When I was a child, marriage meant, that the girl went and stayed with the boy's family for good. In those days, one never really heard of couples shifting out into apartments and flats of their own, unless of course, the man worked in a different city, or was in the armed forces or civil services, where you kept moving around on transfers and got accommodation.
While the wedding rituals in my community have remained mostly unchanged, over the various decades, some social customs seem to have changed, and some have almost disappeared.
As children , besides staring at the bride, in tears, being escorted by her maternal uncle to the wedding podium, in her final moments as a Miss, enquiring about the dessert for lunch, keeping an eye on bottles of Coca Cola, staying away from some strict in-charge aunt, and laughing at some person who looked funny in the traditional Gandhi cap worn for the rituals, , one of things we liked to go look at, was something called Rukhwat.
This was something similar to what is called a bride's trousseau today. Except nobody registered names anywhere, things were rarely store bought, and assorted folks including the bride often got down to some serious arts and crafts, designed to impress the in laws. All the stuff, made for the bride (and sometimes by the bride) was displayed prominently on a longish table , usually with a nice tablecloth. This was the Rukhwat, and the bride took this with her when she went to her marital home. (Along with many other things not clearly defined, tangible and non tangible).
Once a marriage was fixed, there would be a flurry of arts, crafts, embroidery, paintings, cutwork on textiles, bead work etc. Various aunts and cousins would offer to make some Rukhwat item or items . Sometimes the bride herself would bring out all the tablecloth sets she embroidered, a few years ago, for an eventuality like this. Wool flowers and hanging braided branches , various door decorations to be put over a doorway (toran) in wonderful designs, was a typical item.
Back then in the late 50's , I remember seeing small besan (=garbanzo flour) sofa sets, and trains made of bread. My friends and I, who thought the world of besan laddoos, thought what a colossal waste of besan this was, but it needed a smart person to plan the consistency of the besan , so that the sofas stayed as sofas, and didn't go flat. The train made out of bread was a bit complicated, and while you could eat the sofas later, I don't think the bread was used later in any way.
Then for some inexplicable reason, the next most popular thing was a house made of injection bottles. In an amazing display of recycling sense, doctors would keep these empty injection bottles for such uses, instead of creating mountains of biomedical waste like today . The bottles were organised in layers and rows, and stuck together, and folks made some really complicated structures out of these bottles, which looked like really fancy palaces when placed under lights.
And finally, there would be a great set of homemade jams and relishes in a smart set of bottles, lots of homemade sweets beautifully packaged, and assorted edible goodies on display. Sometimes one would see a set of steel utensils, glasses and bowls, along with complicated embroidered bedsheets and tablecloths. I know of a case where the bride herself was a whiz at embroidering huge scenes from the scriptures and epics and the Rukhwat had a display of these on the wall behind the table. There was a pervading sense of wanting to "show" the "opposition" (boy's side)......:-)
Somewhere in the 80's , girls were getting educated more, working, and so there wasn't time to get so many things organized. Besides, consumerist behaviour was kind of kicking in. Corelle crockery and serving bowls sets were greatly prized, and these were displayed in the Rukhwat. Sometimes even pressure cookers made it there. The emphasis went from making it yourself to buying it.
Some enterprising folks went into business providing things like the 5 different jams, sweets, and even embroidered and framed Ganeshas, and other gods. There appeared to be an increasing emphasis on the outfits of the bride and groom and the jewellery. In some weddings you would get to see an entire range of cooking vessels, lids, tea sets and what have you.
This of course, didn't stop the guests from giftng whatever they wanted to the couple. It was nicely packed, supposed to be a surprise, and if turned out to be your 6th clothes iron, or 5th toaster, it was just too bad.
Today, people are all in a hurry. Even some of the wedding rituals are now done in their version 1.5 or whatever. Abridged. With all the mandatory things intact. All based on very material considerations like the cost of overshooting your time at the marriage hall, by what time most of the guests have to leave (if its a weekday), and if the groom is working abroad, then the most important consideration, is getting all the required certificates for the visa, post marriage. Wedding planning is now a profession.
And so you don't see much Rukhwat these days, unless you are in a smaller city, where the life pace is slower, and more peaceful. Today its all about "wearing" the show. The days when you embroidered stuff late into the night for a Rukhwat, with assorted nieces and nephews helping you do the sequins or whatever, are gone . You dont see aunts , in charge of the Rukhwat , insisting things be just so on the big day, and losing their temper at some mischievous nephew, who is having a great time teasing the younger girls who have made the stuff........
But there is the story of a girl, the daughter of a friend, who had braved some complicated limb surgery in her twenties, and showed immense courage and fortitude learning to walk again. I'd see her mother helping her with her walking exercises , with a walker, as she struggled to walk in our lane, late every evening , after her mother came home from work. She faced more than physical discomfort and pain, as there were looks, and whispers, and people wondering why this surgery was required at this marrigeable age. As is typical in India, people thought nothing of coming and asking you this, and her mother was an example of how you learn to count till ten, and keep your temper. This girl met a wonderful boy , the meeting arranged by a marriage bureau, and they hit off so well, and got engaged.
I called the entire family, and the boy for a kind of marriage shower(celebratory dinner), wrote a poem for the girl and her parents, applauding her spirit and courage, and framed the thing in some kind of wedding type decorative stuff and presented it to her. Her husband was greatly impressed by the story. When I travelled to Pune for the marriage, some 5 aunts and cousins of the girl had slogged over some wonderful arts and crafts in the Rukhwat, and there on the table, along with the finer artistic stuff, was my framed poem ! In her trousseau.....
Traditionally , everyone actually presents the bride with a coconut. It is not unusual to see a heap of coconuts in the room assigned to the bride's side in the marriage hall. Today, along with Rukhwats, embroideries , art work, wall hangings and stuff, even coconuts are not seen much .
But as in everything else in life, its not what you give , but the thought and spirit behind that counts.
In the small garden downstairs in my (late)parents house used to be a coconut tree. It was planted the year I was born. Twenty five years later , a whole coconut (the type you buy from the coconut seller to drink the coconut water and eat the sweet pulp) from that tree , was given to me by my mother, and was one of things I carried with me to my in-laws house . Over the years it dried up. It moved around with me as we shifted houses . I even painted it orange from the outside to match my curtains at one point. Sometime in the early beginnings of this century, it fell down, and cracked, possibly due to age. Inside was a shrivelled dry coconut ball. Around this time I lost one of my parents.
And so there are Rukhwats and Rukhwats. And then there are the Rukhwats of the Mind, your values which your parents give you, which you take with you, which stay with you throughout life. The material ones may change , based on customs, time, value, and attitude.
The mental ones go with you when you go.