All anyone has to do is look without prejudice, and the similarities between weddings and funerals become obviously apparent. In fact, the two functions are nearly identical. Both are exorbitantly expensive. Both require all participants to dress in weird and uncomfortable outfits. Both have an abundance of tears, provided sometimes by hired help. Both have parties. And both are a celebration of the end of something. In fact, about the only difference is that in a funeral the center of attention at least enjoys the benefit of not being present.
I refuse to go to weddings or funerals, but it doesn't mean that I didn't, once upon a time. So what I write here comes from painful experience and not the blissful nonsense that seems to mesmerize most people about these things. Since I have already demonstrated that there really isn't any significant difference between the two, I will only talk about weddings and what I say can be easily extrapolated to funerals.
I don't really remember the first wedding I attended, but I do know that it wasn't my own and that I was forced to go to it by Ranjana because some colleague of hers was the bride. However, I have some recollections of the other weddings I went to.
My badminton doubles partner was getting married. I did not want to go to his wedding, because I had other things to do. However, I was told that they'd like me to take photos there (even though they had hired a photographer, so now I think it may have been a trick), therefore, I felt it was not going to be a complete loss. Besides, Ranjana was pressuring me to go.
The wedding was held at a massive church which was fully packed with what appeared to be most of the city. There was the monotonous procession to bad music down the aisle, the strangely dressed minister's even stranger utterances, the prefabricated responses of the bride and bridegroom. The exhibition took a very long time. Then they disappeared into a room to sign the register. This took even longer and seeing how the entire congregation was really quite bored, I considerately volunteered to shout out something like "Hey, the honeymoon isn't supposed to start till later, you know!", but Ranjana dissuaded me from doing so for some reason.
The reception was even more preponderous (the bride's family was very wealthy and wanted to demonstrate this fact) and there was a silly process in which we all had to line up to shake the married couples' hands and wish them well. I have no idea why we were supposed to do this. Was it that they were afraid that something bad was going to happen after this fantastic display, that they needed all these good wishes? At any rate, I quickly shot a roll of film and disappeared before getting enmeshed any further.
The wedding of my tennis doubles partner was even more convoluted. He was marrying another tennis player at the club and since we were all good friends, they wanted me to be an usher at their wedding. The only problem was that I didn't want to go to the wedding. I had no objection to their getting married, but I didn't see why they had to involve innocent bystanders. However, I was given the speech about how this was such an important day for them and how they really, really wanted me to usher and encountering such pressure, I finally agreed.
Then I found out I had to attend the reception too. This was too much and even the lure of a free vegetarian meal (they were going to prepare special dishes for Ranjana and myself) wasn't enough because apparently there was dancing at the reception. Dancing is one of those horrible practices that make people sweat, something I refuse to do unless I am properly attired in a sweatsuit. I produced a creative assortment of excuses as to why I couldn't attend the reception, but the bride-to-be figured out that it was probably the dancing that was bothering me and gave me leave to go before that debacle started. Now I really had run out of options.
The bride's family had specific details that had to be looked after. For instance, I had to wear a suit and the tie they chose for me. Then, I was told that I was supposed to drive the married couple to the reception after they dressed my car up even sillier than they had dressed me.
In any case, I went dutifully to the church and took my assigned place just inside the front doors and watched the people migrating in. Suddenly, another tennis friend came up to me and emphatically asked with some urgency, "What are you doing?". I told him that I was ushering. He said I wasn't supposed to be just standing around looking, but that my job was to take people to their seats. This made no sense to me because it wasn't like the church was dark as in a cinema hall and these people couldn't find their own seats!
Another strange matter was that the people the bride invited sat on one side of the church, while those the groom invited sat on the other. Possibly the logic behind this arrangement was to show who had the greater number of gullible friends.
Then I was told that I was supposed 'offer my arm' to any females in the party I was escorting. The rationale behind this bit of bizzarity completely eluded me. Why should the female or anyone else for that matter be allowed to possess my arm? What if there were two females or worse what if there were more than two? Obviously, these people hadn't thought out the logistics properly at all.
The reception was very irritating. It was hard enough sitting in a suit and tie, but it is impossible to concentrate on eating (even a free meal) when people are making ridiculous speeches throughout it extolling each others virtues. In any case, my duty had been done and using the experience gained earlier, I ushered Ranjana and myself right out of there before things got really gruesome.
You'd think I'd learn after these experiences and as you'll see I did! What could have been the worst was yet to come - my own wedding!
Please understand that there was absolutely no reason why Ranjana and I should have gotten married. She's been bothering me since she was four so I had already done more time than most people do with a spouse! Furthermore, there was always the ever present threat of The East Indian Wedding. If you thought the other two I related were bad, know that East Indian weddings can go on for 20 days!
So when the parents brought up the "When are you two going to get married?" line, I had to plan my escape. The "I've done more time than most people do with a spouse" idea didn't seem to hold any weight with the parents or Ranjana, so I settled down to research the situation from various perspectives and was confident I would succeed in finding a solution out of my predicament.
Then I made my first and only mistake, ever, in my entire existence!
I had learned that there actually was a benefit to getting married which was that one could claim a tax deduction. Overwhelmed by greed and desperation, in a fit of shortsighted blindness, I agreed to the idea!
When I came to my senses, I could see that there was a thick buzz in the air as the planning had already commenced on how we were going to be married - the announcements, the people, the food, the receptions, it looked hopelessly endless. I can't even stand a party and this monstrosity was getting bigger and bigger like the Hindenburg being pumped full of hydrogen gas.
They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, but I had nowhere to go! I had to think fast!
Then, as if sent from heaven, there was a great spark of intuition!
I suggested that instead of spending all this 'pomp and fanfare' on us, who already had everything and even each other (that was really such a nice touch, don't you think?), why not give all that money to Mother Teresa's efforts.
Ranjana was delighted by this idea (and of course, I am never going to reveal my real motivations).
How did the parents take it? Oh my god! It was like we had just killed them (and who knows how many ancestors to boot)! After all, you're not supposed to get married for yourselves right? You're supposed to get married for your parents! In fact, they were making a phenomenal amount of noise for people who had freshly been killed!
Despite the opposition, I was convinced there was a window of opportunity here and so I pursued it, reinforcing the basic concepts and logically elaborating on their merits. Sometimes, you just have to wear people down.
Ranjana's parents were the first to concede and not too reluctantly either. They had connections with the Ramakrishna Mission in India and actually felt good about making their contribution to that organization.
My parents though were another story. My mother, in particular, took all this as a personal affront and figured her reputation with the Indian community was going to be permanently destroyed by this rebellious son. My father was afraid of my mother, so it is perhaps a bit unclear what his thoughts really were, but I see no reason to give him any benefit of the doubt. When I used to ask them where I came from I recall being told two possibilities - a supermarket, when they were in a good mood, and a garbage can when they weren't. It was pretty clear for the next few days what my origins were.
As so often happens when one is engaged in a truly valiant venture such as getting out of going to a party, providence came to my rescue in the form of my uncle of all people (since we rarely associated with him). He appeared out of nowhere and said this was a remarkable thing - the first time anyone in the history of the family, as far as he had researched it, had gotten married wanting to give everything to charity.
Well, that was all it took! My mother suddenly saw the whole thing in a completely different light and even greatly illuminated the viewpoints of the other 3 parents as well as the masses of relatives that would have shown up. I had gone from murderous villain to hero overnight! I think I had even found my way back into that supermarket and may be even a bit further!
A lot of money was raised and I got out of having to go to a party!
Now you might be thinking all was joy and we lived happily ever after. However, you forget that there was still that little nagging matter of a wedding. Yes the reception threat had been eliminated, but there was still the wedding. I couldn't very well conjure up a charity to intervene on my behalf to solve this dilemma - there are legal issues at stake!
So the first necessary step was to investigate alternatives to a wedding. Partially utilizing the already successful charity argument as leverage, I demonstrated that the best way to not spend money on a wedding was not to have one: therefore, have the deed done by a justice of the peace or a ship's captain. The latter was impractical since we were on land and the former would cost only $15, a sacrifice I was willing to make, especially since I knew I could get my parents to pay for it - so that they could feel they had met their responsibilities as parents of course! Besides, I knew that since justices of the peace have important things to do, such as getting people to stand up when they come into a courtroom and perching upon a high bench, they simply cannot hang around administering blessings for extended periods of time the way church VIPs do.
Ok so that part was taken care of efficiently! Could I do more? Was there a possibility that I might manage not to attend even this ceremony and still collect my tax deduction? The answer was yes! It would take coercion and courage, but it could be done!
I learned that I could get married by proxy!
Now I had several students who were fearful of me - after all, I was a high school teacher at the time! What indeed could be the point of that occupation if one couldn't make use of one's students when the need arose? After a bit of purposeful negotiation, it seemed I managed to convince one of them that it would be greatly to his benefit to serve as my proxy! In fact, as I recall, I didn't have to employ much coercion. He seemed quite happy to serve this useful role, no doubt because he felt sorry that his noble teacher would have to undergo such an unpleasant experience. I suppose I had indeed brought him up well.
Then came the courage part - telling Ranjana.
Well I certainly had the courage, but I had overlooked another 'c' that needed to exist with coercion and courage. That 'c' was cooperation. Inexplicably, Ranjana was opposed to having my student be the proxy. I found her attitude most puzzling to say the least! After all, it wasn't like this fellow was a complete stranger. We'd known him for a year or so and he spent large periods of time at our home as did many of my students. I tried to reason with her with the aforementioned argument and even wrung out the gut-wrenching "but you don't really want to hurt his feelings, do you?". It was to no avail though. I can only conclude that she heartlessly wanted me to suffer with her through the ceremony. As the saying goes, misery does indeed enjoy company.
I dutifully showed up beside Ranjana (who even made me wear a suit - though I wasn't forced to wear a tie) at city hall. The four parents were in tow as well, no doubt to ensure I had no possibility of escape.
Then a glimmer of hope!
It seemed that the municipal government had made a error. Ranjana had been registered as the bridegroom while I was flagged as the bride. However, I watched in astonishment as the clerk corrected the situation within seconds! What ever happened to obligatory bureaucratic inefficiency? Shouldn't the matter have gone to several committees and taken months to resolve?
Next thing I knew we were standing before the justice of the peace who was typically dressed in one of those black outfits which made one think of penguins. He didn't wear a white hairpiece, but I was too forlorn to make an issue of it. All I can recall of those blurry moments were his mumbling something and then Ranjana mumbling something in agreement and then I think I mumbled something as well.
Suddenly I was awakened from my stupor with the frightful words I had heard in the movies, "You may now kiss the bride." What? It was over? That was all there was to this? Elation had found me again!
Instead of following his directive (after all it wasn't a command you know, because he did say "You may ..." and not something like "Do it!"), I proceeded to shake his hand vigorously offering my deepest gratitude. While thus engaged, I turned to Ranjana and said, "He did that so well! We should have him again the next time we do this!"
It was very evident from the incredulous look on his face, that this poor fellow had never before received such a fine compliment in his entire career.