Surely it must make it to the Guinness Book of World Records as Vidyakar, who founded Udavum Karangal in 1983 to serve the needy in Chennai, is about to complete conducting the weddings of a hundred adopted daughters! As I write, he already has 95 sons-in-law and 45 grandchildren!
This scribe has known these children from infancy, because, deputed by the Sai organization as a Psychiatrist-Physician team, my husband and I used to do free service at Udavum Karangal once a week, in the nineties. Once our work with the adults was over we used to go to Shishu Bhavan next door, the cleanest ever infants and toddlers orphanage I have ever seen, and all the little ones would make a beeline for my husband as he used to lift, throw up in the air and catch each of them- an exercise they loved!
The children were all adopted by Vidyakar; he was Papa and Mamma to them. When asked their name, they would proudly say, “ Rajesh Vidyakar”; “ Sindhu Vidyakar”, and so on. They would all get a teaspoon of honey in the morning and a weekly oil bath. The young girls who looked after them, were part of the older lot at Udavum Karangal. Many of them too carried the Vidyakar surname, and Vidyakar would somehow save money to get each of the caregiving girls a gold chain. He was truly Papa to them all.
After many years when I recently went to Udavum Karangal, I found the wall plastered with ‘wedding pictures’! Then the staff told me that the girls who grew up at Shishu Bhavan, as they finished with school and college, were now getting married! In fact Papa Vidyakar was more busy these days getting his daughters married!
Vidyakar takes his responsibility very seriously. Like a typical Indian father, he starts with ads on matrimonial sites. He too puts up ads from the girls’ side. Transparency is the name of the game. Once enquiries from prospective grooms come, Vidyakar gets down to action. He screens the boy, asks for references, literally starts a dossier on him compiling date of birth, educational qualifications, hobbies, health background, present employment and salary, parents’ and siblings’ details, their attitude to those socially disadvantaged and so on. Short of horoscope matching, he studies suitability from all angles. He also visits their homes.
The boy’s family is invited to Udavum Karangal. All the girls are given pre-marital counselling. The boy and girl are allowed to meet and talk in private at the home. If his daughter nods ‘okay’ then an engagement is planned a few weeks before the wedding. This is done, says Vidyakar, so that he gets to meet with the extended family and friends. Even at the ‘engagement stage’ if he feels the chemistry is not quite alright, he calls off the match; Vidyakar is fiercely protective of his daughters!
For the wedding, he makes sure the girl has a gold chain, ear rings and bangles that costs Rs 3 to 4 lakhs as sponsors chip in and help. Two grand saris and basic utensils etc. to set up home are given. Vidyakar insists that the groom’s side pays for the “reception”. If no reception is held then wedding expenses are shared. The boy’s family must have a stake in the wedding, feels Vidyakar. The boy’s family is expected to get the ‘thaali’, a chain and the ‘metti’ i.e. toe rings. After the wedding too, counselors, social workers and nurses make periodic visits to ensure the well being of the bride.
True to Indian tradition, when the bride is expecting, Papa Vidyakar brings her home, gets a check up done, etc. All arrangements for the delivery are made at Udavum karangal and mother and baby stay home till the baby is at least three months old. Grandpa Vidyakar gives the baby the customary anklets and so on. The weddings started in 2010 and in a few days a hundred weddings would have been conducted!
If the religion to which the girl was born, was known to Vidyakar, right from giving her an appropriate name, the religious practices she was born to, are followed. There is no conversion at Udavum Karangal, and when hunting for bridegroom, Vidyakar restricts himself to that religion. But is the orphan babe’s antecedents were not known she was raised in the all faith milieu of the home. A religion and caste no bar guideline is used while bridegroom hunting, and on marriage she would take the religion of the boy’s family. So far he has conducted Hindu Brahmin weddings, Hindu non-Brahmin weddings and Christian weddings, a Muslim wedding is in the offing.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. “By God’s grace”, says proud Papa Vidyakar, “all my 95 daughters are happily married, and I have 45 grandchildren so far!” The girls who were nursed as orphan babies at Shishu Bhavan and grew up later in the Mother-Homes of Udavum Karangal, attending the Ramakrishna School run by Udavum Karangal, and thereafter college, are now daughters in law of respectable families. If the Guinness Book were to ever catalogue the highest number of amazing divinely ordained weddings conducted by one Papa, Vidyakar would win hands down!