For the Love of Weddings

By Shyama Parui

Finding “the one" or someone you are “meant to be with" are ways in which couples explain their reason to get married. Romantically speaking, it is their unquestionable love that compels them to vow togetherness and happiness for eternity. Unfortunately, there are other unromantic explanations too such as money, fame or “my parents made me do it." So far, I haven't heard anyone say this aloud but I have a sneaky suspicion that couples do or are encouraged to get married, just so there can be a wedding. The bigger, noisier, and longer, the better. We simply love weddings. How else can you explain 23 million Americans tuning in to watch the live telecast of Prince William's wedding with Kate Middleton in 2011, early in the morning? More eyes must have been glued to the television to view the royal nuptial of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19.

Dressing up to the nines, dancing, and celebrating at a couple's recent matrimonial fanfare, reminded me of the fun we experience as a wedding guest. Missing out on shaadi / biyeh (i.e. marriage ceremonies) of family members and close friends from back home, is always regretful. Fueled by nostalgia, I pulled out my own wedding album. Getting it out of the shelf was a challenge, as the professional photographers had done their best to include all the important moments in that 10-pound package of memories. I wish we had invited someone to capture the frantic energy that went into all the preparations.

Let me back up a little to give you some context. Before marriage, my husband and I were introduced by our families and the elders did what dating websites do behind the scenes. Checked backgrounds, fished around to see if there were potential problems, tried to match interests, and after vetting prospective candidates gave the “go ahead" to meet and let us decide. It turned out to be “yes." In other words, that was an “arranged marriage." Our version was a definite improvement from the days of my great-grandfather. It is rumored that as a young teenager, he was asked not to go to school one day because he had to get married. And he was excited, about skipping school! The biggest challenge in our case however, was to “arrange" everything within a week. You are right, seven days is all we had before we could tie the knot in a ceremony steeped in tradition and in the presence of over 200 guests.

The big question of, “why" was met with explanations about the beliefs around auspicious days suitable for conducting a wedding ceremony and the groom's obligation to reach his American destination to start his new job. The Clash of the Calendars, as I call it. Nevertheless, in a spirited fashion, our families took up the task with gusto and the wedding ritual and its related traditions were carried out smoothly.

Looking back, I would have happily traded the elaborate process to a meaningful but scaled down version with my closest family and friends in an atmosphere where everyone was relaxed. Instead of expending time and efforts to make the wedding grand, it could have been better spent together before my move to the US from India. But everyone was swept in the wave of wedding fever making rational thinking a low priority. Even today, almost two decades later, I hear that beliefs haven't changed much and newly engaged couples have to find the right window that does not compromise their work obligations, earned vacation, shubh mahurats, and approval of the parents. The war between calendars continues to keep things interesting.

Going by the growing number of pre and post wedding parties, the more the merrier seems to be the motto of couples these days, particularly in India. By adopting different traditions from around the country and even the world, shaadi-vaadi is no longer a local affair. The diversity of my own family has been increasing thanks to the newer generation, and I am proud of them for embracing love while rejecting man-made barriers like caste/community and religious differences. Admittedly, unknowns around etiquette, expectations, and customs made event planning equal parts fascinating and confusing.

It is likely that an Indian couple may send their long list of guests an invitation for an engagement party, mehendi, sangeet, bachelor/bachelorette party, wedding hosted by the bride's family, wedding reception hosted by the groom's family, bidaai, and bahu-bhaat. Really? Yes, really. How about attending a spa retreat to recover from the exhaustion? The pressure on the hosts and the couple must be immense, but they rarely display the pain behind the pomp on display. In the quest for a magnificent wedding, the importance of marriage is seemingly forgotten. Not to mention the staggering costs involved. In the US, a wedding conducted with Indian traditions can be around $40,000 to $265,000 though the median annual income here is $59,055. In India, a middle-income household could earn anywhere from $616 to $3030 annually, but the average wedding cost can be a whopping $37,000.

Maybe it's just me but the potential expenditure appears to be grossly disproportionate to the family's earnings. Extravaganzas that cost millions are not unheard of. In fact, opulent weddings of the rich and famous are fodder for endless online chatter.

If you dust off the glitter, sometimes greed for dowry, underage marriage, and forced arrangements lurk on the dark side. Thankfully, these practices are no longer prevalent although they haven't been eliminated. It saddens me that some individuals are willing to go into debt to fund their child's wedding or deny their daughter an education to save enough for her dowry.

In my opinion, the union of two individuals in matrimony should be about celebrating true love. Everything else is optional. You don't need to turn into bridezilla in your quest to have the perfect floral arrangements or be a drunken buffoon on the night of your Bachelor Party. One of the most beautiful weddings that I have attended, was also the simplest one. The bride and groom had selected traditions that were most meaningful to them. Holding hands, they walked the seven steps of saptapadi and whispered their vows to each other. The joy on their faces adorned them in a way that jewels couldn't. On that sunny afternoon as the casually dressed guests mingled and enjoyed the farm fresh food, we recognized that beauty lies in simplicity.

Things will continue to evolve, and I don't know what my own children will want for their big day. My only advice to them, “Whatever you do, just keep it classy."

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Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com