A large part of my childhood memories centre on family weddings. The earliest being that of a maternal uncle marrying a ‘cousin’ – that wonderfully connective word – from another side of my family. The festivities were held in the same house where my own parents were wed a generation before. And just last month that same maternal uncle even presented me a black and white photo of my impossibly young looking parents in the courtyard of his house.
My brother’s memories of that uncle’s wedding are clearer than mine as he is more than a decade older and hence was a teenager at the time. While most of the guests at the many wedding ceremonies and rituals were family members – close and distant – an astounding number of people did troop in for the ‘boubhaat’ or feast organised to introduce the new bride to the clan. He estimated around 800 but his teenage analyses may have been somewhat inaccurate.
All the weddings were fun times for children as ‘cousins’ appeared from all over the place, and it was a time for not only dressing up and eating rich, sweet and greasy delights but also for helping out with the ‘work’ of organising the various ceremonies and, of course, generational bonding. Those weddings of my childhood – and long summer holidays at relatives’ homes – are why there are still such strong familial links despite being continents apart.
Even among middle class Indians, however, for the past few decades, weddings had become more symbols of wealth and social signalling, with ceremonies and rituals being relegated to supporting acts. Even the purely family aspect of this important rite of passage was subsumed by the need for glitz and glamour. Splashy weddings of big business families and Bollywood stars further fuelled this urge to make weddings a spectacle rather than a sacrament.
Then came the pandemic with its unprecedented avalanche of pain, suffering, death, isolation, joblessness and despair. For two years we had time to reassess not only ourselves but also our priorities as we remained paralysed by the spectre of a virus that appeared to be diabolically vicious and unpredictable. Social gatherings like weddings – the opportunity for many of us to show off – became impossible. Our lives were whittled down to the bare basics
This seemed to have an effect on the most impactful influencer: Bollywood. Last December the much-awaited wedding of Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal was held at a swanky “destination”, but the guest list was a very nominal 120. Before the pandemic, that number would not even have been deemed sufficient for one of the minor ceremonies much less the entire wedding festivities of any ‘star’ families worth their diamonds if not their income-tax returns.
The pandemic has indeed forced the big fat (and ever-bloating) Indian wedding to go on a drastic flab-loss regimen. Thanks to government restrictions, families have had to decide whom they really wanted at the celebrations rather than widen the list to add a power quotient or paparazzi magnets. Expectations have also lowered accordingly: many who would have been miffed three years ago, did not mind being excluded from the 200 guest limit of the past months.
Now comes the amazing statistic that the even-more-eagerly-anticipated wedding this week of Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor had a grand total of 50 guests, with another 100 expected for a reception. That too after the limit on invitees for weddings had been lifted. And it was held in the couple’s apartment, not some exotic destination in India or abroad. Moreover, the guest list had only families – especially siblings and cousins! – and the lovebirds’ closest friends.
Of course the radiantly happy bride wore Sabyasachi from head to toe, as did the groom. But even if they are Bollywood royalty, there was a refreshingly simple, personalised, intimate, un-wedding-planner-scripted quality to at least the part of their nuptials that the public got to see. And that bodes well for us as a society if we take a cue from it. In the strangest way, it reminded me of the family weddings of my childhood – all about cousins and camaraderie.