India lockdown Society

COVID-19: Couples live-stream intimate weddings under lockdown

A Lithuanian couple after their wedding

A Lithuanian couple after their wedding   | Photo Credit: PETRAS MALUKAS

As we battle the novel Coronavirus crisis, couples the world over have been stripping down their big fat weddings to the bare essentials: a commitment to stay together through thick and thin

As Sweatha Varthamanan and Aswin Ravi tied the knot along with over 20 of their closest friends and family in Chennai, nearly as many phones and recording devices were propped in front of their faces. They were live streaming the wedding to the other 200 guests who could not make it, because of the all-India lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was surreal. Every girl dreams of her wedding, but this was nothing I had ever imagined. All empty chairs, and 15 smartphones in front of us, like we’re some celebrities,” laughs Sweatha, who married Aswin on March 26, the day after India went under lockdown. They cancelled every other ceremony — mehendi to reception, except for the rites.

COVID-19: Couples live-stream intimate weddings under lockdown

As we battle the novel Coronavirus crisis, couples all over the world have been stripping down their big fat weddings to the bare essentials: a commitment to stay together through thick and thin. No grand decorations, just declarations of love.

A dream destination wedding in Las Vegas was what Autumn Conner had in mind. After all, the Phoenix (Arizona, USA) resident had waited over six months for her now husband Santosh Roychowdhury to fly in from India. “His visa took that long to clear. My side of the family was supposed to fly in from all over the country,” says Autumn, over a VoIP call from her hometown.

But then on March 14, two days prior to her wedding, Autumn had to call off her plans as the US started to bear the brunt of COVID-19. With social distancing and lockdown protocols kicking in across the country, the couple opted to play it safe, and decided to get married in a private ceremony that was attended by a little over 10 people.

The just married couple Laila and Boualem Bellil walk in the Stall Courtyard, a most frequented tourist spot, in Dresden, eastern Germany, Thursday, March 26, 2020. They celebrate today without wedding guests because of the government regulations and want to make up for the party next year. In order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, the German government has considerably restricted public life and asked the citizens to stay at home. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

The just married couple Laila and Boualem Bellil walk in the Stall Courtyard, a most frequented tourist spot, in Dresden, eastern Germany, Thursday, March 26, 2020. They celebrate today without wedding guests because of the government regulations and want to make up for the party next year. In order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, the German government has considerably restricted public life and asked the citizens to stay at home. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)   | Photo Credit: Jens Meyer

 

“It was strange. Funny too. We just smiled looking at each other,” says Autumn, as she shares pictures of the couple wearing masks and exchanging their wedding kiss. “We wore masks to remind people that it is important to take this pandemic seriously, in the US and around the world,” says Santosh, adding, “but love can overcome anything... even a pandemic.”

Similar reports have been coming in from Lithuania, Indonesia, Spain, Argentina, Italy and others. In a video that went viral on Twitter, a couple got married on the streets of New York, as their friend who performed the ceremony from a balcony, read out an excerpt from the very apt Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

COVID-19: Couples live-stream intimate weddings under lockdown
 

Difficult choices

Behind the cutesy pictures of masked kisses however, is a rolling stone of shifting plans, guests dropping out, vendors bargaining, and the accompanying stress.

“Forget social distancing, Aswin and I distanced ourselves from each other two days before the wedding,” says Sweatha, adding that their texts would only be “Good Morning”, “Good Night”, and “Did you eat?”

“Both of us were tense and we wanted to avoid arguments about the planning. When the situation is out of our control, it is better to be silent and calm,” she says.

Weddings were one of the exemptions to the lockdown, under certain conditions. According to a Tamil Nadu Government Order, “marriages already fixed on or before March 16, in marriage halls alone can be conducted, subject to a maximum number of 30 guests.”

COVID-19: Couples live-stream intimate weddings under lockdown

And so, a detailed police permission has to be sought by the marriage hall, and by the couples getting married, citing the guests in attendance.

Pranesh Padmanabhan, founder of Studio 31, who covered Sweatha and Aswin’s wedding, explains how his team of photographers were picked up from their homes and dropped at the venue. “Our car was stopped six times for checking permissions,” he says. “After our photographers came back home, they self-quarantined for a week and took temperatures every few hours.”

“Fortunately, the caterer for our wedding agreed to serve to a smaller guest list. Only, instead of cooking at the venue, he brought food from his kitchen to the hall,” says Sweatha. In another wedding that Studio 31 covered in mid-March, the couple had to arrange for food parcels for the 28 guests in attendance, from the nearest Saravana Bhavan after the caterer cancelled.

“The coming three months are known as the wedding season in India. We normally would have about 140 bookings during this period, but 90 % of them dropped out. Now we have about 20, and even they are unsure,” he says. Pranesh has made an effort to document these surreal times through his photographs: Corporation workers hosing down the venue with disinfectants, guests dining a metre apart from each other.

COVID-19: Couples live-stream intimate weddings under lockdown

The silver lining

The Government has instructed marriage halls to “return the advance paid by the public for all cancelled bookings.” However, some like Pushpa Sridhar claim they are still in the dark about refunds: instead, they are being asked by vendors to set another date.

“It is very disappointing for both families. Airlines have asked our guests to switch the booking to a later date within the next six months. Which means our relatives are asking us if we have set a date yet, but we can’t do that until there is some sense of normalcy!” says Pushpa, mother of the groom.

On the other hand, Arjun (name changed on request) used the lockdown as the opportunity to have the intimate eco-friendly wedding he and his wife had always pictured. “My wife’s family had wanted a grander wedding, and we debated postponing it. But we went ahead with an intimate affair, because in the end, that is what she and I had wanted.”

Arjun proudly recalls how his was one of those few weddings where everybody present was involved in what was happening, rather than having personal conversations. He too had live streamed the ceremony for around 300-400 people, much like Sweatha and Aswin.

Thankful for the relaxed affair, Aswin says, “If you think about the ones closest to you, that you want around you, they wouldn’t be more than 30, anyway.”

With input from Pradeep Kumar

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 10:55:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/coronavirus-lockdown-couples-live-stream-intimate-weddings/article31227583.ece

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