Is it time to slim it down to more manageable proportions?
We are all familiar with the Big Fat Indian Wedding. We’ve attended gazillions of them in the course of our lifetimes. We have gorged on the multi-cuisine buffets. We have danced to the tunes played by a ‘celebrity DJ’. We have goggled at the bride’s jewellery. We have gawked at the over-the-top decorations. Hell, some of us have probably even played a starring role in one of these extravagant odes to wealth and conspicuous consumption.
But we may not be able to do any of this for much longer if Congress MP, Ranjeet Ranjan (wife of the controversial Bihar politician, Pappu Yadav) has anything to do with it. Ranjan has introduced a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha – Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill -- that seeks to limit the number of guests invited to weddings and the menu served to them. The Bill also proposes that anybody who is spending more than Rs 5 lakh on a wedding should declare this in advance to the government and contribute a tenth of that amount to a fund set up to help poorer family host weddings.
Asked about the rationale behind introducing this Bill, Ranjan explained, “These days, weddings are more about showing off your wealth and, as a result, poor families are under tremendous pressure to spend more. This needs to be checked as it is not good for society at large.”
Well, she has a point there. The competitive spending on weddings has bankrupted many a middle class family and pushed poorer ones into debt. And yes, people do spend more than they can afford on weddings in an effort to keep up with (and to impress) their friends, neighbours and extended families.
But is a Bill – which will, most likely, never get passed, even if comes up for discussion in the next session of Parliament – really an answer? Can you really have a legal solution to what is essentially a societal problem? Does the government really have a right to legislate on how and where we spend our hard-earned, tax-paid money? And do adults really need a nanny-state to decide how they should celebrate their weddings?
As far as I am concerned, the answer to all of above questions is a resounding no.
That said, I think we all have to admit that the Big Fat Indian Wedding is getting out of control. Yes, it is a multi-billion rupee industry which creates many jobs and is a major driver of the economy, especially the luxury sector. But sometimes this growth comes at the expense of ordinary hard working folk, who drain the savings of a lifetime to celebrate one day. And that makes no sense at all.
So, how do we encourage people to spend less on extravagant weddings, without trying to corral them in by some intrusive law or the other? Well, I guess we could start with Hindi films, which have done the most to popularize large, expensive weddings in their song-and-dance Bollywood extravaganzas. If we could have a little less of the opulence of Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! and a few more homespun Monsoon Weddings, perhaps young couples would learn to value intimate, home-style celebrations over gaudy displays of wealth.
Or we could take our cues from two communities who know how to keep their wedding madness under control. The first are the Parsis, who go to the same wedding caterer to order basically the same set meal, so nobody feels obliged to do any more. (And their guests, who know down to a rupee how much the meal costs, give an envelope containing the same amount to the bride and groom, so nobody is out of pocket.) And the second are the Sikhs, who organize their weddings in the neighbourhood gurudwara, serve a simple vegetarian meal and the most delicious kada-prasad, and are home and dry before the sun sets.
But while you can keep the expense down with a bit of effort, how do you cut down on guest lists without offending extended families, business contacts, office colleagues and prickly neighbours? It’s tough because everyone expects an invitation no matter how nodding your acquaintance and takes mortal offence when the card doesn’t turn up.
Well, there is one solution, though it’s not exactly cheap. You could go with the two words that strike terror in the heart of the father of the bride: destination wedding. But while this will push up the expense of housing and feeding guests, the upside is that you can keep the guest list to a closed circle of people who actually matter to you (and who don’t mind paying for their tickets to your destination of choice). And if you keep things light and casual – like a beach wedding, for example – your expense on décor will be minimal.
Of course, you could always do one better and simply elope with the love of your life. Tell your parents to throw one joint party for your reception when you return. And ask them to put the money they would have spent on your Big Fat Indian Wedding on a down payment on a Small Slim Indian Apartment that you can live in Happy Ever After.