December is wedding season in Colombo. The unspoken secret about Sri Lankan weddings is that the marriage itself is just a prop for something more critical. Essentially a venue for hooking up unmarried daughters to qualified (doctor/lawyer/accountant/engineer/executive) young men. This is very serious business for hordes of determined aunties and desperate mothers. I knew about the wedding market scene as a fact of Sri Lankan life, but I experienced the seriousness of the process at a very visceral level only recently – at the most recent wedding Mrs Cerno and I attended.
We arrived at the hall to find that most of the tables were taken. There was no seating plan and we didn’t know most of the couple’s relatives. In the free for all, we agreed that Mrs C would hold the two available seats we could find while I waded out to the other side of the hall to secure a less prominent table. Mrs C wanted to people watch, not answer probing questions by the matronly aunties/mothers chaperoning bejewelled pretty young things in fashionably revealing saris.
As I work my way through the hall, I get the weird sensation of being watched. I glance around carefully and what I see chills me to the core. Practically at every table is an elderly lady staring at me. Their beady eyed focus is that of predatory animals eyeing a juicy gazelle or similar vegetarian. I’ve seen that look in many National Geographic documentaries.
When they realise I have seen them, they quickly shift their target lock gaze. The whole thing is over in a flash but during that time everything felt as if it were in slow motion. Perhaps due to primordial some instinct, I make a vague adjustment of my tie which shows off the wedding band. Hopefully I’ve sent the right signal. Still rattled I finally find an unobtrusive table. We later find that its reserved for the band but that’s not an interesting story.
The Sri Lankan aunties network is really a database that contains a detailed history of your personal and family life. If you have physical deformity or a scandal in the family it knows all the details. I’m sure its the sort of thing every spy agency in the world dreams about but will never have.
Queries are based on facial recognition and your parent’s names. Relationships are mapped in terms of kinship, school and university attendance, companies people worked at etc. So I’m quite sure that by the time I sat down, details about me, my horoscope, and by extension spousal unit (and her horoscope) have already spread gone around the room.
We finally manage to plant ourselves and get down to people watching. Mrs C is already well on her way to eventual auntihood as she points out various people and describes the scandals they are associated with.
After the ceremonies are over, we notice the aunties floating about from table to table. Bending down to whisper with the anxious mothers and point out oblivious young animals in dashing suits who are too busy with their digital cameras. Meanwhile their pretty young things look suitably glamorous and demur – even if they are usually not in real life. They discreetly scan the their potential mates who mostly likely will be unattractively drunk by the end of the evening.
Ug well it looks like I am out of time to blog on for the day. More on this later (when ever I get around to it).