19 Nov 2017 17:21 IST

Blitzed over with and blinded by bling

The great Indian wedding tamasha and how the landscape is impacting expectations

Lately I have had to attend weddings alone. Meaning, not with a gang of friends, or with family, for one reason or the other, but on my own. In many instances, the only person known to me have been the parents (either/or) of the bride or groom. So it’s been left entirely to chance to bump into familiar numbers among the invitees. In any case, in most instances, they have come with family and/or friends, so I’ve been left pretty much on my own.

Apart from the awkwardness (entirely self-generated) of sitting by yourself and pretending to be totally engrossed in the ceremonies or outright staring at all the other guests with an interested or nonchalant (depends) look on your face, there’s also tension building up about the impending lunch or dinner.

If it’s a buffet-style arrangement, it’s negotiable. Especially if you’re used to driving in India. You first follow the posse, then you butt or elbow (whichever is sharper) your way through. Throw yourself into the thick of things and eventually find yourself in the right lane. The thing to check, though, is whether it’s the V-line or the NV-line. The V-line’s usually shorter. There may be some cutter-into-the-queuers, but there’s not much to be done about that except to grin and bear it because you know that at the end of this dark tunnel there are victuals awaiting. After all, having taken the trouble and come all this way, the least you can do is eat.

Back in the day

The nightmare, though, is the sit-down affair. Back in the day, wedding guests were treated like special people. They would be ushered in by friends/family of the bride’s party (usually) at the entrance, welcomed with a generous (sometimes drowning) splash of rosewater, some chandan-haldi-kumkum, sugar or kalkandu, and flowers. Smiling faces would lead you into the mantapam where you would be met by other members of the wedding party, bride or groom or both or neutral, some friendly talk would ensue, and then you would be seated comfortably, usually with people of your acquaintance. As the ceremony wore on onstage, you would catch up with various long-lost relatives and others, then it would be time for the mangalsutra and you would bless the couple. You would comfortably ascend the stage to meet and greet. Meanwhile at least three members of the wedding and extended party would have taken the trouble to talk to you and insist you partake of lunch/dinner before taking your leave. And you would think, well, since they insist so much, maybe I shall.

Anyway, back in the day there were no lines for meeting/greeting (you see now how the population has exploded), so almost as soon as you got your feet back into your chappals or sandals or shoes, you would be graciously whisked off to the dining hall. Of course, sometimes you would be told to please wait a bit for the first round to finish its meal; and someone would be at your elbow in a short while to find you a seat at the second round. It was all very dignified and organised. That was the norm. People waited to be invited. You were a guest, a respected guest, and you were treated that way. You had no choice but to behave.

All that’s changed, or at least, that’s what it seems like. Now, it’s all blitz and bling and loud music and mehendi and dancing. Nothing wrong with this. Good only, if you ask me. After much reflection and biting at the bit I’ve concluded that well, people get paid for their efforts, so the more events there are at a wedding, the more income some people stand to earn, so, good for them. Besides, weddings are social occasions, a time to renew acquaintances, forge friendships and relationships, find love and celebrate. Time was when people went to great lengths to attend weddings, no matter how distant they had to travel or how many matters they had to juggle. Family certainly came first. And close friends were family, in any case.

Swift change

So, there were always people to give a hand, to delegate duties to. You manage the logistics, pickups and the drop-offs. You take charge of the reception committee. You ensure the food’s good and ready. And you make sure everybody gets to eat comfortably. So on and so forth. We also speak about the great demographic dividend that India’s supposedly at the head-end of, meaning, our youth population was never more numerous nor able. Yet, what happens at weddings these days proves more like butt-end service.

Basically, it’s a free-for-all. Despite the practice these days of handing things over to event managers who are supposed to ensure hospitality with the warmth it entails, uniformed saris offering fruit juice to guests does not hospitality make. Often, even this is missing — not the fruit juice, but the people. Then again, uniforms do not hospitality make. Warmth does. A smile. A gesture of welcome. Again, there are exceptions as there are exceptions in every aspect of life. There are good event managers and not-so-good event managers. Experience on the ground says there are more of the latter.

What often happens is you walk into a wedding affair unnoticed, you shove your way through the crowd and find a seat, maybe. Nobody knows what’s happening but at some point there’s a rush like an electric train pulling in at Howrah station and if you’re alert, you join the mad scramble for the dining hall where all hell breaks loose and eventually winners gleefully occupy chairs. Losers park themselves behind them, glaring down at their plates or plantain leaves until they finish. Woe betide anyone who dares ask for a second helping. Chewing a beeda you make your exit — no goodbyes, no nothing. Sometimes you leave without even having met the bride/groom, or their parents. Nobody knows if you came or not. Nobody really seems to care. Or at least, that’s how it seems — again, there are always exceptions but these are rare.

Then, why bother to attend? Unless, of course you want to catch up — with friends, with family. Now, that’s a different matter altogether. Like, it’s a place to meet, all dressed up, and maybe have a meal together for free. Exchange notes, addresses. In that case, the thing to do is to change our expectations. Therefore, maybe an invitation to a wedding is not really an invitation to a wedding, it’s something neither the inviter nor the invitee seems to be aware of but it’s something that simply happens.

Is this the transformation of the business of big Indian weddings, then?