‘It won’t be the normal sort of wedding’
20 May 2014
Instead let me talk about something that gives me hope for India. Last week, we attended a wedding. It was that of the daughter of Stan’s old friend Professor Ravivarma Kumar, the Advocate General of Karnataka. ‘It’s a sign you’re getting old, when you begin to have friends in high places,’ Stan joked. ‘This won’t be the normal sort of wedding,’ he added, ‘the Professor is known for his simplicity.’ But as everyone may or may not know, Indian weddings by definition are big fat affairs, because if you don’t invite everyone you know they will consider themselves insulted. And probably cut you off for life.
As we entered the reception venue, we saw police everywhere. Then the penny dropped. Because of his Advocate General status, the Chief Minister and Governor would attend. So there was enhanced security, sniffer dogs, police. The simple professor was now a VIP. Our fears were soon allayed, thankfully. True, a few thousands would be fed. But that is the case for many an Indian wedding. Interestingly, and I suppose predictably, there were fewer guests flashing diamonds and dripping with gold jewellery than one would expect to see at such a function. Instead, there were the usual suspects, given Kumar’s background. Many farmers dressed in simple khadi (homespun cotton), flaunting their signature green shawls – the trademark of the Karnataka farmers’ movement. The same people who burned down the Cargill seed storage complexes in protest against Cargill’s destructive seed policy, two decades ago. There were old men, some in wheelchairs, who had fought huge battles alongside Professor Kumar since the early 1970s against repressive policies of all kinds. Village people, students and VIPs were all there in full force.
The internet told me some things about the man that I didn’t know. In 1991, after Nelson Mandela's release, the African National Congress invited Professor Kumar to South Africa to evolve the affirmative action policies for incorporation in South Africa’s New Constitution. He was also invited by Amnesty International, Chile, to define the legal principles by which Heads of State who violate human rights can be prosecuted anywhere in the World. The allegations against Pinochet and Milosevic of gross human rights violations, had made necessary this international exercise to prevent recurrence.
In 2003, Ravivarma Kumar was invited by the World Farmers Organization, La Via Campensina. His task? To prepare the Charter of Farmers’ Human Rights for submission to the United Nations, on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This professor believes in practicing what he teaches. He spearheaded a rationalists’ movement against superstition, to develop a spirit of inquiry and scientific temper among Indians. When he and a group of rationalists organized a friend’s wedding they chose an inauspicious day, a forbidden time and did everything against the book. Normal Hindu weddings are conducted only after an astrologer prescribes that the couple’s horoscope is well matched and an auspicious date and time is specified. They also had widows present to the horror of the conventional guests in attendance. All these are considered bad omens.
The professor’s daughter is called Belle. Definitely not a traditional Hindu name. Like her father, she is an advocate and apparently rejects orthodoxy and blind convention. So the groom is a forward looking Muslim called Ghoshal, a name inspired by a Sufi saint. As we watched the young couple exchange flower garlands, the equivalent of rings for a western couple, a lump came to my throat. I said a prayer for their happiness and I thought ‘there’s hope for India yet’.