I love the vibrancy of Indian weddings; the colours, clothes, chaos. Whether they are intimate affairs or grand weddings, the fun and festivity is contagious. I have attended many Indian weddings in the US but there is no comparison to a wedding in India. The food and décor cannot even begin to compare no matter how much money is thrown at the celebrations.
I noticed similarities in some of the recent weddings I attended in India and realized wedding planners probably exchange notes or steal ideas. There is the foot massage for the tired limbs after much shimmying in the sangeet and leg shaking in the baarat.
Another clever idea is the replacement slippers for women who otherwise totter around on their high heels and kill their feet. A live DJ truck, providing music for the baaratis, ups the entertainment quotient and the bar man roaming around doling out shots to one and all, from some long tubed contraption, ensures everyone is on a perpetual high.
An unusual and totally fun element at one of the weddings I attended was the bride’s baraat. For the first time in my memory, the groom was kept waiting while the bride and her troop danced their way to the mandap. There were unicyclists, dhol walaas, a live DJ, pom poms, a horse drawn carriage and much hip shaking and hand clapping.
And all the celebrating makes guests hungry. The one thing that never fails to amaze me is the cuisine. Chefs pull out the stops to make the food interesting with fusion twists like wasabi pani puri or quirky French fry and cheese toast stations, mac and cheese with shaved truffles or unusual kulcha counters.
While these weddings are fun, my conscience always grapples with the dilemma of disparity. On the one hand these weddings have large budgets and on the flip side is an under privileged India. But there is no denying the incredible small scale industry supported by weddings. From caterers to craftsmen, from event people to entertainers, these folks are proof the wedding industry is a booming business. Many bridal couples and their parents ensure they do their bit to give back to society.
One family provided computers to a village school and also set up a grove in the Sunderbans for wedding guests to plant trees in lieu of any gifts. Often guests are given fancy gifts to take back but another family donated the amount they would have spent in gifts to the couple’s preferred charitable organizations. The reality is India’s underprivileged live side by side with the privileged and this is an ideal way of ensuring something is being done for them while not compromising on wedding celebrations. In fact, a recent bill introduced in parliament by an MP seeks to address extravagant expenditure on weddings by putting a limit on spending. Anyone who goes above the limit must enforcedly donate 10% of the amount spent for marriages of girls living below the poverty line.
Talking about underprivileged and there are plenty of not for profits operating in India. Sometimes it becomes a problem of choice when people are looking to support a cause since the space is inundated with people trying to do good. My preference is in the space of women and children.
Recently I met a young American girl who loves India and on one of her trips to the country came up with an innovative concept. Her NGO is known as Sundarafund.org and the concept is simple. Hotels always have half used soaps. She ties up with hotels and has developed a process by which these soaps are melted and molded into new soaps. She distributes these soaps free to low income people with no access to soaps. She also educates them on the need for hygiene.
She uses children from schools in tribal and slum areas to continue spreading the hygiene tales and calls them her hygiene angels. Women from lower income groups are used to make the soaps and thus earn a living in the process. I was impressed by the way they operate and while they have been doing good work in Mumbai, they now want to spread their wings and have targeted Pune next. A simple concept that not only increases hygiene levels of people, but also deals with unnecessary waste by using recycling, something India does very well.
One company that is doing well in India is Uber. Despite its controversial debut in India Uber has become an increasingly preferred mode of transport. I have heard heartening stories about Uber drivers. A friend left his wallet in an Uber and the driver called him saying he left his folder in the car. Since the wallet was long, the driver mistook it for a folder. My friend was not missing any folder and denied it was his asking the driver to check with other customers. When it finally dawned on my friend that his wallet was missing, a few hours had gone by. He immediately called the driver who was still in the vicinity because he was diligently calling each of his previous passengers to check whether the ‘folder’ belonged to them. My lucky friend managed to get his wallet back with all the cash intact thanks to the honesty of the driver.
I am hoping for a similar story. Recently my son was in an Uber and his driver banged into another car. In the ensuing confusion, he left without his winter jacket. The driver has been contacted and my fingers are crossed.
Not everyone is honest as I realized at a wedding I attended in Abu Dhabi. I lost my necklace while prancing and dancing at the sangeet and did not realize when it slipped out of its clasp and disappeared into someone’s hands. I did bring it to the notice of the hotel but unfortunately flew back sans necklace. The irony is my necklace was not gold or precious stones but was ‘junk’ jewellery made of gold and silver thread. Anyone who knows me is aware of my passion for accessories and so regardless of the value, they are precious to me.
I was quite sure someone would return the necklace since its biggest value is sentimental but I guess there are others like me who appreciate junk jewellery. I hope they get as much pleasure wearing my necklace as I did.
In the meantime, I am holding out for another honest Uber driver.