Marriage: A financial funeral

Rising rentals of marriage halls, spiralling price of gold, dowry aspirations hitting the roof... For the average Bangalorean, a wedding has become a sure shot financial funeral.

Once exalted for its convergence of trust, commitment, family bonds, and social responsibilities, the institution of marriage seems to have graduated to a new league.
The name of the game is big bucks.

Like every other social phenomenon, marriage too has been impacted by globalisation, morphing in the process into a grand, multi-billion rupee industry in the last two decades.

If flaunting of wealth has made marriage ceremonies complex and extravagant, many enterprises have mushroomed offering to simplify the complications. Of course, at a big price.

With people flush with funds ready to spend and splurge, the services related to the marriage market have become too pricey for the commoners. Willingly or unwillingly, people now spend their fortune on celebrations. Twenty years ago, a marriage with a budget of Rs 1.2 lakh was considered lavish and an unwanted show of wealth for a middle class family. Today, the budget has gone up at least 20 fold and still, people do not think it a criminal waste of money.

Kavitha, a housewife, puts it this way: “People are no more apologetic about the expenditure. They now-a-days readily drain out money.”

The roots of this extravagant behaviour may lie in the increasing income and small families with one or two kids, she believes. “People want to make the marriage of their child a memorable one and in the process they spend a good chunk of their savings.”

The old Kannada adage Mane Katti Nodu, Maduve Maadi Nodu still holds its relevance because marriages were always a complicated affair but not like in the present days.

While the spiralling prices of gold -- an essential commodity for Indian marriages -- contributes much to making marriages costly, other factors such as catering, garments, marriage halls and hotels too make weddings hyperexpensive.

A Kannadiga wedding was once considered conservative and orthodox. But even that tightly-budgeted marriage could take the total costs from around Rs five lakh upwards to even a crore or more. “A decent Kannada marriage costs not less than Rs nine lakh under any circumstances,” believes Jayasimha, a lawyer who recently got his daughter married.

He believes he could have saved much had he not married his daughter in Bangalore.

However, he did not include the dowry, an evil that has crept too deep into the society, in the Rs nine lakh.

“What pains me the most is that there is a cartel in almost all the major marriage halls, which compels you to hire certain caterers and decorators. They charge much higher than the market prices,” says Jayasimha.

No marriage hall in Bangalore is available for less than Rs 25,000 a day. For the higher end halls, the sky is the limit. Jayasimha, for instance, had to book a marriage hall for two days whose daily cost was Rs 1.5 lakh.

Lavish spending

Yet the cost of a Kannadiga marriage is nowhere close to the lavish Sindhi, Marwadi and Punjabi weddings, where Rs one crore is a mere starter.

For a marriage, a Marwadi businessman spent Rs 50,000 only on saffron for the sweets. A Punjabi family spent Rs 35 lakh on food alone. A Christian girl spent Rs three lakh on a single gown, which she might wear only once in her life. “We have seen marriages where Rs 38 lakh was spent only on decoration,” says marriage planner Shreya Dutta of Krafted Knots. She remarks the cost of food can now touch at least Rs 7,000 a plate.

Marriage planners pop up

As marriages become more complicated thanks to the lavish spendings, a new business called ‘Marriage Planning’ has emerged. In Bangalore, there are at least 15 marriage planners, each claiming that they are the market leaders.

The oldest in the business is ‘Rings and Roses’ based in Ulsoor. Its director, Rosemary, is convinced that the business is bound to thrive because people have no patience and time to spare on the nitty-gritties of marriage. “People have money and they want to spend openly for a hassle-free marriage,” she says. The cost of the marriages she has arranged, ranges from Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 70 lakh.

Planners deal mainly with the celebration part of the marriage. Another player in this business is Joseph Paul of Aroma. According to him, people have clear ideas about what they want but lack the time and expertise to implement them. “So people come to us,” says Joseph.

But why have the marriages become too costly?

“The amount of money floating in the market is reflected in the marriages too. People with a lot of money want their marriages to be different and memorable and spend money openly,” explains Shreya Dutta.

Those sparks lead to inferno

Spending a fortune does not necessarily ensure a happy marital life. Not always. A general perception among the marriage planners is that seven out of 10 are love marriages and at least two marriages these days break up.

Rosemary blames the growing impatience, ego, lack of love and commitment for the trend. Rosemary’s young assistants are quite vocal while listing out the reasons for marriages breaking down.

“Men want their wives to transform into a microwave oven, an iron box and a washing machine. Women don’t require breadwinners anymore. So, they don’t want anyone to dictate terms,” says one of them.

But Rosemary has a clear idea about what can make a marriage successful.

“Society still needs an institution called marriage. People should realise that love and submission and not money makes a happy marital life.”

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