lady in question on one side along with a remarkably detailed profile of the lass and her family. Height, weight, marital status and so on.
The other side was infinitely more intriguing. One half of Side B had an educational profile, followed by a description of any physical handicap the lady had and then a furrowed-brow inducing entry called: "Family Share".
This field was then filled in with a number which I guess was in rupees.
I have a tingling, and self-esteem reducing, feeling that this was an indication of the amount of dowry the family was willing to pay. The D-word is illegal but you know how practical these Mallus are.
"Family Share" wink, wink nudge, nudge.
Then comes the good bit. The second half of the leaf indicated what the lass, by which I mean her dad, was looking for in a guy.
"25-28" seemed to be the age band of choice for grooms.
A single mallu male around 5 feet 9 inches tall would have no trouble in finding a match going by the entries in the "Desired height" field.
"BTech, MTech, MBA, MCA, IT" is by far the most highly desired job/career profile when it comes to ladies in the Thrissur area. I guess you'd have to peel the women off an engineer-MBA working in Infosys.
But this has no correlation with what they want their hubbies to be earning every month. Just one profile demanded a monthly income greater than 15 grand.
"Must be god-fearing, hard-working, well-educated and caring and loving".
"Will make any compromise for the right man from a good family with great ambition."
"I intend to continue working. Should have no issues with my traveling."
One file through, the cousin had already worked out his personal algorithm:
1. Look at height 2. Check out desired age band 3. Desired education/job profile 4. Look at photo 5. Note down contact details 6. Repeat
I ran above mentioned algorithm on my own file.
The highlight for me in the course of this Girl-Google was when an excited looking man approached me and asked me if I was looking for a suitable alliance. I told him no and he looked disappointed as he walked away.
I repeated this incident to great laughter back home. The missus was much amused and suggested I actually go and meet a nice Manju or Sindhu for myself and let her off the hook. I laughed at the time but have subsequently decided to tap her cellphone and am concealing video cameras as we speak.
Soon the entire family was huddled around files noting down names and numbers. Some of the highlights, in terms of names, were:
1. Little Flower 2. Filsy 3. Milcy 4. Roshial 5. Another Filsy (The odds??)
Soon we were joined by another group of elders, this time going through a boy file.
Whisper whisper, nod nod, note note, flip flip.
Three files later, just as were ready to leave, one of the counseling sessions got over and dozens of eligible boys and girls streamed down a flight of stairs, past the file browsing areas and out into the little garden outside the FAC.
When we were done with our shortlisting and walked back to our car we spotted the singles outside in awkward little couples all over the place: the guys nervously sitting on concrete benches, their knees flapping away to and apart in that manner of batsmen waiting for their turn. The women chewed away on dupattas and sari pallus petrified of conversation.
Some sort of matchmaking process, I guessed, was going on.
Later that evening we called up Thresya, an all round favourite choice for all of us, only to find that she had enigmatically left the number of a laundry as her contact.
We had, alas, better luck with Filsy. Cousin will be meeting her later this week.