I stood at the centre of an opulent hall. To my left, a troupe of flashily attired dancers was gyrating synchronously to loud Bollywood tunes. Men in suits and sherwanis crowded boisterously around a huge bar towards my right. Adjacent to the crowd was a sumptuous, multicuisine spread where the womenfolk had congregated, glittering in their bejewelled best. Unable to spot any familiar face, I turned around, just in time to see the bride make her entrance, decked up in an elaborate designer lehenga and shimmering gold jewellery. Assisted by her entourage and chased by an army of photographers and videographers, she walked up a few steps to an embellished love seat. The groom joined her soon after. The rest of the evening was a concoction of extravagance, gluttony and vanity.
As I drove back home that night, I couldn’t help but wonder — when was the graceful and poignant Indian wedding replaced with a pretentious imposter?
While we, as Indians, have always been susceptible to extravagance at weddings, this overindulgence has now reached dizzy heights. I have attended more weddings where competitive splurges and ostentatious displays of jewellery and gifts appear to have been the primary objectives of the week-long gatherings and the sacred union of two human beings is but a detail.
This disturbing trend is really the symptom of a larger problem — unbridled consumerism and shallow, materialistic aspirations sweeping across the country. Switch on your TV or cellphone or open the newspaper, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the barrage of advertisements pushing products at you.
Exhibit 1 - An advertisement on TV, where a prospective bride declares to her sister, during jewellery shopping, that a necklace worth Rs. 3 lakh is “really not that expensive.” Really subtle and classy.
Exhibit 2 - A reality show where middle class brides are given a makeover and dressed up by a popular designer for their special day. Overtly positioned as a benevolent concept where unsuspecting brides get a “fairytale wedding”, it’s really just a long advertisement for designer clothes, make-up artists and beauty products. I could go on...
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an opposer of consumerism. But when its forces run amok, they cause undesirable outcomes. We have the very public example of the U.S. to learn from. While America, inventor of the very concept of consumerism, is now beginning to embrace prudence and fiscal responsibility following decades of credit-infused excesses that culminated in an economic apocalypse, we seem to be intent on taking the opposite path.
Indian culture is one where moderation has been espoused and celebrated. As we evolve and modernise our thinking in much needed ways, it is critical not to forget the best of our own culture. It is also important to continue to reassess our traditions in a more contemporary light.
Let’s take the tradition of parents and families giving multiple sets of jewellery to the bride. This practice was born in the days of yore, when young girls were married off to men they barely knew, in a society where they were powerless. The jewellery was meant to be a source of security for daughters, to help them in times of financial and other distress. Today, the most important gifts that parents can give their daughters are a solid education and unwavering self-belief. For those of us who have been lucky enough to receive these invaluable gifts, intemperate amounts of jewellery are meaningless.
In a heart-warming article, I read that Thilak and Dhana, an extraordinary couple, used all the money and gifts collected at their wedding reception in Chennai to start an education fund for underprivileged children. Now that is one wedding I would have loved to attend!
While it is hard for the rest of us to live up to the high example set by this remarkable couple, it is certainly time for introspection.
Each one of us deserves to celebrate that once-in-a-lifetime event when we pledge ourselves to another; we deserve all the joyous festivities and the merry-making. But while we do that, let’s try and remember that it is not a competition or opportunity to project our exaggerated status. What it is, is the most sacred promise we’ll ever make. Let us not diminish its beauty and meaning.
(The writer is an Equity Research analyst. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org)