‘What’s the menu?’ inquired my uncle. We had all come to attend my niece’s wedding in Patna, a joyous occasion to be celebrated with much feasting. It’s customary for Bengali wedding preparations to start with the menu. Long before the date of the wedding is decided, long before we book the venue, long before anybody knows who the groom is, we fix the food.
The feasting started several days before the wedding as relatives trickled in, most of them middle-aged, with a strong geriatric contingent. We were discussing the dishes to be served at the bride’s home, where we were to have breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days. A rumour started the food might be vegetarian. ‘How can they do this to us after we came all this way?’ fumed an uncle. ‘No wedding is complete without hilsa fish,’ seethed a cousin. A chap said he wouldn’t mind vegetarian mutton, explaining he meant mutton without onions and garlic.
‘Wasn’t it Ludwig Feuerbach who said man is what he eats?’ asked an intellectual cousin-in-law. An uncle said he would rather be a goat than a cabbage. A distant relative asked whether Ludwig was the groom. A youngster wondered why the father of the bride disliked vegetables so much that he wanted to feed them to us. I said the vegetarian thing was merely a rumour and we should ask Anupriya. ‘Who’s Anupriya?’ they said. I reminded them she was the bride.
Our talk was full of the great restaurants we had eaten at, exotic food anecdotes and the overwhelming importance of dessert. The youngsters were disappointed there was no booze, but soon bought their own.
Anyway, the food was wonderful and we all gorged ourselves. That was when it started, with an elderly aunt asking me whether I had ‘pudin hara’. ‘It’s nothing, just a slight queasiness,’ she said. The next day, I saw someone swigging from a bottle of Aristozyme. ‘Heh heh, this is dessert,’ he joked. Uncles started their day with antacids. Slowly the discussion veered around to which medicines were best for which stomach ailment. The sangeet was forgotten, nobody gave a damn about the mehendi. The ladies discussed gas and heartburn instead of recipes.
We discussed the merits of ofloxacin and tinidazole and Aqua Ptychotis.
On the wedding night, tummies fortified by medicines, we finally sampled the long-awaited menu, which was of course excellent. Unfortunately, we missed the wedding ceremony because we were in the loo.
Be that as it may, we all had a lot of fun and it was finally time to part ways. Our intestines had returned to normal constipated conditions, so we packed several kilos of ‘Muci Bael’, a chocolate-flavoured laxative found only in Eastern India. We paid for excess baggage on the flight home.
My nephew, who had come through unscathed, finally revealed his secret. ‘The key thing to do in weddings is drink,’ he said. ‘See, if there’s booze in your stomach, everything you eat gets pickled. That way, you can digest whatever you eat. And of course the wedding looks much brighter.’
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed are personal