A Big Fat Tamil Wedding in London
Organising the most intimate event in a foreign land can be most intimidating but not impossible with the help of family and friends.
Sandhya Saravanan
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Akka, I have something to tell you”, she said in a hushed whisper. I held my breath for her seemingly grand declaration, not knowing what to expect. She met a guy! It was intended to be a short trip to the UK to clear her ACCA qualification exams amidst the Covid lockdown, but the quiet rebellious thing called destiny certainly had different plans for her love life. As soon as it settled down with the family that she was going to marry a 6ft foreign stranger whom she had fallen head over heels for, we couldn’t be happier for her. As Pa said, “Any guy who makes my daughter happy, makes me happy”. But when came the time to decide where the wedding would be held, the ultimate decider was: Who had a bigger family? So, London it is!

It was a daunting task for us as a family, more so for Ma and Pa. For some small-town dwellers, London seemed like an intimidating place to organise the most intimate event in the family. It was after all the first wedding in the family. But frankly, we couldn’t have done it without the support of our family and friends. And so, this is a tribute to our loved ones who stood by us as we embraced an important milestone in the family.   

We didn’t know the first of the rituals at a wedding. The loss of the immediate elders in the family made it harder for us to consult the experienced. But count on Ma for being the resourceful woman she is! She put herself to the task of learning the rituals and customs of a Sri Lankan Tamil wedding from scratch. Print-outs were made and books were purchased to educate ourselves on the dos and don’ts of a wedding. We were all made to read them so that, just in case one forgets, the other will be able to help. Elderly aunties and uncles in the community shared their tips and insights because, as we came to realise, books often do not reflect the customs that have acclimatised with the local culture over the years.

Leading up to the wedding, discussions at the dinner table included currency exchange rates, cheap Airbnb in London and tube stops from the wedding hall. As families confirmed their attendance for the wedding, Ma would distribute things among them to be brought to London for the wedding. From delivering the wedding cards to bringing the door gifts to London, families were more than willing to make space in their luggage. It was after all cheaper to get them here than spend five times more in London! Some were tasked to collect the pazhagarams (sweets) and others volunteered to help with jewellery shopping for the bride in India! Not to mention the trip to the flower market in London on an early cold winter morning and complimentary flower arrangements for the bride. Family and friends who couldn’t make it were no less; from recommending a tailor, proofreading the Tamil prints of the wedding cards, and babysitting our home-bound grandpa, assistance was endless.

The countdown began as we were only weeks away from the big day! But life does seem to have an unappreciated sense of irony to it; as we were about to celebrate the addition of a new one in the family, we were made to grieve the loss of another. How do you reconcile mourning the loss of a loved one when you are planning for the happiest event of your life? Suddenly, traditions and superstitions dictated what we should do and how we should feel. But we decided that the show must go on! It was a difficult phase for us, but we sailed through it with the support and understanding of families and friends. 

Perhaps the biggest assistance was an offer made by a family in London to make their home the “ponnu veedu” (bride’s house). An offer that we felt was imposing but hard to refuse. From beds to sleep, a continuous supply of delicious meals, and a car to ferry us around (also the bride’s car) for more than a week, Aunty and Uncle made sure our stay was comfortable and that last-minute wedding preparation was attended to. It baffles me if such kindness that was bestowed on us can ever be returned or paid forward. To offer your home to be the bride’s house to a family which you have only very recently known…it takes two beautiful souls to commit to such obligations.

For a week leading up to the wedding, families took leave from work, halted their daily routine, and flew seven seas to focus on wedding preparations. Lunch and tea reunions were organised by families in London to put a face to those whom we have only been speaking to on the phone months before the wedding. We were humbled to know that families whom we never knew availed themselves to assist with wedding preparations and were part of the wedding celebrations. Now we know the bride has people that she can call family in a foreign land.

But a journey is only memorable for both its ups and downs. Upon arrival to London, we were greeted by a bride vomiting and with diarrhea. Certainly not a pleasant sight for a bride! Just days before her wedding, the bride was with a sore throat and an increasing temperature. Then came the infection that left her with a bloodied eye and strict instructions from the pharmacists that she stops usage of contact lenses. But we laughed off the advice, there was no way the bride was going to walk down the altar with her oversized Boho glasses!    

‘Hiccups’, they call it. From wrong orders to delays and unexpected costs, it was definitely a challenging week for us all. Tense situations and overwhelming emotions are recipes for a family drama. As soon as sisterly quibbles take a rest, mother-daughter arguments erupt followed by husband-wife disagreements, and the climax, is a family meeting that ended with, “I am done with all this!”.

The good, the bad, and the ugly, we had it all. But it only made us all stronger and more united as a family. Compromises and adjustments became our middle name. But, all’s well that ends well! The big day was a day filled with love, laughter and joy.

We know we could not have done it without the love and support of our families and friends and, for that, we are truly grateful!

What is my Identity? It's a question that we all seek to answer in our own ways throughout our lives. Each episode of Identity spotlights a different creative, some from the Tamil community and some from outside it, who will be chatting about how we take ownership of our narratives, art, politics and of course who we are. Catch these episodes of 'Identity'!

Sandhya Saravanan
A lawyer seeking a creative outlet to share and learn about the global Tamil community!
A lawyer seeking a creative outlet to share and learn about the global Tamil community!
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