My first 'pennukannal'. I don't know if its technically correct as the literal meaning of pennukannal is 'girl seeing'. It is the term given to the custom when a guy and his family/ friends come for the first time to the girl's family to 'check out' the girl. The reverse which should be called 'cherukankannal' does not exist, for the simple fact that the girl or her family does not visit the guy or his family to check them out. Weird norms!
So I was subjected to this centuries old barbaric tradition. Phah!! Its akin to the custom of the king of Zanzibar who has a new bride every year and who selects her from other virgin beauties by watching them dance topless ( I have wondered what criterion he uses- the jumpiest boobs, the most erect nipples?).
I knew I couldn't escape from the pennukannals and the rest of the weird stuffs associated with an arranged marriage. But I wanted to prolong it as long as possible. I wasn't ready yet. I didn't realise I had to undergo this torture. I had thought that my parents would arrange it in some restaurant or a coffee shop where I can meet the guy alone with some privacy. They seemed to be more orthodox than I thought. Thus I decided I shall take it in good humor and derive fun out of it in my own way.
So about the guy who was coming to check me out (It sounds very tacky!). He sounded sane enough. He had migrated to the
in his teens. Now, he was working as a research scientist in the NASA where he was completing his PhD (and PhD after engineering too!). Or atleast, that's what he had said in his ad. And that’s what got my parents and my immediate family excited. In fact even I was overwhelmed after hearing NASA as I was a fan of the series 'I dream of Jeanie' and had liked the guy who played the NASA scientist. This guy had only one preference as regards the girl and I clearly fulfilled that. I was given a gist of his vital stats; his height, weight, skin color etc. They could've told me his dick size and his 'mileage' too. That would've simplified it. US
I knew about his coming for the pennukannal after I came back from my night duty. He is expected to come in the evening. I asked my parents to shift it to some other day as I wanted to sleep badly (my much deserved sleep). But to no avail. "He will be going back to the
after one week." OK! Whatever! US
I had not yet got ready by the time my dad arrived from work. I was sleeping. He had to wake me up (he rarely wakes me up or enters my room). He asked me to get ready soon as they boy and his contingent were on their way. I wore a brown salwar-kameez and put my vegetable print dupatta on one shoulder. I applied only eyeliner as part of the makeup. But when I mom came from work she wanted me to change the outfit as she thought this was a simple one. Mind you, I had received quite a few compliments wearing this salwar-kameez also. I refused to change. Let them see me the way I am. Anyways, there was no time. My mom was clearly agitated. Not only about my outfit, but even about the snacks, beverages, settee, dining room, table cloth. Everything! Which drink to be given first? Juice followed by coffee or tea followed by juice. Anyways, I was saved from the embarrassment of taking the drinks to them. I thank God for that! My aunt, uncle and a cousin had also arrived. Another cousin and his wife were expected. Man! The pennukannal was a trip. Really!
Then, they arrived. He had come with his mom, aunt and uncle. I saw him from my vantage point in the dining hall. His eyes were wandering about for the 'girl' as soon as he entered the house. Our eyes met for a second just before he sat in the settee. He was ok. No wait! He was actually quite good looking. He looked like Cutieboy who was my first crush in college (and who later turned out to be really dumb). He had worn a formal full sleeved shirt with his sleeves rolled up to his elbow. Its weird how we girls don't notice the man's pants. I can't even remember whether he was wearing pants or jeans. I shall fix on pants. And he had spiked his hair (and I thought, “Daddy, if you are going to select this guy, better start liking spiked hair." My dad so hates spike hair and low waist jeans.)
Soon, I found myself sitting opposite to him in our living room. (contrary to all those bollywood and mollywood movies which show the boy and the girl speaking to each other in a secluded room in the house with all privacy). We were not at a distance where we cannot be overheard. Nevertheless I found the 'interview' quite amusing. In fact, I enjoyed it upto a point. I had decided to let him a have a hang of my mind-penetrating stare. I had found that guys are very uncomfortable when I stare directly into their eyes and gives them the look which can be variously read as 'I' m sizing you up' or 'what stupidity are you talking about' or ' I know your secret'. This PhD was no different. I know you faltered, baby.
The exact way the conversation started, I don't remember. I think he asked me my name and I asked him his name which was stupid as we both knew each other's name from our parents. He asked about my schooling and college, my parents, their job and their family. I also asked the same of him not to seem too rude. I remember him asking my opinion about city life. (I wondered what he meant by that. Did he mean was I a partying drinking type? Anyways, I could not have answered that when my dad was at an earshot). He made some comment about the traffic, "the cities have grown a lot but the roads haven't", to which I merely nodded assent (Did he expect the roads to grow up by themselves?). Is he tensed, nervous, or a mix of both? Or was that only my feeling? Or is he also dumb? Can PhDs be dumb? Who knows? But one thing I was sure. He was not a great conversationist. He would be so ready to follow my lead in the conversation but he was faltering when he had to initiate any. He even asked me the same questions twice. Then all of a sudden, he asked a striking question, “Do you like cooking?" I replied an emphatic, "NO!” This guy he was not dumb! He was quite brave. Otherwise, who would ask such a question? He was straightforward. He just needed a cook, a maid and not a wife. I am not going to be a wife whose only aim in life is to cook food for her husband. I want to follow my own career. I want to be independent and not be a doormat to a goddamn stranger! After this I think we didn't speak much. In the beginning I was politely rude by only half-answering his questions. People might have said I was shy. But now I was rude. I was not speaking to him at all. Inspite of all his good looks, he turned out to be a male chauvinist.
It was time for them to leave. His aunt asked me twice if I wanted to ask him anything more (what more do I need to ask him?). But when I think about it now, I could have led him on and had more fun. And I need not have been so bigoted. I need not have judged him by just that question. And there were one or two particular questions which I wanted to ask him; like why would he want to come to India to get a bride, can't he find someone in the US itself. But then there are limitations in the setup of the arranged 'pennukannal'. And this was my first. I didn't know what to ask or what to answer, especially when both the families have their eyes on you. Moreover, the cooking question was simply a turn-off.
Have any of you had similar experiences? I guess not. What you think of this custom. Drop a comment.
P.S. Since my aunt and his uncle were acquainted at work, they had to come out with the truth on being asked by my aunt. He was not working at NASA. After his PhD he hopes to be employed by NASA. Wow! So much for his NASA research.
P.S. What is it with Americans of Indian origin? They want everything they have to be 'Made in America' except the bride.