The bell rings sharply at 5AM in the campus on the cold mornings of September in a small town in Kerala...and worse still, it rings repeatedly in a stern shrill tone that commands due acknowledgment. The students get up with sleepy faces and look at each other wondering 'This can't be happening to me' , and then 5 seconds later are jolted back to reality only to join the race to occupy the limited bathrooms lest they have to stand in long queues.
By 5.45AM the 150 odd students are assembled inside the chapel (in military line formations strictly monitored by the nuns at all times) on the 4th floor for the morning prayer followed by the Holy Mass while the wardens go through the rooms just in case some naive soul decided to sleep a wee bit longer. After the mass, the students come down to the cafeteria for breakfast and are inside the class rooms by 8.45AM. The classes go on till 12 pm followed by a 45 min lunch break. People hide in corridors during break time speaking in hushed tones on their phones because mobile phones are banned in the campus till 10.30PM.Then more classes follow till 4 pm when groggy eyes light up for the much awaited 20 min Tea break...
The final sessions of the day last till 10PM.This is followed by the "introduce yourself" sessions till 10.30 pm so that people get to know the fellow students who are slogging along with them. Finally by 10.45 PM, everyone retires to their rooms (shared between 3 to 10 individuals depending on the room size) and the nuns lock up the iron grills that separate the boy's and girl's sides of the campus.The break times are not filled with loud voices or much movement and the air reeks with love in the 'campus' as most of the 'students' have come to the course in pairs and all break times are judiciously utilized to talk to their partners.The same cycle goes on for 3 days. (I heard fellow students at the Bangalore campus get away with a single day course...lucky rascals)
As you guessed from the title, the 'students' here are people who have decided to get married and have come to attend the mandatory 'pre-marital course', whose completion certificate is a must to get married in a Catholic church in India. For me, a person who had very limited time before the D day of my marriage, my parish priest bend the rules and conducted my marriage based on the promise that I will attend the 'pre-martial course' post marriage.
The first week after my marriage consisted of endless visits to the houses of close relatives as per the custom followed by a quick 2 day getaway to Munnar (where I came down fever, the gory details of which are coming up in a future post). Then just a week after my marriage, I was sitting inside a classroom of 150 students for 3 whole days learning what the Church expected me to have learned before I got married.
Now I went to this course with a biased mind.I had resolved before hand that I wont give ear to any the selling of religion or how 'our religion is the best' kind of stuff. But Boy was I wrong !
Those 3 days zipped by very fast, and contained well crafted sessions of various topics like
- Monetary budgeting after Marriage
- Work life balance
- Maintaining Family ties and the addition of your spouse to them
- Elaborate FAQs session on physical relations (it was a detailed and well handled fun session)
- Handling differences, respecting your spouse and accepting their quirks
- Past is past (dont ask or brag about old relationships)
- Abortion is not acceptable (the only session with pronounced religious bias)
- Chance to prepare for a proper confession (Christian belief that one's sins will be forgiven by God if one truly repents doing them, and will strive not to repeat them)
-Divorce is not an "option" (Divorce is not acceptable in our Church unless due to grave issues like mental illness, impotency etc )
My worst fears were left to rest as never did I feel that Christianity was being sold to me... instead it was explained how old customs help family life in the modern world. An example is how the habit of daily family prayer helps to break the ice during quarrels when the spouses are giving each other the cold shoulder. The classes are (predominantly) not taken by priests or nuns but by highly qualified doctors, psychiatrists, marriage counselors who know first hand about the common pit falls today's marriages could fall into.
The highlight for me was during the self introduction sessions when people introduced their would-be's to the whole class . Every couple who came to the stage stood 2 to 3 feet apart and then introduced each other with expected shyness as they were still not married. So I decided to spice things up by going there and then holding my wife in my arms to introduce her. Of course this joy was short lived as the organizers came rushing to separate us stressing that majority in the hall were unmarried and hence we should not be flaunting our marriage status.
All in all I had good time there with the celebrity status in campus bestowed on us due to the fact that we were already married but still came for the course while all others had come for that coveted course certificate. I am equally sure of the fact that that there was hardly anyone who wanted to attend the course in the first place if it was not mandatory as I am sure of the fact that in the end there was hardly anyone who felt the 3 days spent there were not useful for their future life.
In the end I have found new respect for the Church for the very fact that they take marriages so seriously and ensure that newly weds enter into it with the right mind set.