End of big fat weddings?

B L Saraf
Minister of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, J &K Government, informed media, ” State Government has  issued a Guest Control Order to impose restrictions on the injudicious use of essential commodities during social, Government and private functions and a complete ban on the use of amplifiers, loud speakers and fire crackers on such occasions “And” the order was issued after the department had received complaints and representations from the civil society organizations  regarding  injudicious  use of essential commodities  and exorbitant expenditure made on public and private functions. “The order puts “a complete ban on sending dry fruits, sweet packets with invitation cards to relatives, friends and guests etc.”
The order must be appreciated from various angles – 1st: desirability and efficacy, 2nd:   Constitutionality, 3rd: implementation, 4th, : economics  and 5th: effect on social life.
Undoubtedly,   the Order is a welcome development which has come not a day too soon. The decadence has set in so deep in the society that our demands / wants never get satisfied. And, satisfying one want results in creating more. It is like a society becoming prisoner of addiction. We see a sorry spectacle where vice of consumption has metamorphosed into a virtue. There is no counting how many are invited and how the crowd behaves in a function    defies imagination. Conditions become so chaotic that an Invitation to a function really turns out to be invitation to the bedlam. Long and serpentine queues are insight, everywhere, to reach to the table laid with a feast, in a heap. Instead of reaching out to a cuisine it turns into the battle of the “food grabbers “, where more is consigned to the garbage than carried to the plate. A solemn occasion replicates a scene in the fish market. Decorum and etiquette, appropriate to the function, are thrown to the winds. The plight of the guests becomes pathetic. Rather than enjoying the feast they rue their presence. In the mad rush to reach the dish   some find food spilled all over the clothes. For female guests the situation becomes horrible when their hours long effort to make up for the occasion is spoiled in a jiffy.
The effervescent opulence and unmindful wastage appears so criminal when, beyond the walls of the Marriage Hall,  scores of half fed and semi clothed teenage rag pickers look  starved and forlorn. No wonder, the wise tell us that no war, no natural calamity – but the overflowing affluence will deliver us to the dooms day, rather soon.
The unbridled appetite for the opulence and ostentations has resulted in a mushroom growth of marriage halls and hotels on the major road sides and busy residential localities. With the result we often witness long traffic jams, nuisance creating activities going at a high pitch for all night to the great inconvenience of the public.
Minister is right in saying that people had asked for the regulations. In Srinagar the position has become so  appalling that the guests, after partaking a sumptuous 22 mutton course  meal, are provided with bags to carry home,  as well. No wonder term   Carry Bag Wazawan, has entered   the new social lexicon of Kashmir, rather effortlessly.
Valid concerns may be raised about the legality of the Order. Because, in execution it is going to affect the food choice and right of person to enjoy a social and custom bound life, according to his legitimate aspirations and expectations. Then it may carry an element of invasion into the   Citizen’s privacy, when state exposes his Invitation card to the scrutiny lest it carriers a forbidden gift. The words “Injudicious consumption “will leave room for many interpretations.
Implementation of the Order will be bothersome.We have seen it in the past that in a zest to ensure implementation (or for extraneous reasons), laws enforcers were let loose on a unsuspecting host. It will be highly undesirable to turn a solemn and joyous occasion into a stealth one and make for the inspector raj. It will be highly preposterous to allow entry of inspectors and police to the occasions which carries a social decorum and etiquette. No room should be made for an unscrupulous to harass parents of bride or bridegroom at the time   they are overwhelmed by the solemnity of occasion.
We may recall that Government had issued such order earlier, also. In1970s the number of guests and dishes in a marriage function was restricted. Similarly, in 2006 guest list was sought to be regulated and certain restrictions were placed on the working  of marriage halls. But on both occasions government failed to implement them.
The Order is indeed a step in right direction.  Lest it becomes a part of the problem rather than a solution, the Government will be best advised to have a relook at the Order, before it is set out for the implementation. On the face of it, some directions contained in it look Quixotic and fraught with complications when it comes to the execution.
We are waiting for the day when pressure from the vested interests will be brought to bear upon   the powers that be to roll back the order. To show sincerity of the intention, the Government will have to demonstrate a strong political will. That, unfortunately, was found lacking on earlier occasions. To ensure “injudicious use of commodities ”  Government  must see that  petty and small time wage earners, self-employed in marriage halls etc do not loose livelihood. After all, weddings these days have generated a huge economic opportunity. This fact will have to be factored in to see   there is no job loss.  The apparent incongruity requires to be reconciled. Otherwise, harshness of the order will force people to find a way around and circumvent the law. It may be advisable to co-opt civil society, for the success of the effort.
Ministers and Babus   must respect the law and refrain from accepting Diwali and Idd gifts and stop ‘ gracing ‘ high profile marriage and private functions.
On a positive side, we have been witnessing a unique mix of feast in Jammu functions where some items of KashmirI Wazawan would effortlessly gel with Pandit cuisine. Then, there is Rajma  Chowal from Jammu to provide a company — with Panjabi Dhaba and South Indian Masaala Dhosa having made a quiet entry, it  is a  Connoisseur’s delight. Varied food items from the varied places have,   imperceptibly, blended well to give, perceptibly, a syncretic Cuisine. That looks heartwarming after witnessing a near demise of   State’s syncretic socio-political culture.
We hope “Cuisine Pluralism” survives the Order.
(The author is former Principal District and Sessions Judge)


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