Will You Attend My Marriage?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman after she crosses the age of 25, must be facing a constant deluge of shaadi updates. With due apologies to Jane Austen, that's how life feels like. Everywhere I look, either someone is getting married, is in a frenzy planning the perfect wedding or is in a tortured phase where they're ignoring messages from families for fear of dreaded rishtas. One of my closest friend got married in March. While we were stuffing our face with fish curry (wedding was in Kolkata!), another one of our gang declared that she was off to join the ranks of The Married. My closest friend from school got married a year ago and is "settled" with her husband in Sweden. So I have been thinking about weddings and marriages for a bit. Specifically, what's a perfect wedding?

But, first a distinction. Far too many times someone has asked me to "attend their marriage" conjuring up images of me patiently sitting on the dining table in the middle of a fierce argument as the couple celebrate ten years of their marriage. Is it an Indian-ism? A quirk of how Indians use English, much like prepone (which is an excellent word by the way and one which should have existed in the English language before.) Anyway, if you're reading this, and getting married soon, please don't invite people to your marriage. That party (or three-day extravaganza) that you're planning is what people would be happy to attend.

Usually, the extravaganza. On 15 June, Vaishnavi Prasad posted a lovely thread on Twitter about getting married and doing away with the idea of a usual wedding because it was a "colossal waste of money." (AMEN) Instead the couple went to a temple and threw a small DIY party for their family and friends. It looked like they had a great time, and honestly in the age of Ambani-Deepveer weddings, it felt like a beautiful and sensible thing to do. Why spend so much money on the wedding, when you can instead spend it on the marriage? (See, this is why I made the distinction earlier.) But because Twitter is what it is, and this is 2019, Prasad was trolled. For giving up the mangalsutra. Idiocy of trolls aside, the ensuing outrage over the thread reminded me the most important things about weddings: a wedding is not about the couple's choices. It's about everything else. It's a performance; the bigger, the better.

I abhor extravagant weddings. And as a Punjabi living in Delhi, I've had to attend my fair share of them. You know the kind. It's a week-long extravaganza, with gazillion functions, lots of alcohol, choreographed sangeets, Russian girls accompanying the couple while they make a grand entrance, a raised and rotating platform for the couple to garland each other with flowers being showered from some contraption and designer lehengas which often seem the point of the wedding itself. Pre-wedding photo shoots are passe, now music videos where the couple fulfill their SRK-Kajol fantasies are what works. If this sounds unfamiliar to you, (good for you!), go to YouTube and look for wedding videos. It's a fascinating look into the template-celebrations of the upper class in India. Flashy sangeets, couple video shoots in exotic locations, and lehengas on a hanger in a gritty galli. (Can someone explain to me the logic of this shot? It's everywhere!) .

For the longest time I thought it's only Punjabis or the uber rich who spend on weddings like there's no tomorrow. But every family in India, rich or poor, spend more than their income on weddings. Economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo argue that even extremely poor Indians choose to spend on weddings, as reported by Supriya Nair in a Livemint article. An ICE 360 degree survey conducted in 2016 says that in India the money spent on weddings is more than that on higher education, which is way beyond they can afford. For families in rural India, spending on a wedding often means loans with high interest rates; worse, if you're a bride's family because dowry. So widespread is the problem of wedding expenditure in India that in 2017 a bill in Lok Sabha was introduced which wanted those spending more than Rs. 5 lakh on weddings to contribute towards marriages of poor girls.

Five lakhs, or as Punjabis would say "sangeet di drinks da bill."

My idea of a perfect wedding is fictional. "A Suitable Boy" is my most favourite book of all time. If I were on a deserted island, and could pick one book, it would be this 1349-page long tome written by Vikram Seth. (Can also be used to weight-lift, let's be honest) The book opens with a wedding, in a mansion called Prem Nivas. Guests are milling around, there are twinkling lights in the hedges, shehnai is being played and there are a few choice delicacies. And of course, pista ice cream. It's a wedding which was set in 1950s. A good thing, because a few years later, in the mid-1960s, thanks to food rationing, only 25 people could be served at home in a wedding.

Reading the happy memories of people who got married then ("people seemed happy") is a good way to remember the wedding/marriage distinction. One is a celebration, a product of the stage of life you're in, temporary, only to be remembered in photos. The other, well, that's life.

Are you married, or getting married, or if neither, still have an idea of a perfect wedding? Write to me by replying to this email.

My favourite Sunday ritual is reading newspapers as I sip chai after getting up later than usual. Which is why a lot of this week's links are from today's fantastic collection of weekend reads.

1.When Khomdram Gambhir Singh returned to his village in Khumbong, Manipur there were placards saying "Thank you Whatsapp", "Thank you YouTube." An astonishing story by Tora Agarwala and Jimmy Levion in The Indian Express.

"For almost three months after his return, guests from Khumbong and afar would visit his home, a thatched hut at the end of the little lane in the village. Gambhir would appear on local primetime news, kitted out in western formals, and gently answer every question. He was Manipur’s missing man, who had been found 40 years later, singing on a street in Bandra."

2. People are going on honeymoons only so they have perfect pictures on Instagram and reading this made me feel nauseous and very worried for my generation.

"“It was like a photo shoot for some magazine that would never exist,” said Mr. Smith, 38, a real estate agent in New York, and he didn’t mean that in a good way. He described the weeklong vacation with his new wife, Natasha Huang Smith, as a “sunset nightmare,” “stressful,” “cumbersome” and “torturous.” Ms. Huang Smith, 34, who works in digital marketing, was attempting to showcase their honeymoon on Instagram. “I had to prove to the world that I was having a great time,” she said. And so half of her day was spent shooting, editing, or planning Instagram posts."

3. Every new article I read from Muzaffarpur in Bihar where more than 100 people have died due to AES makes me want to walk away from news, but this article by Betwa Sharma in the Huffington Post is important reading.

"From the time that they had first seen her convulsing at five in the morning, it had taken her desperately poor parents five hours to get her to the hospital from Kankatti, the village where they were living temporarily while working on a construction job. Her father Amarnath Manjhi, a labourer, rushed her to someone he described as a “private doctor”, who gave her an injection. This, however, did not help her. For the next hour, the 25-year-old went scrounging for the Rs 100 that he would have to pay for transporting her in a shared “tempo” over 60 kilometres. He eventually borrowed it from his maalik, the contractor who hired him for the construction job."

This newsletter will be coming to you every Sunday, mostly because I think so many of us are looking for something to distract us from Monday-dread but also because, it seems like a good time to take a deep breath and reset for the week ahead.

As always, do reply if anything in this newsletter struck you, reminded you of something you wanted to say or if you just feel like saying hi. If you liked what you read, ask your friends (or wedding planners!) to subscribe.

I will write again soon.