A group of young and not so young men and women move to the brisk commands of a tights-clad, streaked blonde. At the far end of the room, a female executive discusses hiring charges for Deejay Killah, one of the hottest party properties in town. Meanwhile, a bevy of beauties attend an exacting fitting session in a snazzy designer studio.
Preparations for a fashion show? Set up for a product launch? Oh no, these are arrangements for a well-heeled wedding in New Delhi.
The Sari has gone designer, the Sangeet is professionally choreographed and the Sumptuous menu features lasagna, among other global fare. The new improved Indian wedding is the face of liberalisation that economists don’t dwell on but which, perhaps, reflects the phenomenon like nothing else does.
Liberalisation had led to many social transformations and the wedding scenario is no exception. Just the way the malls have nudged out the friendly neighbourhood ‘kirana’ store, the pseudo-suburban resort has nudged the local ‘tentwallah’ into oblivion; choreographers have edged out the ‘maami ji’ and ‘chach ji’, who would teach the youngsters a step or two. The menus have undergone a sea change, too. The team of ‘halwais’ that would set up shop in the back verandah of the wedding home, have packed up and left. Taste buds have also evolved. ‘Matthi’ and ‘achaar’ have been overshadowed by hummus and falafel. Caterers with an array of menu cards with matching deals (one dessert free with every 10 soups) are here to stay. Wedding showers are in, ‘haldi’ scrubs are out. Orchids are blooming, ‘gainda’ is passe.
A whole new list of wedding VIPs has come into force. It is populated by laptop-wielding wedding planners, choreographers, mehndi artists, florists and professional musicians. In their wake follow exotic themes, imported chefs, synchronised dances and co-ordinated colour schemes. Competition is the name of the game and the attempt is to outdo every other wedding in recent memory. The benchmark is Bollywood. Matching tinsel town standards, at any cost, could lead to flying in Karishma or Shipa’s mehndi artist all the way from Mumbai, with fees ranging up to Rs 15,000 for a single hand.
The bride and the groom too, have been systematically metamorphosed out of recognition. Months before the D-Day, the bride is put through a regimen of fitness and beauty, extensive enough to rival a beauty contestant’s. Body polishing, gold facials and hair spas are de rigueur. Good old bridal red is no longer good enough. Fuchsia Pink, Champagne Peach and Wine Maroon are the hues of the day – the more unusual the better.
The groom has his share of preparations. He sits through facials and stands for fittings. Designer dhotis and ‘zardozi kurtas; are tried on, with matching turbans and jutties to boot.
Finally, after many rehearsals and much deliberation, D-Day arrives. Everything is in place. The venue is suitably decorated. The relatives arrive in luxury cars and greet each other by kissing the air. The bride’s mother in her backless choli smoothens her hair extensions. Waiters wander about with trays of canapes, from Vietnamese cold rolls to bacon-wrapped cheddar cheese sticks. The bride is picked up straight from the salon and whisked away to an elaborate photo session. Full-length, close up and profile shots are clicked and filed, to be downloaded and circulated later in specially designed CDs.
Loud drum beats herald the arrival of the bridegroom, amidst much jubilation and dancing. His friends gyrate madly, lurching about in abandon. Some things haven’t changed, one realises, like the predilection of Indian men to get sozzled at weddings.
As the ‘dhol’ winds down, pre-recorded music announces the arrival of the bride. She totters on high heels, with mincing steps. Every move she makes is monitored, practiced and calculated. She concentrates on the exact number of steps she needs to take to reach the groom. Specially designed garlands are handed over to the lucky couple who put them around each others’ necks, to drunken applause. The bride and the groom walk together to a decorated platform to sit on faux thrones, a videographer in tow. A quick session of photos follows, as invitees ascend the platform, bestow gifts and withdraw. Soon, the couple is left to their own devices. Everybody else has made a beeline for the food.
With even close relatives sharing bare minimum involvement in the preparations, the food becomes the focus. As outsourcing becoming the order of the day, even family can behave like guests. There is nothing to do but eat. And the choices are legion. It doesn’t get more globally local than this. There is a live pasta counter, a live chaat stall and a live khau suey stand. There are more than eight types of kebabs, three types of dal and ten kinds of meat. The desserts include six types of halwa – aloo halwa, pumpkin halwa, moong dal halwa, khajoor halwa, besan halwa and carrot halwa. A lady in a sari with Swaroski diamonds is left unimpressed. The hosts have omitted suji halwa. Unpardonable.
As the evening lingers, the guests desert the venue, in a hurry to beat the wedding season traffic. Those who are left in attendance suppress yawns and check their BBM messages. The pheras have been scheduled for midnight and a handful of family and friends are the only ones who need to wait.
The pandit talks impatiently into his cell phone. He has four more weddings to perform before dawn breaks. He will use the abridged version of the mantras, he decides.
As yet another Indian wedding draws to a close, one cannot help but notice the absence of joy and the sense of fun that was an intrinsic part of such occasions. The only one laughing all the way to the bank is the wedding planner and her entourage. She is here to stay. The family need make just a guest appearance.
There is one more Indian tradition that has vanished. The ubiquitous Hijras whose presence at weddings was earlier expected and tolerated, are nowhere to be seen. Tradition stands no chance in the face of uniformed security men.
Or the onslaught of change.