I attended an inter-regional wedding a few months ago. Towards the end of the ceremony the siblings of the North Indian bride stole the shoes of the South Indian groom. I was told that this is a mandatory event in many North Indian weddings. I found out later that this is also prevalent in South India and only I have managed to stay away from it.
This is how the event is supposed to transpire: The fellows steal the groom's shoes. The groom is to leave the place only after somehow -- reason, beg, buy, steal -- winning back the shoes from the fellows. He can't reason because the fellows are unreasonable. He can't beg because the fellows are stony. He can't buy because the fellows only want more money than the national debt of the USA. (He won't buy because he doesn't have such a shoe fetish.) He can't leave barefoot because the fellows won't allow the bride to accompany him, because though they absolutely do not mind marrying off their sister to a man without shoes they do mind letting her live with him. He can't leave behind the shoes and the bride because his parents need them for another event at another place in the near future.
To put it mildly, the groom is in quite a pickle. To exaggerate, he is living his worst nightmare. He is already fatigued and irritated by the fire and the incomprehensible rituals, is expectant and expected to play the Bollywood hero sans stunts. His family, having recently decided that he is capable of setting up his own family, is now relentlessly looking to put together a solution (and some quick cash) for the apple of their eye. The fellows are having fun at his cost, ragging him not inside a locked room but on a dais of a filled community hall.
The event that night was one of the best examples of the irony of humor I have ever witnessed. All participants and spectators, I believe, derived a different level of fun (and anxiety, for that matter) from it based on their background (cultural, regional, religious), tolerance, familiarity with the practice, and closeness to one of the two parties. As an observer with nothing to lose I was thoroughly entertained. I hoped for everyone's sake that the groom wouldn't break down, and was also curious to see him break. When the fellows finally got bored and relented, and asked the groom whether he doesn't already feel like having gotten closer to the new wing of the extended family, I was disappointed. What until then appeared to be gallant stupidity suddenly became rehearsed wisdom. It was an anti-climax. Could it have ended in any other way?
I later came to know that this event is perceived as a symbolic way of bringing closer the families taking part in the wedding, as a way of opening debate between them for future necessities. Even amateur poets writing to meter no longer buy such symbolisms, and I find it irrelevant for today's cross-geo nuclear families. This may be a vestige of the ancient practice of kanyASulkam. And therein might lie a solution of getting out of it, while stressing once again that getting into it seems more artificial than implants.
The groom could shame the fellows about objectifying and appraising a woman, though it wouldn't work if the fellows are shameless. The groom's family could stand by a principle (of taking dowry) and threaten to cancel the wedding for asking their side to pay for something, though it would end badly if the fellows report it to the Police. Someone could cry like a baby until the outcome becomes favorable, though it would appear tragic to most. Interestingly, all of these and any other could be pushed any farther and then called off as humor. It might work based on the very basis of the different perceptions of humor. One side is euphoric; the other is dysphoric.
Inexplicably, this silly ritual has been creeping into my mind whenever I hear about a wedding. Now, I hope that it rests.