“One of the most elaborately staged pranks at a desi (typically North Indian or Pakistani) wedding is the theft of the groom’s shoes by the bride’s younger sisters and female cousins. The groom has to bargain for his shoes to be returned to him with these young girls, often offering them money, sweets, and jewelry in exchange for them. It has become a tradition emblematic to our weddings.”
The interviewee related her experience with this tradition to me: “The first time I got the chance to have my cousins do this for me was when I was getting married to your uncle. It was hilarious. He was running around, looking for the shoes like some desperate fellow, and they managed to swindle about a thousand rupees each from him! Not to mention all the sweets they got in exchange. It was amazing.”
There are a few explanations for this ritual-impeding prank. The first is that the Indian groom, who has to arrive at the wedding venue from another location, some distance away,and usually on a horse or an elephant, cannot proceed with the actual wedding sacraments if he doesn’t have his shoes with him. This, effectively, would put a stop to the wedding and interrupt the smooth flowing of a very important liminal period in one’s life – the time in which one is a groom, not yet married, and not really unmarried either. Secondly, India, being a rather patriarchal society, sees a wedding as the groom’s family taking possession of the bride. Therefore, in retaliation, the girls from the bride’s side take their revenge, symbolically and humorously, by stealing an important component of the groom’s outfit and thereby threatening the marriage. The money is supposed to be a sort of compensation for the bride being taken away. And finally, and perhaps rather obscurely, is the deeply-entrenched ancient practice of child-betrothal and child marriage in Indian society. In a time when children were the main participants in these weddings, these little games would have assuaged their confusion and engaged their attention to the very religious, and sometimes pretty long-winded sacraments.