poori aloo bhaji@the engagement ceremony

ujjwal kanishka utkarsh

1/9/20235 min read

poori aloo bhaji @ the engagement ceremony



the best part of this lunch menu on this occasion was poori and aloo bhaji. There’s something about aloo bhaji made in this part of the world (maharashtra) which is so kickass. It is boiled potato, slightly mashed, but not really, you can still feel the bite. The pulao was also actually really nice, populated with several vegetables. There was of course plain rice and dal to go with it, dal a particularly thin one. And yes, since it was a special occasion, matar paneer. This obsession with trying to make things special and special being paneer - a very non vegetarian understanding of vegeterian cuisine in india. At my parent’s place if a vegeterian person is coming for food, then paneer is it. The matar paneer in question here was done in this punjabi style, but tended to be more wannabe, than being able to. Clearly not cooked with the instinct that the aloo bhaji was done with. Not that the matar paneer was bad or anything, it just was…

The number of people at the event were much more, at least than what I had anticipated. It was an engagement. There would have been more than 250 people. And the setup for the same would again seemingly betray the actual scale of the event. It was being done in the ground floor of the apartment building, which would presumably have been used as a bike parking. There were people sitting on the floor, on daris in an organic not organized concentric circles. The main inner circle presumably having the parents and close relatives but also an important politician of the area. The parking was opened up and a pandal (tent-ish) setup outside. There were chairs kept there, and there were quite a few people sitting there. We were just standing through the proceedings in one corner of this pandal setup. The back side of the pandal was facing the kranti bhoomi (revolutionary ground). The number of people standing increased as the proceedings went on. People who knew how these things go coming in for the important aspect of the ceremonies - the food. People sitting on the chairs and standing were hardly part of, or even clearly aware of what was going on. But still paying attention. It was hard not to get confused about what the event was. There were lot of thanking speeches, mostly by men. Thanking the women’s committee, somme political groups, some politicians, lots of names being invoked, and so on. Dr. Ambedkar being invoked in at points, and Jai Bhim at the end of these speeches. At some point here, you could smell the pooris and aloo bhaji being prepared, somewhere a bit more secluded. After his speech, the father of the groom gifted the father of the bride some things. The first packet seemed like an assortment of things, like a hamper. The second packet that was gifted was very clearly a stack of books (of course wrapped up). As far as we were, we couldn’t catch most of it. But this is what rituals probably look in peoples who have revolutionary past/histories as their historicities.

In all these ceremonies, the couple came together once, basically for the photograph to be clicked. It was not clear if there was any eXchange between them. They had been sitting in their respective parts of the circle (the groom’s side/the bride’s side). They were not part of the inner circle. But in this moment, basically both of them, dressed up and decked up just stood up from their places, came towards the center, and came closer together. There were lots of photos taken with phones. The girl looked happy, beaming and blushing. The guy seemed like blushing and embarrassed to be so much in the spotlight. There was a round of applause all through. And then they went back to their places. By this time the number of people standing was quite a bit. Mostly men standing, and peeping in not so interestedly, but more into their own conversations. Kids playing around. Running around through people who were standing, (making sure not to disturb the ppl really being part of the ceremonies) in and out of pandal, to the kranti bhoomi and back. playing i spy! A little more speechifying and then there was a flurry of activities. People in the ceremony sitting on the ground started getting up. Guests sitting in the chairs got up and started stacking up the chairs and started putting it on the side. Folding tables (the kinds used by tent houses - metal ones with legs that fall out- really easy to setup) started coming out from inside and being setup under the tent and in the parking area. Everyone chimed in. Guests and all helping setup the chair, and soon it was a place where a sit down lunch could be had.

We were completely unsure and a bit awkward about attending the ceremony. And also not sure if we should eat there or not. We had of course anticipated a much smaller gathering. We went to thank Deepak More, the father of the bride, and take our leave, but of course we were asked to lunch and got priority seating in the first round itself. Not prioritized over the elders and important leaders of course. Many people will wait for the neXt round, and then some more people for the one after that. The closest family would go last, and it will be a more intimate setup.

The way we had gotten invited to this engagement was also quite obtuse. Deepak runs a cigarette shop just outside kranti stambh. He remembered me from march, and had seen thoma around more. We saw him earlier in the day pushing a cart full of stacks of chair. One of the wheels of the cart was really twisted up and he wasn’t able to roll it over one of the many speed breakers in mahad. Thoma and I helped him push it through. We were wondering and discussing wether we should go for the engagement or not, when we saw him. After we helped he dropped in another line of invitation for about noon in a building there, just simply pointing towards it. This invitation was again without a prompt and was not super cohesive as the first one we got a couple of days back. I think the hesitation was also because he didn’t really think we would come. When we were taking our leave after the ceremony, he was genuinely seemed happy (and a bit surprised) to see us there, and the invitation to lunch was also quite earnest.

A couple of days earlier when we met him. He had recognized me from march, and thoma from seeing around. He again had started describing the events that would happen on the 25th and what happens on March 20th. When he invited us for the engagement of his daughter I congratulated him and all. He still seemed zoned out. And was talking really spaced out-ly. When I probed if everything was alright, or if he was feeling okay, he told us that his son who was 31 passed away earlier in the year. In may. He had had a heart attack, and they even took him to bombay but apparently he was too weak. The doctors could have given him something to comatosed him, but it was completely uncertain. Plus monies. By this time he was mumbling. The loss of a child.

He again repeated he was 31 and was looking down/away. I was like that it’s been a tough crazy year for him. And he was like yes, and mumbled something more. And then he was like come on the 24th for the engagement. I tried to tell him at least that’s good. He was like ‘ab ek hi toh hai, uske liye sab karenge’ (Now there’s only one i have, will do everything for her)