“Oh my God!! Look at that… isn’t it gorgeous??!” squealed my neighbourhood’s most eligible spinster, as she waltzed into my living room at break-neck pace, looking almost like she’d been possessed by the spirits. I went up to her, curious to witness the objet d’art that had brought about such ebullience… and then, one glance at the red crepe with the Swarovski crystals, and I knew her astute businessman father had just settled for the worst bargain of his lifetime – a Rs. 86,000/- trousseau for her dainty wedding, a designer piece that would, after the big day, invariably be relegated to the deepest confines of her wardrobe, possibly never even seeing the light of day again.
Ostentatious weddings are anything but a rarity, ironically, in this country of starving and impoverished millions. It is hardly surprising to see over-enthusiastic parents end up debtors for a lifetime, thanks to that elusive shaadi ka joda that their daughter deems her wedding unthinkable without, or that collection of noisy crackers that people will anyway have to close their ears to, causing the money to go up in smoke, pun intended. What is surprising though is the indifference with which India’s not-so-privileged middle classes choose to turn a deaf ear to the inanity of it all. What began as a simple ceremony to bring blessings on the ones at the threshold of a new life has today become the most imaginative circus possible – everything from the Bollywood-inspired mandap to the Bidaai accentuated by musicians in the background highlights the one undisputable truth that we’ve managed to make even a once-in-a-lifetime event like a wedding look like a chore. If that sounds hard to believe, ask the parents and uncles and aunts and cousins of the couple, and you’ll know that the joy at the time of the big moment is effortlessly superseded by the sentiment of relief at the knowledge that the Herculean event is finally over.
If you were to closely observe the intricacies of a modern-day Indian wedding, you would know what it is that makes me want to call it the very epitome of hypocrisy – just how cool is it to partake in the most important day of somebody’s life because you’ve given in the customary gift, and now expect a complimentary meal so that your ‘investment’ in their big day pays off? The innumerable ‘well-off’ ladies and gentlemen who gorge at the aloo chaat stalls like they’ve been starved for years bear testimony to the popular notion that weddings are primarily for meeting and eating, the latter any day more important than the former. The wedding trousseau is not so much about beauty or simplicity as it is about looking designer and expensive; food counters are as much a symbol of what the family can afford for its guests as for gastronomical satisfaction. But the high point undoubtedly has to be the gifts: it is perfectly normal to see friends of the couple seated in a corner, accepting cash from the ‘well-wishers’ and making a mental note of the transactions.
In all this, what inevitably gets pushed to the backburner is the blessings, sincere and heartfelt, which is what the ceremony is actually intended for. While an overwhelming majority is present to play the unrequited critic, the remaining 10 percent’s good wishes get lost among the cacophony of the mandapwala, the pundit, the caterers, the firecrackers, the squeals of over-excited relatives at the sight of the blessed one’s clothes and jewellery etc. The worst part is the plight of the couple concerned: in most recent weddings, when the young man and woman taking their first steps into the proverbial sunset were supposed to be the cynosure of all eyes, I felt they reflected the months of toil and mounting pressure instead, which had obviously taken its toll.
I told my mother a few months ago that my dream wedding would be a civil marriage: one that shall take place within the confines of my home, amidst only those that I know shall come for no reasons other than to bless. While the apparent blasphemy of the idea still has her reeling, I’m already planning the destinations to cover in the 3 week-long Europe tour I shall be able to afford after my ‘humble’ wedding – hopefully, with all those cartloads of money saved, I shall also be able to support the child we found abandoned in the garage a few days ago. These, hopefully, will remain with me long after the crackers and Swarovski lehengas would have faded into oblivion.