Indian weddings are fun. Plain and simple fact. Whether they are in India, the US or Timbuktu. Since a majority of my family do not reside in India, most of my family weddings are held outside the motherland. Non-resident Indians try hard to recreate a desi feel and are mostly successful with a few minor differences.
India keeps evolving but Indians living outside, stick to the script. They try to cross every I and dot every T of ceremonies to be followed. Priests living abroad add to the length of ceremonies by explaining each step in excruciating detail. In a sense this is a good thing and at the last wedding I attended, I took out my I-phone to make notes since tips like these are handy content references for my current job.
But sometimes priests take it too far and repeat themselves. They also insist on pin-drop silence and no little kids running around. It feels more like a church than an Indian shaadi. Our pandits in India certainly do not adhere to this strict protocol. In fact, at most weddings in India, apart from close family, no one really pays attention to the ceremony. Everyone is wandering off, socializing, chatting and since lunch or dinner is generally served concurrently, they are indulging in ‘pet puja’.
Weddings outside India have a more formal dinner, emulating how it is done abroad. There is assigned seating, speeches, cake-cutting and the first dance. The free for all and mad scram in India that is so much a part of our weddings is not in evidence. There are pros and cons for both types so I am firmly glued to the fence on this one.
Improvisations for weddings abroad are clever like using Vicco Turmeric cream for haldi ceremonies and the equipment used for fire during pheras. It’s also amazing how they manage to get decorated horses for grooms. My nephew’s wedding was in a vineyard and he drove a tractor during his baarat. Indian serials have been great advertisements for wedding fashion. You rarely see real jewellery and everyone is decked out in the finest of costume jewels. The saas bahu episode have spawned a huge industry in clothes. Men and women alike, children, teens and young adults can find their pick of choicest glam attire. I was amazed to learn the A to Z of requirements can be sourced in North America from the streets of Edison to the Indian stores of Toronto, Devon street in Chicago to remote Calgary.
But where India surpasses weddings abroad is in décor, food and entertainment. In order to match up to Indian standards, weddings outside Bharat desh need an extravagant budget. Having said that, some weddings in India take lavishness to another level. Food stations serve cuisines from a minimum of five different countries and Indian chefs surpass themselves in creativity when it comes to dishing out the khaana. Most weddings abroad, stick to desi fare.
It is a treat no doubt to get Indian food away from the homeland but it can get monotonous especially since our weddings tend to run to four or five days. Yes, whether you are in India or abroad, the desire for long drawn out functions is still in evidence. There is sangeet, mehndi, pujas, dancing, cocktails, wedding and receptions and at the last wedding I attended, even a picnic the day after. The celebrations never cease.
No one can surpass India when it comes to décor because the business is such, people have to be on their toes in terms of creative innovation or they will lose out to the next best idea. Vibrant fabric, fresh flowers and skilled labourers make all the difference. But they are catching up outside India. The industry for Indian weddings is no longer small scale. Take for example the Royal Rajasthan themed sangeet night I attended. Even the dance floor had an Indian paisley and mosaic pattern. There were jharokas, rajgaddi, royal jewellery to wear for photo ops and all of this was sourced outside India.
Flowers are still too expensive so while there is abundant use of marigold and other flowers, nothing can replace the fresh look. Interestingly, weddings I have attended in India have even imported flowers from outside the country such as tulips and orchids, in the desire to stand out. The use of the national flower as a theme is more prevalent in India and rarely seen outside. The last few weddings I attended in India have used lotuses in the decor, the food and in outfits.
Access to talented musicians in India is limitless but having said that, a recent Indo-Canadian wedding I heard of had Sonu Nigam at the sangeet. The interesting thing about music is how Indians in India hit the dance floor to all the latest Bollywood numbers whereas abroad, golden oldies are what do the trick. They are not as up to date with musical trends in India.
What blows me away is how the young Indian girls and boys living abroad have picked up dance steps and perfected them. Most of this is self-taught from videos. There is no masterji coming to teach performers. The quality of dancing is sometimes even better than at sangeets in India because not everyone dances. Dancing is limited to a few chosen ones and they do an excellent job. No one would believe the performers are born and raised outside India. They probably do not understand the words but their bodies sure can move to the tunes.
At a recent garba, I was lost and fumbling when it came to keeping up with the London contingent and their complicated footwork. In India, garba is more popular only in Gujarat. As a student abroad, I remember attending all nine days of navratri wearing different chaniya cholis everyday but have barely attended a handful in all my years in Pune. It was only as a young girl in Bombay, that I roamed buildings with my friends for dandiya events.
But whether in India or abroad, nothing can ever beat the vibrancy, pomp, ceremony, colour and masti of our weddings. It is a breathtaking showcase of our roots. I feel proud to be an Indian and wouldn’t trade my cultural identity for anything.