Yolande D'Mello had seen it in Hindi films, and thought a marriage registration office was all about happy smiles, saccharine pedas and flourishing signatures. But is it? Curious, she decided to finally find out
You'd think it's open house at the school principal's office, with feverish 'kids' accompanied by eager parents awaiting the arrival of big momma. It's only 10.30 in the morning but a crowd has already gathered outside the marriage registration office in Bandra East. Outside, the street is flooded with speed-talking professionals making their way to shiny offices in Bandra-Kurla Complex.
S R Lohakare validates a couple's marriage. The marriage magistrate
weds about 20 couples each day. Pic / Yolande D'Mello
But in the stuffy ground floor waiting room of the MHADA building that houses the office, against garish pink walls still covered in cheap Diwali buntings, couples waiting to legalise their union sit huddled, wearing shiny saris and well-pressed trousers.
Marriage magistrate SR Lohakare walks in with a brief nod to four office boys, and a long line of anxious relatives. On a good day, she may even smile. Today isn't one of those days. Her cramped office is entered through swinging doors that seem to have made their way out of an old Western.
We take our spurs into the sheriff's office and take a seat in one corner. Dog-eared files, carbon papers and official forms give the room that familiar government-like feel. Under a glass pane, two conspicuous pieces of paper hold the words that will transform two ordinary people into a married duo. A strategically placed window allows Lohakare to fling files she has scanned over to her team of clerks.
Every now and then, a head will pop in to inform 'madam' about a legal notice, a spelling error or an uncanny request from a superior. Meanwhile, the pile of forms grows. "The job of a marriage registrar is crazy," she says, offering us a chocolate from a heap of mithai couples have left at her desk.
Suddenly, three couples stumble in at once. One wants to register a date, another is there to submit documents that prove they are above the age of consent and reside in India. The third couple has arrived to take the oath. All three will be yelled at during the course of the morning, and Lohakare will justify it with: "The rules are written clearly, nobody is an exception. If they can't follow simple instructions, it's not my problem."
Once a couple registers, it must choose a date to take the oath. Thirty days are allotted in case anyone wants to raise an objection, after which the couple can choose to get married within the next 60 days.
"Mehta and Vyas," Lohakare hollers. An office boy echoes the names, and two young people race to the swinging doors. They empty out the contents of a plastic bag onto her table, mainly yellowed certificates, while Lohakare ticks names and addresses on their forms. "Why does it say 'Mitali' on your passport, and 'Mitaliben' on the form?" she wants to know. "Madam, aise hai ki..." a timid Mr Mehta begins to explain. But we can tell that's the wrong answer. Lohakare rebukes him for wasting her time, and he is told to return when he has read the rules.
Each couple spends a maximum of three minutes in the room after which they are ushered out, most of them with instructions on how to fill forms, and sometimes, how to live their lives. After an hour, the taunts seem to float around in the hot air. Still, Lohakare is fair in her dealings and occasionally lets her guard down to wish a couple good luck and a happy married life.
At half past one, the signing papers folds up, and large folders with inked thumb impressions are brought out. A woman in a heavy zari sari walks in with a man whose cologne is too overwhelming for the cubbyhole. They are made to stand and read the notes held in place under the glass tabletop. "I, Sanjay Pawaskar take thee, Savita Bhosle to be my lawful wife," he says in a shaky voice, most words barely audible. "Again,' scolds Lohakare, "Timepass karaila aale aahe ka? Neet bola. (Have you come to waste my time. Say it again, properly)."
They must declare the oath three times, during which Lohakare repeatedly reprimands them for leaning on the table, and speaking under their breath. Once they have signed their commitment before the registrar and witnesses, Lohakare declares them officially married, and relatives open bulky bags to pull put garlands, mangalsutras and cameras to capture the moment.
But they have forgotten the sweets! The mother of the bride rants about the bad omen. Lohakare comes to the rescue. "I have Kaju Katli, even some Toblerone -- what do you want?" It is a joyous moment as the groom struggles with the mangalsutra and friends chide him. But it all ends when a well-meaning relative plays photographer, asking the office boy to move out of the frame.
It doesn't take long for Lohakare to get offended. "This is an office, where should he stand if not here? If you want to do a photoshoot, please go to a garden."
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