The nonsense that is Indian weddings
Weddings were supposed to be beautiful moments that symbolized the beginning of a journey that brought together two souls. Today, it is a Rs. 100,000 crore industry which is growing at 25 to 30% annually. While I hold no judgement over anyone’s view of their dream wedding, when things go out of hand, perhaps it is time to re-look at the mockery that weddings have become. [Day 23 of my “One Day One Blog” ]
This December, Chandu and I will celebrate our 10th wedding Anniversary. My parents, my brother and sisters, the extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins and friends who flew in from different parts of the country ( one who even changed her holiday plans to come down from Qatar) — all of them did their best to make it special for me.
And I am going to hurt at least a few of them when I say that I did not have any fun on the day. No, not wedding jitters or the horrible gut wrenching feeling of abandonment that comes with the understanding that I am no longer a part of the family I was born in, but now I belong to a new family. A family full of nice people but except for my husband all of whom were strangers to me.
I did not have much fun, because I was stressed and tired from being a part of what could only be called a semi-movie production.
Some of you may be thinking that I had one of those KJO inspired weddings with Sangeeth and God-knows-what-else parties before and after the wedding. I didn’t. In fact, I had the most no-frills wedding of recent times.
Compared to weddings in other part of the country, the Hindu weddings in Kerala are still modest affairs. But even that is too much for me. I am not a misogamist. I believe in marriage. It is just the weddings shows I have a problem with.
The “what will people think” syndrome
And why am I ranting about it today? I used to think that it was the sheer dowry system that was driving the middle class families into heavy debt traps. But what I have come to realize is that even when the groom’s family make no demand whatsoever, the ego and false pride in our society ensure that the bride’s family digs themselves deep into the ground with money borrowed to organize these fancy weddings.
A Hindu wedding in Kerala
This is a “blink and you will miss it” affair. Our ancestors who set up the rituals had the right idea — that marriage is more of a social event than a religious one. The bride and groom exchanges garlands, the guy ties the mangalsutra and dabs on a bit of sindhoor, the bride’s father joints their hand ( the now controversial Kanyadaan) and you are all set for life. 15 minutes and now you are licensed to do whatever you want to do.
So what is the problem, exactly?
Allow me to walk you through the various stages of this simple wedding and axillary drama that enfolds.
Consider this family from lower middle class. A father, mother, a son and a younger daughter. All of whom works. The monthly income of the family is approximately INR 30,000/- And financially, this is the best they have ever been. With the money required for living expenses and other illness in the family, they barely save one third of this money in a year.
Now we need to get the girl married off before she hits 23 years ( else she becomes too old for the marriage market).
The market demands that the family “gifts” her 30 sovereigns of gold. Value: approximately INR 7,00,000/- ( actually it will be 10 to 15% more if you calculate the MRP).
After multiple to & fro visits, the families and Gods of horoscope have now agreed to the marriage. No matter what your circumstances, there must be an engagement function.
In arranged marriages, parents look upon this as a sort of insurance. If it is a prolonged affair and the guy and gal are going to hangout in all the coffee shops in town, this saves the dignity of the family (I assume that is the thought process behind this).
Expenses: A fancy lunch organized by the girl’s family. The groom’s mother or sister is expected to gift gold necklace and bangles to the bride.
Why: That’s what everyone does!
Expenses for the Bride’s family: The gold for the girl, of course. A gold chain for the groom and gold bangles for the mother-in-law.
Expenses for the Groom’s family: For the Hindus, the “Thali or Mangalsutra” is the ultimate symbolism of marriage. The weight of the chain ( made in 22 Carat gold) determines the prestige of the family in the society. The standard norm is 10 sovereigns of gold spend on this monstrosity. In today’s value that alone is above INR 1,73,000/- ( nearly 3000USD)
If this is the 1st wedding in the family, both sides separately spend anywhere between INR 50,000/- to a Lakh only for buying clothes for the extended family.
God help you if you miss out on the uncle’s wife’s younger brother’s child!
This is such a matter of pride that it borders on the ridiculous.
Why: while you want to feel sorry for the poor Dad and Mom of the bride, more often than not, this is self-inflicted pain. Even when the groom’s family amkes no “demand” they incur such costs because of “what will people say”
At the bare minimum a dinner is organized at the respective residences’ of the bride and groom on the eve of the wedding. As most friends and family come on their residences to bless the couple and shower them with gifts, one can see where this custom comes from.
I said that dinner is bare minimum, right? Most of the time, the crowd that turns up for this function come close to 200 people. To accommodate them, you have to book a hall. The average middle class Indian has the most competitive mindset, where his ego is concerned. So if my neighbor offered dinner, then I should offer dinner with live music for entertainment. And then the family who lives down the road, we will take it up a notch with dinner, live entertainment and alcohol.
You would think that there would be at least one sane person in the family who turns around and asks, “ Do we really need to do this? We cannot really afford it”
At the time of our wedding, Chandu and I said no to an engagement party. We also said no to wedding reception that is organized at the groom’s place.
Once that was agreed upon, I moved onto the next part of my agenda. I wanted to to be married at a temple with just our parents and siblings in attendance. Perhaps we could include our parents’ siblings too. That’s it.
I was encouraged when my Dad agreed. But my Mom and Chandu’s Dad shot down the idea.
Given my aversion to multiple functions, we arrived at a compromise. Our families would invite all their relatives & friends for just the wedding function which would be followed by a lunch. There were 1300 people for our wedding. I barely knew 30 of them. All I recollect was feeling extremely claustrophobic in the fineries and smiling like it was the happiest day of my life while posing for pictures with complete strangers.
I too looked like the Advert for a Jewellery shop. Even so, I could hear an aunt bickering to my mom that I wasn’t wearing enough jewellry!~
Even if you could afford to, what special joy do you get by creating a circus around the wedding ? If the upper middle class creates an example by staying away from this spectacle,wouldn’t that eventually get through to their poorer cousins in the society? All this appeals to your common sense, rt? But we still don’t do anything about.
Why: Because what will the society say!
This one is the mother of all that is ridiculous. And I think it belongs solely to the Kerala hindu household.
The wedding and the Grihapravesh ( where the bride is welcomed into her new family) gets over by afternoon. The groom’s family then organizes a party on the same day evening at their place.
The bride and groom are expected to get dressed for yet another fancy dress competition. This time the cost for the costumes and party is all borne by the groom’s family.
It is an extended form of torture we inflict on not just the bride and groom but on any relative or a friend of the family
Why: Because that’s how it is done!
One of my biggest regrets about my wedding is that I didn’t fight hard enough to get married in a temple with just our immediate family.
And it bothers me that I don’t see anyone from the younger generation even thinking this is all a whole lot of nonsense.
I have told both my brother and sister-in-law that I will try my best to encourage my niece to either elope or have a small wedding with just her family and a few friends. And I will also try to brainwash the few remaining in my brood of cousins to give up at least a few of these ridiculous productions which will give Karan Johar a run for his money.
I hope the enterprising youth of tomorrow will progress towards wedding functions which are more about two lives joining together in a journey and less about “what will people say”.
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Friends, this is the Day 23 of my odyssey to write one blog EVERY DAY for the month of May 2017. “One Day, One Blog”
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