As I scanned through a pile of recent wedding cards, it struck me that the big fat Indian wedding has grown to obese proportions. A majority of the invitations were unbearably overloaded with useless paraphernalia, all aiming to impress. Too much gold embroidery, too many leafs – some were in the form of thick booklets encased in heavy boxes. They all screamed wealth. Whatever happened to plain handmade paper and elegant cloth scrolls?
The Indian classes and masses have taken a cue from extravagant celebrity weddings, Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter’s marriage being a stark example. The popularity of ‘’Punjabi’’ weddings as portrayed in films has spawned the trend of 5 or 10 day marathon weddings throughout the country. Cultural borrowing is generally a happy by-product of social evolution, but in this case it often causes mental and financial strain to the families of the betrothed couple.
Indian weddings are treated as a union of two families and not two individuals. Since time immemorial, parents have considered it their sacred duty to marry their daughters off in style. Conversely, the groom’s family usually has high expectations from them.
The age of reason has dawned, yet instead of splitting expenses with the ‘’other side’’, people have gone a step further in their efforts to put up a spectacular show for friends and relatives. Carrying out a wedding in the family with pomp and splendour has become a matter of prestige – leading to a lot of wasteful expenditure.
The modern Indian wedding typically consists of an engagement ceremony, mehendi, sangeet, the nuptials, a reception and a cocktail party to wrap it up. These are often lavishly spread over a week. One could always plan a bit more prudently, clubbing certain functions on the same days or even together, such as mehendi and sangeet.
Proper planning cuts down venue rental costs greatly. Some people take great pains to organise professional musical or dance performances, which can easily be substituted with rehearsed performances by talented family members. A more enjoyable and economical form of entertainment, surely!
Inviting your entire guest list for all the functions can also be done away with. Separate guest lists can be made for each occasion, for instance restricting the nuptials or actual marriage to close family, the cocktails evening to young friends and colleagues of the bride and groom, and having your entire clan of relatives and family friends over for the sangeet. Apart from reducing accommodation, seating, catering, and invitation printing costs, this thoughtful categorisation will add a personal touch to each of the gatherings. Nobody likes to get lost in a crowd of 500 people for 5 days. Where invitations are concerned, one can also consider sending scanned email invites if you have a large number of foreign guests and want to save on courier expenses.
Catering is the biggest money cruncher. A generous spread of fifty different dishes and ten types of dessert can be quite impractical. Quality rules over quantity – a few well-chosen dishes are enough to satisfy everybody’s palate. One should assess the profile and diet of the guests before blindly placing large orders. Ask yourself, are there enough non-vegetarians to have 3-4 meat preparations? Is it value for money to add on Punjabi cuisine if a lot of the relatives are Gujarati or South Indian? Food orders should be precise. There is no wastage more condemnable than wastage of food. And if the agenda is to stun everybody with two dozen waiters and row after row of buffet tables, why not host a charitable meal for the poor instead. You can exhibit your wealth, and do a good deed in the name of the married couple at the same time…
The issue of maintaining status is very delicate in a lot of communities. The host family splurges on luxurious accommodation for all relatives, travel costs and expensive gifts like silk sarees and silver artefacts for people they don’t even know. One can opt to present these only to the immediate families and most senior relatives of the bride and groom. Small and personalised return gifts such as pens and bangles can be distributed among the extended family instead of huge boxes of sweets which not everybody will consume or take the trouble to carry back home.
The to-be couple can also introduce some thrift in their own expenses. A lot of middle and lower class parents spend their life’s earnings and pawn their possessions to pay for their child’s wedding and gift heavy jewellery which will hardly ever be worn. Nowadays smart young women have started limiting their wedding trousseau to only 1-2 designer outfits, and the rest are sarees which can be used again for future occasions. Trendy fabrics and patterns have gained favour, which can be worn more easily than heavy red silks and traditional bridal sarees. It really does not make sense to blow a load of cash on a dozen gorgeous ensembles which will thereafter hang in the closet for eternity.
It’s a good sign that young couples have begun to dictate which way they want their wedding celebrations to go, or not go at all. It’s true that weddings ought to be grand and memorable – it’s a once in a lifetime event after all. But if going overboard means pinching the families or the couple and stressing them out during the celebrations, then it’s definitely more tasteful and practical to keep it simple.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/teducation/3077827754/]