What a week it was! Last week witnessed some of the most momentous events of this year. A week that witnessed roller coaster ups and downs in the political fortunes of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the grand old Indian National Congress. Politically, economically and socio-culturally there were water shed moments that may have far- reaching effects on the shape of things to come. As one was planning this column all the momentous events of the week just gone by flashed in the mind. All the political controversies and news are sure to catch eyeballs with Lok Sabha election a few months away. But in one’s opinion there was this very edifying story of two of the country’s celebrated international badminton stars Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap joining in matrimony. The initial reports mentioned that it was a simple court marriage and the social media netizens praised the stars for that. Later it turned out that they too had a big bash reception, a lowkey affair compared to a series of celebrity weddings starting from last December with swashbuckling Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli marrying popular actress Anushka Sharma. In May this year another Bollywood wedding hit the headlines for a very opulent Punjabi wedding of Sonam Kapur, a recipient of both the National and Film fare Awards and daughter of yester years’ popular hero Anil Kapoor and Anand Ahuja, a wealthy Delhi businessman who is a big name in apparel manufacturing. In the same month former beauty queen and actress Neha Dhupia married Angad Bedi, son of former Indian Cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi. Their wedding in a Delhi Gurudwara was a simple ceremony. Celebrated actress Deepika Padukone and actor Ranveer Singh went away to the picturesque Lake Como in Italy to get married with a small group of family and friends. They had kept the paparazzi at bay. There were huge receptions later in Bengaluru and Mumbai marked by lavish spending. On the first of this month former Miss World and actress Priyanka Chopra exchanged vows with American singer Nick Jonas, first at a Christian marriage and later had a Hindu wedding. The big bash was in Jodhpur’s Umaid Palace and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself blessed the newly -weds at a reception later in the national capital. The last celebrity wedding of the year was that of Isha, the daughter of the richest man in India Mukesh Ambani to pharma tycoon Ajay Piramal’s son Anand, undoubtedly the most expensive wedding. On the other hand, the wedding in 2005 of the elder son of Wipro chief Azim Premji, the second richest man in India was a very quiet affair.
At a time when matrimony is considered a matter of money, be it dowry, gifts, flaunting of money on anything from invitation cards, exotic European venues, gold and the most expensive wedding costumes or multiple receptions at home and abroad attended by the mighty, rich and famous in the country and abroad. The stamp of vulgar opulence and splurging of ill or well gotten money are the hallmarks of big fat weddings of achievers, celebrities and children of the rich and the famous. They are given prominence by almost all the media giving the minutest details of the venue, the costumes by celebrated designers, the menu at the reception, the details and cost of the invitation cards, and not to forget the list of powerful national and international political leaders, captains of industry from across the globe and a cross section of the Indian elites making a beeline to such weddings and receptions.
Such ostentatious weddings may be an anachronism in a country where a majority of people toil and moil to eek out a living. In terms of sheer numbers we have the largest number of hungry people and at wedding receptions enormous quantities of food are simply wasted. Mercifully there are agencies in certain cities who collect left over food from wedding receptions or parties and distribute among the poor and the needy. A social activist commented that it is a pity that there are takers for left over food. There are others who feel that the deprived at least get some food through such collection agencies who are really doing a humanitarian service.
Indian marriages vary from community to community, religion to religion and state to state and have been different, tradition- bound, colourful, noisy and culturally rich. They were marked by simplicity and had an aura of Indian culture and heritage. Marriages were celebration time for an entire village. Food was a major attraction and community meals sometimes went on for many days. Native cuisine and delicacies were the much sought after items in the menu. Everyone took part in the preparations for a wedding; making of a venue or a temporary pandal, collection of flowers, decoration of the venue, collection of materials for the meals including firewood and all other sundry jobs. Such community participation enhanced the happiness of the population and gave everyone a sense of belonging.
With affluence and western influence weddings in India are becoming expensive and difficult for average citizens. The obnoxious dowry system practised by a large number of communities across India has reduced marriage to be a sort of a business deal. Dowry is often considered a curse by many. Poor parents struggle all their lives to satisfy the greed and voracious appetite for money of the groom and his family. The girls’ families who fail to meet the demands of the grooms’ families often complain of their daughters being subjected to violence, torture and even are killed for dowry. With an official ban by law of taking or giving dowry, indigenous technics like the term dowry being changed to ‘gift’ or the girl’s share. One can go on and on about the evils of customs like the dowry. The impact of big fat wedding celebrations of the rich and the famous, a desire to ape them, to keep up with the Jones and increased aspirations of the burgeoning middle class have led to even those who cannot afford wasting their hard -earned money on expensive weddings.
No wonder the wedding industry in India is estimated to be a Rs.100,000 crore one with an annual growth rate of 25% or more’ . According to a story published last year in Nikkei Asian Review, “more and more foreign companies are breaking into India’s lucrative wedding business” and “over 10 million couples are estimated to marry every year in India!” With the arrival of professional wedding planners, there is threat to the neighbourhood tentwallas, caterers and banquet or marriage hall owners [ called Kalyana Mandapams in the south of the Vindhyas] who are facing stiff competition from a new breed of enterprising businessmen who are wedding planners. Instead of running around for contacting multiple vendors and agencies parents today can just hire wedding planners. A study says that on an average a minimum of Rs.5 lakh is spent even by a lower middleclass family.
Instead of being role models in simplicity for the society the rich political class and celebrities celebrate weddings in their families with avoidable pomp and extravagance to show off. This has been reflected in most of the celebrity weddings. The rich and famous argue that the money that they have is to spend on such celebrations and neither show any empathy or concern for the poor and the marginalized who struggle for daily food and nourishment. Finally, one considers this as an ethical issue. When there is poverty staring at a large number of fellow beings, is it ethically correct to splurge money, indulging in ostentatious living?
- Prof. T. K. Thomas, Senior Journalist.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author).