The great, big, fat, extravagant Indian wedding is back, straight from Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire to the Umaid Bhawan Palace and Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. The royalty in nuptial question is none other than an obscure Indian by the name of Arun Nayar (no relative of mine!) and a has-been British actor by the name of Liz Hurley. The seven million pound week long extravaganza has kept the media in India and Britain hooked, even though none but Hello! ,the magazine which paid two million pounds for exclusive rights to cover the wedding, were allowed anywhere near the gates of the Mehrangarh Fort. In fact, in the hurly-burly of it all, some journalists even managed to get beaten up by security (who says that glamour journalists have it easy) as they tried to catch a glimpse of the tamasha, rather foolishly, through the lens of their cameras. Anyhow, it’s all over now as I write, and I have no intention of buying a copy of Hello! to see what it was all about. Suffice to say that it wouldn’t have quite matched up to that other (and earlier) great, big, fat, extravagant, Indian wedding in the Palace of Versailles where the world’s fifth richest man, India’s own Stalin (meant only literally, as in Russian) Laxmi Mittal, married his daughter by spending a mere fifty five million pounds of his vast fortune. After all India’s biggest film stars danced there. And Michelin starred chefs cooked the supper. The only thing in common to the two weddings was that they continued the old Indian tradition of the girl (and her family) funding the festivities. Liz Hurley apparently made up the difference between the actual costs and what Hello! paid. Arun Nayar’s claim to fame is not his riches (he isn’t even in the Forbes list of the richest Indians), but this marriage-Indian Ishtyle! (and my apologies for the Hinglish style, but we Indians are like that only!)
But that’s just the glitzy side of Indian weddings. There is a side which is darker, but ironically as extravagant. Take the case of Mr. Ram X. (name changed for reasons of privacy). He is a clerk, earning a lowly wage. He married his daughter recently. He spent a lot of money, nowhere near what the Hurley’s and the Mittal’s spent, but in fact much more, disproportionate to his own income. He went to the extent of borrowing money, some from friends, some from exploitative moneylenders. He had to pay for his daughter’s dowry ( a scooter, fridge, microwave amongst other items). And then he spent on the festivities. He would have been happy with the debt had his daughter been happy after marriage. Sadly, her new family harass her, beat her sometimes for more dowry, and constantly demand more money from her father. He can’t afford it. He can’t bear to see his daughter suffer. He will bring her back. Ram X. is just one of millions of fathers-of-the-bride who are arguably more extravagant than the richie-riches (given that they go into debt, compared with the pocket change celebs spend) when it comes to their weddings, but unfortunately don’t get any pleasure out of it. This too is a facet (admittedly negative) of getting married-Indian ishtyle. Incidentally, some believe that dowry is actually an English custom. The British famously received the island of Bombay in dowry from the Portuguese, when an English prince married a Portuguese princess.
And before this gets too teary eyed, let us move to the scenario of Indian marriage where age old tradition marries the new age and all its technology and facility. Yes, I am referring to the ‘Arranged’ marriage now facilitated by the world wide web! It’s now easier than ever for parents (and often young people) to find brides and grooms of their choice on the internet. Shaadi, jeevansathi, bharat matrimony, go4marriage, anmolrishte etc DOT.COM are amongst the innumerable sites where one can find profiles of young people looking to get hitched. There’s big money in it for the web portal owners (as is evident by the number of advertisements they release on prime time television). Everyone who signs up pays a fee. Some of these sites claim up to 700,000 successful matches. Others, in competition, claim 710,000! Whichever way, and whomever you believe, this is a big time activity. These portals are actually quite sophisticated. You can search for a partner by sifting through various categories based on religion, community, caste, region, language etc. The downside of this, of course, is the realization about how parochial we Indians can still be, when it comes to choosing a partner. Marriage across different categories is rare. The other interesting observation is about what is valued as an occupation: H1B US visa, working for a MNC (multinational corporation) in India, and a good job in the elite government services probably top the list. In a rather ironical twist, it is amazing to see the number of people who want their partner to be ‘fair’ skinned. I thought we were ALL outraged by the racism meted out to poor Shilpa Shetty on Big Brother! Oh, and lest I forget, it’s always better to be a homely girl! Like it or not, all a part of getting married-Indian Ishtyle. Did I hear someone say arranged marriage is outdated?!
So there you are, a very brief journey through the great Indian wedding: that almost impossible blend of tradition, modernity, extravagance, happiness and sometimes sadness. I have to say, that by observation, most Indian weddings these days tend to be great, big, fat and extravagant. This in part due to the influence of Hindi films which depict weddings in the lavish Punjabi style, with all the song, dance and fun. Other parts of India, often have weddings which my Bengali friend in Chicago says resemble funerals more than a celebration. He, and a lot of others, believe in adopting the Punjabi way. Weddings should be fun after all.
Long live the Indian wedding (free of dowry and other such outdated and abominable practices). Lets only hope (and here is where it gets a little mushy!), that like in the Hindi films, there is always a happily-ever-after sort of ending.