For the past couple of weeks, the PinkLungi team was brainstorming ideas related to Pennu Kaanals. For the non-Malayalis, the literal (and yes, absolutely cringeworthy) translation is Bride Viewings. This is an established tradition in Kerala (and in many places beyond its borders too), so it stood to reason that many of our viewers would have interesting experiences to share.
While the word was spread through Instagram, I’m writing this article because of two email exchanges I had. For understandable privacy reasons, let’s say they were from Kavya and Satish. This is the tale of two pennu kaanals.
Kavya was one of the first people to send us an email. She wasn’t the only one, but out of the dozen or so, her story was especially interesting.
She was a 23-year-old Engineering graduate who’d decided to retake the CAT examination after a disheartening first try in the final year of college. She was living in Bangalore, nursing a dream of walking into the beautiful IIM (Indian Institute of Management) campus that she’d passed by a million times with her friends. She was the only one in the group who was chasing the dream, but it might as well have been considered a group effort. Her meals, her chores, and even the responsibility of alleviating her unexpected yet vicious anxiety attacks were tackled by her besties.
That’s when the call came.
They were just getting ready to step out for a well deserved weekend break when Kavya slipped into her room. Her voice rose sharply as the other voices in the apartment abruptly fell. Their silence was succeeded by silence from beyond the slightly ajar door, and after a minute or so they crept closer to check up on their companion.
The fact that they saw her crumpled beside her bed and understood says a lot. After all, they would get that call themselves, sooner or later.
Three days later, Kavya’s aunt was insisting she wear the red saree that’d been bought for the occasion. The former future MBA had to hurry, for the tea was ready. If her mom’s first language was English, she might have poked her head into the room and audibly whispered to her daughter, “It’s showtime!”
Without realizing the double meaning of her words, of course.
Kavya didn’t tell us details about the family that was sitting in her parents’ living room at that moment. Instead, she talked about how strange she felt. Eight years later, the only way she could describe it was a potent cocktail of nervousness, embarrassment, fear, and indignation.
After making small talk and answering a few questions whose answers were already known to everybody in the room, she realized the moment had come. When she and her potential future husband would be encouraged to get to know each other. A generous fifteen minutes had been budgeted for it.
Kavya and this stranger, who she refers to as Joseph in the email exchange, managed to have a somewhat coherent conversation despite the circumstances. Such as the fact that she’d been crying for almost two hours and had only managed to stop when Joseph and his parents had pulled into the driveway. Or the fact that her father had forbidden her from returning to Bangalore until she was engaged. Or the fact that her mother skillfully sidestepped her protest that “engaged” meant “get married”, and depending on the subject at the end of that verb, she might be flying off to the Middle East rather than resuming her academic pursuit.
Thankfully the subject in question, Joseph, assured her that he had no problem with her MBA dreams. He wanted her to be completely comfortable and candid, and thus the conversation flowed from concerns such as career goals to family compatibility.
Years later, Kavya marvels at how she managed to maintain her composure. She was sure he saw the sorrow etched on her face beneath layers of makeup. All she could hope for was that he wouldn’t complain about any of this. The last thing she wanted was for her parents to think she’d sabotaged the whole matter. She wasn’t courageous enough to dare do that. Ironically, the inability to put on a brave face might be what ends up making this pennu kaanal a failure.
Turns out, Kavya was spared the crushing weight of her parents’ disappointment. Instead, she was subjected to their jubilant cheers and proud smiles.
She watched in horror, like a mute spectator, as everyone and everything around her changed. Both families agreed, for Joseph had beamed with approval. His smile lit up his parents, who in turn called and ignited euphoria amongst Kavya’s parents. All three parties were ecstatic.
Kavya is now a mother of two wonderful kids and lives in Dubai with Joseph. But she told us how it’d taken her several years to completely heal from that traumatic experience. She ultimately completed a long-distance MBA, but she never walked into IIM Bangalore. She says the only thing she enjoyed about her wedding was the presence of her best friends, who did their best to pretend as though she’d bagged the man of her dreams, who’d be whisking her away to a better life.
As I was discussing Kavya’s story with the PinkLungi team, we received Satish’s email. In a way, it was perfect timing. We wanted to hear a different pennu kaanal story. Something that was perhaps…happier? Something that restored our faith in this system?
Whatever it was, Satish delivered it. He was a 28-year-old Chartered Accountant who made it absolutely clear to his conservative parents that he wouldn’t agree to sthreedhanam (dowry). It took them a little while to realize he wasn’t messing around, but they eventually decided to give in.
Once that was out of the way, Satish focused on other issues he’d always had with pennu kaanals. He wanted to talk to the prospective bride and make sure they were on the same wavelength. While his parents fretted about financial background, religiosity and social standing, Satish’s main focus was on personality. He made it clear that he wouldn’t rush the process.
Over the course of eight months, his parents brought up several proposals. Even though he’d approach each of them with optimism, Satish quickly realized almost all the women were either reluctant about getting married, or worse, indifferent. It was impossible to get his parents to understand his objection to each of the proposals. They asked if he wasn’t attracted to them. He tried telling them that the lady in question didn’t want to get married.
They would dismiss his claim, saying he’s imagining things. If the women didn’t want to get married, why would he be talking to them in the first place then?
Just as he was starting to lose faith in the whole process, it happened. He met the girl he’d been searching for. It wasn’t that she was spectacularly beautiful, or extremely educated. Instead, it was her personality that he was attracted to. They could talk for hours if they wanted to, and not feel bored.
Satish told us about how lucky he felt. Now happily married with a 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son, he’s grateful he didn’t give up. Arranged marriage and pennu kaanals might not be for everyone, but he’s glad he stuck to it till he ended up making his future wife laugh for the first time. That’s when he knew his life would forever be changed.
As I was making final edits to this article, my editor called me.
“Have you sent me the photos?”
We’d decided to post photos of both couples (don’t worry, both Kavya and Satish agreed to us doing so), and I’d uploaded both photographs into the WordPress server.
“Yeah, sent you both. Why, isn’t the file opening? I didn’t check them.”
“Uh, you sure? I only have one photo.”
“No, one is JPX45…” I began reading the scrambled file name.
“Yeah, and the other one is T72jlv…I know. But where’s the other?”
For a second I didn’t understand.
“These are just two different photos of the Kavya and her husband, right?”
And then it hit me. My chuckle of disbelief quickly transformed into somber reflection. Of two stories I’d read. Of the two ends of the spectrum. The heartbreak and the joy. People who find what they’re looking for, and people who lose what they have. Lives that are plucked away and those that are planted. Some are scattered, others settled. Nightmares and dreams. Tears and laughter.
“The first photo is Kavya’s. The second is Satish’s. I’m rewriting this article.”
[Note: This is a fictional story inspired by countless real-life experiences.]
Take your mind off marriage by reading a fast-paced crime thriller. Marwan Razzaq’s “The Man Who Found His Shadow” is now available on Amazon!