The Razzle-Frazzle of the Indian Wedding
My column for India Today Magazine (Simply Mumbai), Oct 2014.
If you are a middle class woman in Mumbai over the age of 20, then you know it’s in the air. Halls, banquets and grounds all over the city have been booked since June. Event management companies are fighting with decorators who are fighting with caterers about the placement of tables.’Tis the season to get married in Mumbai. Like dominos your friends and cousins and far off relatives fall into the world of shiny boxes of kishmish and menu choices (which are still the same at every wedding. Paneer Makhani anyone?)
The most integral question that any self-respecting human being will ask themselves during this trying time is “Oh God, what am I going to wear?” Fortunately my mother cares for clothes like a Jihadi cares for democracy. The first time I complained to her about having to wear the same outfit to yet another wedding she looked at me like I was clinically insane.
“People will think I have no other clothes”, I protested.
“Do you remember what Anvita, Muskan or Suniti wore to the last family wedding?”
I scrunched up my face in concentration “No, I can’t remember. Why?”
“If you have not thought about what other’s have been wearing then what makes you think that anyone cares about what you’ve been wearing?”
It’s true. No one cared. I never remember what anyone else wears because I am mostly busy obsessing over my own outfit. It made me feel let down and liberated at the same time.
We have sharas, ghararas, (which is also another word for gargling), tiharas and shikaras and though the last two do not exist I bet half of us are planning to ask for one the next time we’re at Santacruz station doing wedding season shopping. Strips of cloth pretend to be sari blouses and saris drenched in beads, sequins and crystals leave us one portable battery away from Amitabh Bacchan in “Saara Zamaana.” I wonder if aliens look up into their night skies and see the twinkle of the MASSIVE crystals in Pammi Aunty’s salwar and make a wish upon it. If you come from a family that has any jewellery to it’s name then visits to the “locker” in the bank will become de rigour, as if you’re Ajit or Dan Brown.
Bollywood sank it’s grimy paws into the Indian wedding narrative very early on in the game. Documents unearthed from Suraj Barjatiyas office reveal the template for Indian wedding movies.
Step 1 : A weds B but during this wedding C meets D, Cue Song #1 and Song #2
Step 2 : C weds D and during the wedding E meets F, Cue Song #3 and #4
Step 3 : After some minor Bapuji related issues, cue possible song #5 (sad song) E weds F, cue song #6, every one stands around in a semi circle facing the camera spouting cloyingly earnest cliches about love and life, desperately trying to bring this extended wedding video to an end.
Step 4: Alok Nath deposits a check in his bank account.
In that eternal dilemma of “Does Bollywood imitate life, or life imitate Bollywood?” the Indian parent now treats each wedding as a petri-dish where potential sons and daughters in laws are germinating . This is why a staple at every wedding now, is the person in their 20’s either sulking in a corner or “Bole chudiyaan, bole kangana, and babu-ji pooja ki thaali ek minute laayi”-ing all over the place. Parents want to replicate the Suraj Barjatiya template and the kids are thinking more along the lines of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Most parents get the wistful when watching the couple at the mandap/alter because they’re thinking of their own children standing there. Their look of longing would put Romeo and Juliet’s love to shame.
Weddings are also the one time in your life when you will meet many relatives for the first, and probably the last time. Your cheeks will be pinched by fingers that have just eaten butter naans so there go any dry skin issues you may have. You will touch more feet than the average pedicurist does in a month. There are certain relatives in the family who’s face I cannot remember, but I’ll know they are Mom’s second cousin’s wife or Uncle’s Aunt’s 3rd cousin from the other side-simply by their footwear. Then someone will loudly recall the time that you did susu while they were carrying you when you were 5 years old, and isn’t that too old to be wetting yourself, but you always had a weak bladder. The person at the wedding who you had identified as your parent’s future son in law/daughter in law, gets extremely disgusted and leaves. This is not first date information.
It’s also the time that the family Saroj Khan, an aunt or an over enthusiastic cousin will choreograph 14 dances too many. Chachus will convulse, Phuphis will vibrate, building friends will shimmy and the DJ will try not to murder himself because he’s been playing the same playlist for almost this entire wedding season. The guests will politely clap along because they have nothing else to do with their hands since the food counters are not open yet. My over zealous Mamu, once entered the sangeet stage to the opening notes of “Dafliwaaaale…..” using a steel thaali as a dafli. He may have got a bit too in character when he frisbee-d the thaali across the hall nearly severing my brother’s neck. (If something had happened it would be a horrible inconvenience to everyone because, what are they going to wear to the funeral now?) One of the older uncles will strike up “Ey meri Zohrajabhi…..” and his wife will shirk like a flower as if she’s getting married all over again. Since the poor children are already out on display in full finery- the parents and relatives feel the need to do the traditional “ beta uncle aunty ko dance dikhao”
The Indian wedding is heavily fetishised in the west. Technically, it’s the most easily packageable piece of our culture. Most weddings also seem to have the token foreigner (a white person only, we won’t invite black people because Somnath Bharti). This white person will exclaim with surprise at pretty much anything-ooooh look-the people are so happy, the music is loud, everyone is so well dressed ( and also mostly intoxicated) OOOHH THE GREAT INDIAN WEDDING! They will be encouraged to dance to Sheila ki Jawani to which they will do an awkward thrust or 5 but everyone will whistle and hoot in encouragement so much that they will actually begin to think they’re doing it right. The photographer will be explicitly told to photograph the token foreigner having a good time with the immediate family, so that pictures in the wedding album will remain testament to the racist and selective hospitality we take so much pride in.
Let’s face it, the frazzle and dazzle of the Indian wedding is very little about the poor bride and groom, who are hidden under layers of saris, generations of jewellery, pagdis and seheras. It’s about people coming together weather it’s to criticise each other’s clothes, find someone to get married to, recall horribly awkward stories, or watch someone named Jeffery try to match steps with your cousin sister to Mutukudi kawadi hada. Now when I get an invitation to a wedding, instead of my wardrobe, the first thing I open are my eyes and mind. As I said, ’tis the season to get married. Let the celebrations BEGIN!