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The big fat wedding brawl
Infighting among the bride's family, squabbling with the groom's side, battles with the event manager, the great Indian wedding turns really ugly almost as soon as the last strains of the shehnai die out...
Delhi-based businessman Anil Chadha (name changed) was the only one of three sons who lived in the family house his father built in a plush South Delhi enclave. His daughter's wedding was a four-day affair, with theme events at the Sheraton and at a farm house in Chattarpur. Immediately after the wedding, one of Chadha's brothers commented to the other brother that Anil had managed to save so much money by living in their father's house and not paying rent. That was the beginning of a bitter property dispute between the three brothers.
Five brothers lived in Delhi, sharing one roof and a business. As each got married, the family kept getting bigger. Everyone lived quite peacefully, till it was time for the weddings of their sons. The joyous family occasion deteriorated into an ugly show of one-upmanship. Who had the better caterer, whose sherwani was shiner, if one decided to get his bride on an elephant, the other hired a helicopter! The great Indian family crumbled under the assault of the great Indian wedding. After the last guest had departed, the family home and the business were both split.
A senior government official recounts how his NRI brother and sister-in-law felt humiliated when they came to Mumbai to attend his daughter's wedding. According to them, the rooms he had arranged were not 'up to the mark' and they left complaining. Needless to say, the government official did not get the perfunctory air ticket along with the invitation to his nephew's wedding the following year.
Most Hindi movies end where life actually begins: with the big fat Indian wedding - happily ever after, band-baaja, shor-sharaba, rona-dhona and all that. But what happens after the great Indian wedding would make for far more interesting cinema. The ladki ki maasi will most likely tell her sister (the ladki ki ma) how the ladki ki bua was given preference over her. Then, some relatives will crib about how the presents they got were not good enough. Some others might moan their living arrangements were four-star not five-star. And so on...
Time was when the boy's family had all the fun at a wedding and threw their weight around, while the girl's side dutifully followed instructions. And, no matter what, the bride's side stuck together - united in their singular mission to make sure the wedding went off perfectly and that the groom's family was treated like royalty. Cut to now, when in-fighting among the ladkiwalas is commonplace. "The picture-perfect wedding album is just gloss," says wedding saree designer Naina Javeri. "Reality hits hard soon after and ugly accusations flying between the hosts and their family members are very common." Javeri adds that bigbudget celebrations lead to bigger-budget brawls. "In big business houses, wedding expenses are met by the joint family from the family business account. In a recent instance, the father split from the family business so he could get his share and host for his daughter the sort of wedding she wanted. He did not want to be bogged down by the dictates of the girl's uncles and aunts."
While some people narrate stories of greedy demands and unreasonable requests by the boy's side, for many parents of the bride, handling their own family members is far tougher. "We often hear how the bride's own relatives were most demanding when it came to rooms, transport or hotel services," says jewellery designer Poonam Soni. "While parents of the bride or groom may go bonkers to give the guests an 'out of this world' experience, nothing can please some guests. Gift them a Tahiliani and they'll be disappointed because they expected a Versace. In the good old days, all the girl's family members lent a helping hand and put up with inconveniences. Today they all expect VIP and 'equal' treatment."
So much and so little has changed in the traditional Indian wedding. "The boy's side may be less demanding today, but in India, the bride's family still makes a grand effort to outdo itself, impress the groom's family and all the guests," says Vandita Bawa, a social events manager with the Taj Hotel group. "One of our clients took a three-month break from his business so he could concentrate all his energies on planning and organising his dear daughter's spectacular wedding," she adds. But even if the whole wedding and all functions are outsourced to a wedding planner and event manager, the internal blame game continues. "There's always an uncle or aunt, niece or nephew who shirked some important responsibility or someone who behaved obnoxiously with a wedding guest," says a wedding planner.
Of course, the boy's side calling the shots is no longer a foregone conclusion. "Today, things are very clear - power lies with the party that has more money," says Soni. And if a particular arrangement doesn't suit the bride's side, they are quick to point it out. A corporate head honcho's daughter's in-laws were adamant on a destination wedding. "Money was no issue but the idea was impractical for me since we have quite a few old people in the family and making them travel was not a good idea," says the Delhi-based CFO. "Though my wife was horrified at having to tell our samdhis that we would host a grand home town wedding, I was quite certain there was no other way." Finally, the wedding is happening in town and the boy's side is organising a two-day post wedding celebration in Goa.
Everyone wants to host a bigger fatter Indian wedding than the last person did. And with that comes the pressure to overdo things or spend beyond one's means. Some families bend over backwards trying to get the perfect everything. Trouble happens when those who overspend shamelessly refuse to pay their dues after the last shehnai dies down. Wedding client and wedding vendor fights are very common these days. Gurleen Puri, a wedding designer, says that when she manages a wedding, she is "married to the family for six months" and uses her instinct to figure out whether to work with them at all. "This is just to ensure that I can focus my energies on creative work and not have to get into a tussle over money later." Some of Mumbai's prominent wedding vendors still talk about a society diva's wow wedding ten years ago, for which many phoolwallas and set-up workers were not paid their dues. According to make up maestro Cory Walia, sometimes you just have to trust a client and a clash after the wedding is unavoidable. "My blood boils when I think of the tension my fellow artists went through a few years ago. A business magnate hosting a magnificent wedding at Amby Valley got the team to dress 45 women guests instead of the earlier brief of 20. To add to that, they paid us for 20 guests only! When persuasion failed, I screamed and threatened to expose the man. Finally, they relented and we received our hard-earned monies."
(Parthip Thyagarajan is the co-founder of a wedding portal)
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