Tag Archives: weddings

The Venus Flytrap: In Defense Of The 13th Fairy

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Some time ago, I’d been travelling in a rather boring but reasonably picturesque small town which thanks to its appearance in a few films had started to gain the attention of honeymooners. Labouring under the impression that someone who had broken the heart of one of my loved ones had taken his parentally-ordained bride to this town, I spent my time there quite pleased that it had little to offer (unless you have very special company, in which case every place is Paris anyway). Taking in the relative lack of charm, I looked forward to presenting proof of the heartbreaker’s ambivalence towards his own honeymoon.

Imagine my shock when I returned from that trip to find this loved one was getting re-engaged, to a person she’d been unceremoniously dis-engaged from once already. As for the unimaginative honeymooner – in one of those juicy jinxed nuptial details, he came along with his spouse to the re-engagement function, held recently. Oh, and it turned out they hadn’t even been to that cinema-friendly location. That was a mishearing repeated to me. They’d been somewhere much lovelier, with a name that was almost a homonym. Oh, whatever – I’d quite liked that dull little town in the end.

I wasn’t introduced to the heartbreaker at the re-engagement, but I should have been, given that I was once again playing my esteemed role of “always the 13th fairy and never the bride”. As a fellow disruptor, he could have been my sidekick. If I could resist kicking him, that is.

In fairy tales, the 13th fairy is the one who, deeply miffed that she hasn’t been asked to attend the naming ceremony, coronation or wedding, shows up anyway (wearing brocade and bright burgundy lips, naturally) and pronounces a delicious curse that sets the ball rolling for the rest of the story. Drama! She might be the black sheep of the family or the goddess Eris of the golden apple, but if it wasn’t for her there’d be no one to blame but poor decisions and basic incompatibility. Oops.

No one crashed the event. We’d all been politely, obligatorily and cordially invited. But trust me not to bite my tongue. Before, after (and in what might have been whispers if those in earshot hadn’t laughed – during).

See, I think the 13th fairy gets a bad rep. What’s the backstory? Was she not invited because she knew the bride embezzled money from her friend’s start-up to pay for her dowry, or because she knew the dowry-guzzling groom was still seeing his ex? Because the families involved were too busy trying to sabotage each other to be concerned with etiquette? Because there was a hierarchy involved and she was all about subverting the dominant paradigm? Or maybe because she was the only one who – engine running on the getaway car – would look her betrothed loved one in the eye and ask, “Are you truly sure you want this?”

That’s not a curse – that’s compassion. Fairytales conveniently end on the wedding, remember? Given the state of the institution of marriage, historically and in modernity, I don’t mind being the 13th fairy. Somebody’s got to be.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on June 7th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: On The Sexism Of The Iconic Marriage Proposal

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Borrowed largely from Hollywood, thoroughly supported by the wedding industry complex, and encouraged by the pressure and appeal of social media (“She said yes!”), the proposal has gained popularity as a nuptial rite of its own. Both in love marriages and modern arranged marriages with their tinny gloss of long engagements and staged meet-cutes, this gesture – often described as romantic – signifies a certain threshold in a relationship. Given the highly public nature of most marriage rituals, that a private novelty has gradually come to be included among Indian customs is a nice thing. Only, as we move away – as we must, if we believe in a better world – from traditional circumscriptions on marriage, it’s worth thinking about which notions of romance are worth preserving and appropriating.

The thing about the iconic wedding proposal – a ring, a bended knee, four scripted words – is that it is almost without exception, in heteroromantic contexts, performed by the man.

This would be okay if a proposal was just a loving gesture, and not a watershed moment which advances the status of a romantic relationship. Neither is it a request, because what comes after the famed question is an equally scripted reaction: surprise, excitement, and invariably, acceptance. The words “will you marry me?” sound like they are asking for permission, but in practice they are giving it. The surprise element is a decoy, unless the supplicant is truly clueless as to what the response will be (in which case, I hope there’s a sympathetic refund available for that bling). In the version of the script that we have all subconsciously downloaded, the woman has waited for it, and the man has decided on its timing. It was her waiting that was the true petition; he simply offers his agreement through the enactment of asking.

Marriage is patriarchal – but surely love is not so pathetic?

Sometimes a woman must say no, because that is her true answer. Sometimes a woman must pose the question herself, because she must pursue what she desires, and she need not wait for anyone’s validation of the same.

But more than either of those subversions, I like the idea of the decision to marry being a matter of consultation, a series of increasingly confident discussions. I fail to understand how one person asking a life-altering question and the other shifting quickly from astonishment to certainty inspires any trust in that couple’s ability to articulate, negotiate, and make choices together.

We haven’t evolved marriage out of our worldviews yet, and perhaps we don’t need to. But we do need to keep evolving its workings, questioning it as an institution and contextualising it in ways that emphasise individual wholeness and challenge structural inequalities, as expressed in misogyny, casteism, colourism, homophobia and other chauvinisms.

Let’s begin by falling in love. Let’s begin by being honest. Let’s do boring things like talking about whether or not to get married and radical things like changing the problematic verses and actions in the ceremonies. Indian marriage has so far been about social legitimacy, not about togetherness. Let’s begin by rewriting that script. Or better yet, let’s begin with no script at all.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 7th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.