As our weddings get obese...

pomp and fervour

As our weddings get obese...

Marriages, they say, are made in heaven. And people on earth certainly want to make their weddings seem that way.

With expensive finery, lavish adornments and mouth-watering food in an endless buffet, they splurge with the aim of transporting the guests to a celestial world where everything is hunky dory. The surreal feeling of walking on clouds is created by strategically placing smoke-producing machines at various points at the venue. It’s exactly what it looks like. An ostentatious display of wealth.  Guests may often find it difficult to recall the names of the bride or the groom, but not of the theme or the destination of the wedding.

Weddings these days have indeed become a spectacle and some sort of a number game. Be it the number of guests who are invited or the number of days the affair is stretched to. The focus is primarily on making it as entertaining as possible to as many people as possible.

Businesses boom

India has two seasons – the wedding season and the non-wedding season. And thanks to the amount of money even families of the humblest means splurge on the occasion, anyone connected to putting up this show stands to make a profit. From catering to flower arrangement to make-up to photography (candid and otherwise), everything is outsourced today. It’s of little surprise that wedding planning is a $40-billion industry.

No longer do we rely on aunts with a penchant for make-up to dress the bride nor do we wait for uncles to coordinate with the caterers and vendors. We don’t even rely on the enthusiastic cousins to capture the memorable moments of the day on their DSLR. With no responsibilities whatsoever all one has to do is dress up well for the occasion.

There is no dearth of ideas when it comes to making this day special for the couple. Earlier, grooms walked to the wedding hall but now they ride on horses; and those who came on horses once are now dropped off in helicopters. The bride, who was once carried by her maternal uncle to the mandap, now comes in a palanquin. Regional divides blur, as south Indians weave in sangeet and mehendi into their weddings. “It has become more of a show rather than a chance to bond for the families involved,” says Dr Vipul Rastogi, a neuropsychiatrist.

Times change and so do people. Having observed different nuances of human behaviour in the past 30 years of her career, Dr Anjali Chhabria, psychiatrist and founder of MindTemple, Mumbai, feels this was bound to happen. “There is a visible change in people’s lifestyle, preferences and their perception of themselves and those around. This change is what you notice at social events, and weddings in particular,” she says.

A tedious affair

While it’s not news that weddings are expensive, guests are often surprised when they realise that even attending one can be costly. “I have to ensure that I don’t repeat the outfit, and even if I do, it has to be refurbished in some or the other manner. My aunt once told me, looking at my sari, that she too had a similar one, but had stopped wearing them as they were too old fashioned,” recalls Ranjana Rao, a homemaker, with a chuckle.

There is so much pressure to consider what to wear and what not to wear that people end up burning a crater in their pockets during the wedding season. Instead of looking forward to spending time with family and friends on the occasion, they waste so much time and energy trying to outdo the other guests.

“During a wedding, the focus is on ensuring that everybody else has a good time and are attired in their finest,” says Dr Vijay Nagaswami, a Chennai-based psychotherapist.

From fashion to demonetisation, guests are busy discussing everything under the sun while the couple is exchanging their vows on the stage. But this happens if and only if the conditions are favourable. Often, there is music blaring through speakers, drowning out all voices. One wonders if bringing noise-cancelling headphones might become inevitable in future weddings.

“My octogenarian grandmother was looking forward to having a nice time at a family wedding but insisted on going back home almost immediately as the loud music at the venue gave her a throbbing headache,” says Rupa Krishna, a homemaker.

Until the clock strikes 12 noon (read lunch time), guests are busy observing  each others’ clothes and jewellery, and gauging their social standing. Is anyone watching the ceremony? Couldn’t if they wanted to. The videographers and photographers have hijacked the stage, blocking everyone’s view.

The present breed of professional photographers believe in spontaneity. This invariably means one can be photographed from any angle at any moment. Just remember not to pick your nose or scratch the wrong body parts at the venue, you never know when might end up in a camera’s frame.

Everyone’s there for the food

One aspect of the big fat Indian wedding that everyone looks forward to is the food. Like they say, people may forget everything else about the function, but they will always remember how good the food was. The number of desserts served plays a crucial role when guests rate the wedding on a scale of 1 to 10. The sweet delicacies might even make up for an average main course.

The plate is a melting pot of world cuisines, as some weddings even serve Mexican tacos, Thai dragon fruits and pasta besides the regular fare. One needn’t trot the globe or go restaurant hopping around town, just dress up and head to an Indian wedding to try a host of different cuisines. A number of movie scenes in which the cheeky protagonist gatecrashes a random wedding for a lavish, free meal come to mind!

Following traditions

Coming to the wedding rituals, few orthodox families stick to tradition come what may, while some blow it out of proportion. Others fling tradition out the window and choose to do their own thing.

“The big fat Indian wedding is slowly becoming standardised across the country. Although some local traditions are still maintained, depending almost entirely on the families' orthodoxy, for the most part they have a common look and feel, whether the wedding's taking place in Madras or Chandigarh,” says Dr Vijay.

Shobha Acharya, a software professional, has a point to make. “Earlier, we had a tradition of offering flowers, applying sandal paste and perfume on each guest seated in the hall. This gave an opportunity to break the ice between the families, meet new faces and ensured more interaction. But some families just don’t bother, let alone acknowledge your presence or even thank you for having attended the function,” she rues.

“Looks like people just need an audience, a crowd, but no one wants to come and thank you for your time. We have forgotten the art of being a good host. The guests too use the event as an opportunity to click pictures of themselves and post them on Instagram or Facebook,” she adds.

The irony is we humans today are more attuned to being social in the virtual world and not in the real one. “Socialising has gained a different meaning these days: check-in, tag, react, comment and like. So with changing times, I feel the concepts of hosting and being a good guest have also changed. People are becoming self-absorbed because they enjoy the attention they get though their social media avatar,” says Dr Anjali.

Though it may be premature to generalise that these functions are losing their charm, what one cannot negate is, as Dr Vijay puts it, “Indian weddings are becoming bigger and fatter and obesity is never a good thing.”

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