Not-so BIG but still FAT!

Arjun Singh Rathore
Marriages are a necessity, but treating it as a business has made it into a luxury not affordable by all. Marriages need to be simpler, merrier and more inclusive.
But if it is not a fat wedding, it is not an Indian wedding. Wedding is a very important event of one’s life where one person decides to tie the knot with another, to spend their life together, as in case of India, two families, so it’s quite obvious people want to make it a memorable one, and it is quite obvious there’s no harm to it and they spent accordingly to their status. But the problem here is that, although these weddings give the Indian economy a boost, with total worth of around one Lac crore a year, giving birth to various sort of employment opportunities, the dark side of it, is quite ignored in our society, where people invest their lifetime savings, so as to just maintain their “reputation” and make the “samdhis” (in-laws) happy and neighbors jealous. Although the ill effects are not so much pronounced in financially strong families but in middle class and financially weak families it is quite a headache, often being the cause of so called stigma associated with the birth of girl child. These “Fat wedding” costs maybe the prime reason of the practice of killing so many female fetus in India, we hear in news very often.
The pandemic of Covid gave us a golden opportunity to erase this menace from our society once for all but I feel sorry we lost the opportunity. One of the people, who were extremely disappointed after the pandemic hit our lives hard, were the couples who had planned to get married in 2020. We hoped that the lockdown effect might put a certain amount of band on extravagant, glamorous shaadis. No doubt a lot of couples opted for simple online wedding during the lockdown, but with the restrictions being little relaxed, wedding planners have once again devised new ways to make the grand affair intimate yet extravagant. Last fortnight I was one of the invites and I felt how important I am being in the list of restricted guests. But to my surprise, at venue, while standing at the centre of an opulent hall, to my left, a troupe of flashily attired dancers was gyrating synchronously to the loud Bollywood tunes. Towards my right men in suits and sherwanis crowded boisterously around a huge Bar. Adjacent to the crowd was a sumptuous, multi-cuisine spread where the womenfolk had congregated, glittering in their bejeweled best. I had gone there with the notion that like everything else, the coronavirus pandemic must have compelled the wedding industry to rethink ideas to comply with the ‘New Normal’.
This was the opportune moment to start the NO TO BIG FAT WEDDING CAMPAIGN, to caution people about not spending too much money on a wedding. In a heart-warming news, which was viral on social media, I read that Thilak and Dhana, an extraordinary couple, used all the money and gifts collected at their wedding reception in Chennai to start an education fund for underprivileged children. Now that is one wedding I would have loved to attend! While it is hard for the rest of us to live up to the high example set by this remarkable couple, it is certainly time for introspection.
Let’s take the tradition of parents and families giving multiple sets of jewellery to the bride. This practice was born in the days of yore, when young girls were married off to men they barely knew, in a society where they were powerless. The jewellery was meant to be a source of security for daughters, to help them in times of financial and other distress. Today, the most important gifts that parents can give their daughters are a solid education and unwavering self-belief. For those of us who have been lucky enough to receive these invaluable gifts, intemperate amounts of jewellery are meaningless. We all want to be the show-stoppers where the wedding plans and costs touch the infinite limits of the sky.
Marriage ceremonies across India were put on hold during the lockdown, but some couples chose to swap their big fat weddings for small intimate affairs. So, could that be the new normal? But for a typical Punjabi wedding without lots of booze, lot of food, crazy loud music and dance for the whole night, even a simple marriage with limited guests cannot be solemnized. Punjabis stop dancing only when it is time for the DJ to go. The lockdown effect compelled us to rethink that the actual wedding involves only & only the bride and the groom walking around a sacred fire seven times. Even those who had to cancel their pre-wedding cocktails, bachelorette parties, sangeets, dholki, dance events, pre-wedding shoots and several other rituals and grand receptions with multi-tiered cakes, are happily settled couples with handsome bank balances.
On the other hand the lockdown has hit the wedding industry very badly, the banquet halls, hotels, resorts, destination wedding venues, the caterers, the decorators, the flower-walas, the daily wagers associated with this industry, the clothing industry and jewellery makers are hard hit. Weddings are integral part of Indian culture where – unlike in the west – living together and civil partnership are rare. Wedding is one of the biggest events in most people’s lives and they wait all their lifetime for the wedding to happen. It’s hard to imagine an Indian wedding without the swish of silk sarees and the clink of gold jewellery. The ceremonies are known all over the world for their pomp and grandiosity and are typically referred to as big, fat Indian weddings. For some time people will have smaller weddings with fewer guests, but in the long run, the big fat Indian weddings will be back in vogue.
Most of our friends feel things should change. But of course there are a few people who do not find it to be problematic. I make it a point to convey the message- it is easier to do so, being on the groom’s side- that I would like to have a simple wedding. Men still get the leverage to make this point, but you kind of lose that leverage being a female. But the biggest menace is, many youngsters who hope to revolutionize the idea of the Indian wedding, are often opposed by their parents. Parents mostly wary of how relatives would perceive it, also are acknowledging the fact that even if they go for a big, pompous wedding, there will always be people who would complain about one thing or the other but still they stick to “Log Kya Khyengy”.
According to a survey conducted by IndiaLends in 2019, which compelled me to write down this article, nearly 20 percent of loan applications received from young Indian aged 20-30 in 2018-19 were for funding their marriage. It is not about what one desires; more often than not, it is the ‘need’ to put up a show to indicate one’s social status. Unfortunately, we tend to judge one’s social and financial status from how much one spends on a marriage, to know if they match the standard.
Each one of us deserves to celebrate that once-in-a-lifetime event when we pledge ourselves to another; we deserve all the joyous festivities and the merry-making. But while we do that, let’s try and remember that it is not a competition or opportunity to project our exaggerated status. What it is, is the most sacred promise we’ll ever make. It is certainly time for introspection. Let us not diminish the beauty and meaning of ‘Marriages are made in Heaven but solemnized on Earth.’ It’s the Time we change the way we marry and say goodbye to the Big Fat Indian Wedding.
(The author is Branch Head in J&K Bank BU Patel Nagar Jammu)