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The Big Fat Tamil Wedding

It’s the summer of 2006. I’d been away from home in Pune for 6 years, and it had been 2 years since I graduated from college and had a respectable job in America. It’s funny how my younger sibs, Supriya and Gaurav (GG) were so much nicer to me every time I went back for vacation. Part of it might be that they genuinely missed me. Part of it was also that we no longer had to aggressively fight over the landline and ICQ chat hogging rights at home – scarce resources in the late 90s when you had 3 teenagers competing. Some of it could also be that I now earned in dollars, and was quite eager and vain to show off my American credit card which worked out pretty well for them. Since my few weeks of planned golf and tennis at Poona Club was getting fairly rained out, when GG asked me to join him for a college friend’s (Aditi Suresh) wedding in ­Coimbatore on the assumption that I would sponsor our trip – it sounded like a pretty good idea and I agreed.

Before I get to this trip, for those of you who haven’t had the honour of meeting and getting to know my younger brother - it’s important for this story to give you a bit of background on the legendary GG. While the guy has some genius internet skills and was entrepreneurial from a very young age, to put it mildly - academic excellence was never a top priority for him growing up. Our school headmaster probably still remembers some record breaking marks. The dozens of Hindi, Physics and Maths tutors that made it through our doors over the years! Even the money hungry ones, and the ones that claimed they had a 100% success rate – promptly returned their fees and threw their hands up in the air. It wasn’t like he isn’t a smart kid, he just did not give a crap about conventional learning from text books. Just like Bill Gates and Einstein. But as it turns out, he actually remembered a bit from Geography class.

It was an early on-time flight to Coimbatore and it’s 9 am when we land. The bride’s (Aditi’s) driver was to pick us up from the terminal and take us to our hotel. We had GG’s one mobile phone between the 2 of us, but obscenely high roaming charges forced us to keep communication to a minimum. In good faith, we’re wandering around the arrivals area looking for a driver with our name plate. So as to not come across as an impatient NRI, I’m inhaling the hilly fresh air, and also taking Indian Standard Time in my stride.

Finally, GG called our host Aditi who assured us that the driver had set off a long time ago, must be around the airport by now and would find us momentarily. Another hour passes, and after I agree to pay GGs roaming charges, he calls Aditi again. On the other end of the line, we hear some background muttering about how this driver wasn’t the brightest one – and perhaps was waiting in the parking area. We get the car’s licence place and split up so as to not miss the elusive driver. No luck. It’s now 11:30 am and there’s still no sign of him. Maybe he’s been in an accident, maybe the car broke down….where on earth could he be?

At this point, some of you may be wondering why we didn’t just get into a taxi and head to the hotel. We didn’t have the address or the paper wedding invite on us – but more importantly we were constantly re-assured that the driver HAD to find us in the next couple of minutes. The most recent conversation with Aditi revealed that the driver in fact had his own mobile phone. Since he could only speak Tamil, poor Aditi was spending the morning before her wedding serving as our go-between translator. And the driver was getting an earful.

The communication from the driver, via Aditi explicitly stated that he was waiting bang outside the Jet Airways counter in Terminal 1. We were only 20 steps from there, but I was now optimistic since we finally had concrete instructions. We plonked ourselves firmly in front of the counter and started asking every guy around whether they were in fact Aditi Madam’s driver in a combination of broken Hindi/English with an attempted Tamil accent. After another 20 unproductive minutes, we came up with the logical solution we should have had a while ago. We give GGs mobile to the native Tamil speaker at the Jet Airways counter to liaise directly with the driver. Nothing should be lost in translation at this point, and I don’t care if this call costs a 1000 rupees!

It’s now 12:30pm and the call lasted over 20 minutes. The helpful Jet Airways attendant was also mystified as to why we could not locate our driver and took it upon himself to sort this out. Terminal 1 – YES. Jet Airways Counter – YES. Right next to the Café Coffee Day – YES. More guidance? Let’s get to visual personal identification - the driver claimed that while he was wearing a non-descript white safari suit, he was an unusually large and round man – so there is absolutely no way we could miss him. Still no big guy in a white safari suit on a mobile yelling in sight. There were raised voices on both ends of the line and some name calling by this point. Frustration to the extreme….how on earth could we not be right in front of each other??

Much screaming later, the mystery unfolds. We are standing at the Jet Airways counter in COIMBATORE, but the poor driver and the wedding itself are in CHENNAI!!This is where GGs top marks in Geography become relevant. He yells…..”BUT Coimbatore changed its name to Chennai man. I remember that from Geogo!”

True story.

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