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Washingtonnil Thirumanam

by Venky

(Image Credit: goodreads.com)

Saa Viswanathan, popularly known as “Saavi”, once witnessed a group of foreigners attending the famous Thayagarajar music festival in the town of Thiruvaiyyar before finding himself besides with laughter within the confines of a movie hall that played Walt Disney Productions’ “The Absent-Minded Professor”. These two mutually exclusive events inspired in combination – unfortunately – to produce the slapstick book, Washingtonnil Thirumanam (literally translating to “Wedding in Washington”). Replete with lame and subpar humour, littered with painfully contrived conversations and brimming with irritating characters, Washingtonnil Thirumanam is one painful read.

Katherine, the sister-in-law of Mrs. Rockefeller (yes that very one), happens to attend a traditional South Indian wedding in Tanjavur, along with her husband Harry Hopes and daughter Loretta. A much-enthused Katherine is gripped by a marriage fervour and is engulfed in a cultural fever as she just cannot stop waxing lyrical about the peculiar events that are the prerogative of a South Indian wedding. Loretta even collects a bottle of ‘road dust’ since the streets of New York are too very clean to encourage the emergence of dust! This arouses the curiosity of Mrs. Rockefeller who in keeping with the tenets of Oscar Wilde, decides that the only way to cure temptation is to yield to it. The multimillionaire orders a wedding to be conducted in Washington D.C, in the same extravagant manner in which it would be conducted in India. Warts and all, including, the ubiquitous quibble (‘Sambandhi Sandai”) between the two sets of relatives over matters inconsequential. Yes, you read that right!

The responsibility for organizing the gala event falls on the shoulders of Delhi Panju a person employed with the Secretariat in India’s capital city. Panju also known by his friends and acquaintances in America as Mr. Cotton, (Panju in Tamizh means cotton), arranges for a stream of flights to be plied between Washington DC and Madras (as Chennai was known at the time the novel was penned), that ferries a literal menagerie of persons ranging from the asinine to the absurd.

Washingtonnil Thirumanam is an unbearable concoction of nerve jarring dialogues (“Is the Abraham Lincoln memorial similar to a spiritual edifice such as the ones built for a Jambulingam or any other Lingam? Lincoln being mistaken as “Lingam”), fantastical imaginations in absurdum (Mrs. Rockefeller hires a helicopter in which she ferries a few of the wedding party over Washington D.C. to ascertain which building to ‘appropriate’ so that its expansive terrace can be used to spread the “Pappadoms”. The National Art Gallery is hired for this use after a trial and elimination process), and perfectly avoidable sequences (two egregious priests, Sambasiva Sastrigal and Ammanji put the Potomac River to good use by washing their dhotis and performing ablutions, all under the unwavering gaze of an awed and packed crowd. At the end of their rituals when they apply a dash of sacred ash on their foreheads, an intrepid reporter measures the length of the marking with the use of a measuring tape).

The reader is rendered both exasperated and enraged. Humour becomes a convenient euphemism for the irrational as the story transcends the realms of even the absurd. The one silver lining is the fact that at 176 pages it is a mercifully short and swift torture. Adding in the fact that sense and sensibility may be safely packed away throughout the course of reading, the pain is abridged.

I personally cannot opine for the sentiments of Walt Disney, but as a firsthand sufferer, how I wish Saavi had given “The Absent-Minded Professor” a wide pass, and those foreigners had chosen another year and time to make their trip to Thiruvaiyyar thereby giving Saavi a wider pass!

Washingtonnil Thirumanam – far from a marriage made in heaven!

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