“Kaal viral vechu vattam varakaan marakanda!” one of my aunts quipped as I got ready for my first ever pennu kannal many years ago.
My only reference for the age-old tradition was limited to the ones I’d seen in movies. The plot is pretty simple. A prospective groom and family come over to meet with a prospective bride and family over tea and palaharam, talk for about say two hours, of which the girl and boy get to talk alone for about 10 minutes after which they are to decide whether they want to share the rest of their lives with this person (And people mock Tinder, which is pretty much the same process but quicker). Oh but it’s not as simple as the girl liking the boy and the boy liking the girl. The boy’s kudumbhakaar have to like the girl and her kudumbhakaar, and vice versa. The kudumbham has to have mahima, whatever that is. Even if the boy is unemployed or the girl is uneducated, if the kudumbhakar are peru ketta veetukaar, then nothing else matters.
The first image that comes to mind when someone says pennu kannal is that of a stern young party pravarthakan who apparently spends most of his days underground and is all for an arbhaadam-free wedding. I have so badly wanted to tell at least one prospective groom that my favourite novel is Hawa Beach (If you don’t get this reference, then we can’t be friends.)
So at an age where I didn’t possess a whole lot of bhodham or maturity, I got ready to meet my possibly prospective husband. I remember feeling quite neutral about the whole thing. It felt like I was getting ready to play a part in some skit. I wasn’t that nervous or excited. The only thing that bugged me was how everyone else was making such a big deal out it. The house was being cleaned like never before, my mom was cooking up a feast, and relatives had come over to discuss outfit and accessory options. Also so as to not miss the opportunity to provide their own imperative inputs about the boy. I remember playing with my nephew when my aunt harried me into getting ready although it would be hours before the suitors showed up. I didn’t argue. I changed out of my pjs into clothes that screamed “nice decent girl full of adakkam and odukam”. My aunt wanted me to slap on some concealer and cover up the pimple marks. And put on bigger earrings. I scowled at her till she left me alone.
Cut to a few hours later, the house was filled with people all awaiting the arrival of my possible life partner. I was still playing with my nephew. My mom popped her head in the room and announced their arrival. All of a sudden I had this urge to laugh uncontrollably. Maybe it was then that the ridiculousness of all it sank in. I hoped I would not have a giggling fit in front of them.
While all my relatives flocked around them, I was forbidden from leaving my bedroom. Because apparently having them cast their eyes upon me without preparing them for it first, might burn off their corneas.
So I stayed in my room, texting my friends who made fun of me mercilessly. I was starting to get hungry and I thought mournfully about all the goodies laid out on the table which was now being feasted upon by the guests. Time kept passing, they kept talking and I kept waiting. I even considered the notion that maybe they were so caught up in the conversation that they had forgotten all about me and the purpose of their visit and they’d hopefully just leave and then I could go eat the palaharams or whatever was left of it. But unfortunately, that was when my mom and my aunt came into my room with broad smiles. They accompanied me on the 3 feet journey from my bedroom to the sitting room. I stepped out into the room with a fabulous fake smile, an art that I had perfected over the years. I glanced at the guy. He looked decent enough. Though the first impression I had of him is that he looked like the kind of guy you see in buses. No, not the pervy touchy-feely guys. The kind that sits in the last seat and stares at you every now and then until you get off the bus. He looked up at me as I was looking at him. Full filmy.
The woman sitting next to him, presumably his mother made small talk. I smiled and small talked right back. I glanced at the guy every now and then who looked away every time I did. He looked incredibly uncomfortable and was totally fake laughing too except his fake smile wasn’t as convincing as mine. There were these awkward silences where no one would say anything. They would all just stare at me while grinning broadly (except the guy, of course).
It would all come down to the 5 minutes that I get to talk to this dude alone. I had the whole thing planned. I’d even made a list of things I wanted to ask him (few of which were totally vetoed by my mom). I had the whole thing planned in my head. In those 5 minutes, I had to find something about him to prove to my mom and dad that he was totally unsuitable for me or find something about him that will make him seem irresistible to me. Anything could happen in those crucial 5 minutes.
I waited impatiently for my dad to initiate it. At the next awkward silence, he uttered the sacred words “Ivar randu perkum endhelum samsarikaan undegi, samsarichote le?”
The relatives looked at the boy who looked bewildered like my dad had asked if he could harvest one of his kidneys.
“Enik onnum samsarikaan illa!” he yelped, wiping sweat off his forehead.
I held my composure while I fully lost it inside my head – Are you freakin’ kidding me? How on earth am I going to fall madly and crazily in love with you if you don’t let me talk to you? Should I just go enikki samsarikanam? Would that be too much? Do I really want to talk to this guy? Maybe he didn’t like me. Why prolong the process? The sooner the leave, the sooner I can eat.
I looked at the half-empty plates sadly. Pandaram. I looked at the guy again. He looked away again. Seriously, what was this guy’s problem?
When it was finally time for them to leave, his mother smiled at me and held my hand. She was not letting go and I started to freak out a little. The guy walked ahead, turned around, and looked me right in the eye, flashing the tiniest smile.
I rolled my eyes. In my head I was like – Dude, what am I going to do with all this filmy shit when you won’t even talk to me? I really couldn’t understand it. Why didn’t he want to talk to me? And why did he have to be so appalled at the idea? I hardly looked intimidating. Dumb guy missed the conversation of his lifetime.
That was the end of my pretty uneventful pennu kannal. There is no twist to this story where I go “Guess what, that dumb guy is now my husband.” My parents were also less than impressed with the guy and turned them down. I underwent a few more of these pennu kannal sessions before eventually getting hitched to a man who I got engaged to even before meeting. (Don’t ask!)
Although this is a tradition that was prevalent since our ammuma’s times, I realize that pennu kannals nowadays are way more chill. My cousin was allowed to wear jeans for her pennu kannal (gasp!) Virtual pennu kannals are the fad now especially during this COVID season because social distancing yo! The guy and girl are allowed to meet on their own sometimes more than once before making a decision.
If you’re someone going through this phase right now, all the very best to you. It can seem tedious at times and getting rejected is definitely not fun but hey, at least you get to eat a whole bunch of palaharam. And that’s always a good thing!
Check out some of the hilarious pennu kannal kadhakal sent in by our readers and let us know in the comments about your pennu kannal experience!