… “Yes, madam?” the kind marriage officer was asking. The bride kept silent. The marriage witnesses were waiting. The bridegroom was sweating. Will she, nil she – read the oath in English? Pindrop silence in the room – it’s the Tis Hazari Court building in Delhi, remember? Otherwise there’s no such word as ‘pindrop’ in English, I just checked in Oxford. Neither as a noun, nor as an adjective. Must be an Indian coinage.
The electric fan did not squeak. It was a new one and whirled at half speed gently stirring the papers on the marriage officer’s desk, while the accused as well as convicted criminals, for all I know, shuffled past on the corridor outside. And then the bride spoke. She continued speaking. I don’t think the Indian marriage oath – in English – has been read in a more sexy German-Polish accent in the history of civil marriage on the subcontinent. I could have married her for that marriage oath, for that accent alone.
What does that have to do with my CID, my cultural identity?
CID or C.I.D. is the abbreviation for the Criminal Investigation Department of India – as also the title of the famous 1956 film with Dev Anand in the male lead. Since then, there’s not an Indian dead or alive who has not hummed Leke Pahela Pahela Pyar while having a pee or while NOT having a pee, not everybody having a bathroom to sing in, in India. But check the song out all over again on YouTube or wherever and you’ll realise that it’s Indian rock n’ roll at its best, it rocks, it rolls, it’s pure rhythm, it makes you dance – from the days before the bhangra beat conquered India and the West in a kind of double whammy of reverse colonialism… where was I?
There should also have been a Cultural Investigation Department of India, for example, examining the bhangrification of Bollywood film music. This CID should have had a foreign wing operating from the embassies and authenticating the cultural bona fides of NRIs and PIOs and all the other phrases and abbreviations for expats that the Indian govt. comes up with from time to time.
The cultural attaché at the embassy could issue the CIDs, for example, to people like us, stating it in percentages: thirty percent Indian, twenty percent German, ten percent illiterate and forty percent dalda instead of ghee. Or the attaché could ask one of us Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin to read an oath of cultural allegiance in our respective mother tongues, such as Oriya or Bengali or Hindi – would be almost like K. reading the marriage oath in Tis Hazari. Can I or can’t I? Read Bengali after all these years, I mean. You see, school, college and university were all in English, and it’s been German ever since. You don’t seriously expect me to read this thing – out aloud, for God’s sake! – in Bengali, do you?
I had no difficulty reading the oath – in English – at Tis Hazari. It wasn’t half as sexy as K. reading it but she seemed to like it, so who cares. And who cares that I, we, didn’t have our big fat Indian wedding. We’d submitted our papers a month earlier and pushed off to Goa for our honeymoon – before the marriage? There must be a mistake somewhere. My stepdaughter – naturally not ‘our’ stepdaughter, silly – was with us. We stayed at a ‘holiday village’. It was in the middle of the monsoon, with the eight mile beach entirely deserted and nobody venturing to set so much as a big toe in the raging Arabian Sea, with armadas of cumulus nimbus rolling in to conquer the Indian peninsula in a swift two-month campaign. I took pictures: sea and sky all in black-and-white, as if before the discovery of colour film. The colour was all on the landward side, dark green and velvet because of the monsoon.
Mira Nair should have seen it.