Gaudy weddings are divorced from reality

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2011, 12:00am

You can attack the splurge of an estimated US$20 million on the wedding of a politician's son this month in the Indian capital from various angles. One is the waste. That amount of money is almost a fiscal stimulus package. Another is the obscenity of spending such a sum when millions of Indians live on pittance, can't afford medical care for their children, and lie awake at night agonising over whether, as dawn breaks, they can earn enough to feed their family.

At best, Kanwar Singh Tanwar displayed shocking insensitivity when he invited 18,000 guests, ordered 100 dishes, garlanded his son Lalit and the bride, Yogita, with necklaces made of banknotes and gave them a helicopter as a gift.

At worst, he was showing that he did not give a damn about the suffering of his fellow citizens. Very few rich or powerful Indians have any sense of a shared humanity with their bony and stunted compatriots. As the conspicuous consumption of India's rich soars to new levels, the profound inequality between the two worlds grows more disturbing and gaping by the day.

At one end are people so pampered that, like the princess in the fairy tale, they can lie on a mountain of mattresses and feel the pea at the bottom. At the other are those who cannot afford an onion to eat raw with their dry chapatti.

The timing of this gaudy spectacle was unfortunate, too, coming as it did close on the heels of a string of corruption scandals that showed once again how rapaciously businessmen and politicians enrich themselves while the poor look on in disbelief.

Apart from the moral obscenity, most big, fat Indian weddings deserve condemnation on the aesthetic front. The look is invariably Las Vegas meets Disneyland, with venues decked out according to themes such as Venice, Manhattan, Arabian Nights or Versailles.

On this scale, everyone gets lost. When guests are milling around among 1,000 others, they feel as though they are at a teeming Indian railway station trying to reach the right platform. How can food be appealing when it spreads out for half a kilometre and you have to queue for it?

How can there be elegance or style amid such excess? Or intimacy? Or the sense of people coming together to witness a solemn occasion? In fact, the actual wedding ceremony usually takes place in a corner, totally ignored by the milling hordes (usually queuing for food, drinks or the toilet) and attended only by the immediate family. The happy couple are normally just a speck - albeit a very shiny one in their tinsel clothes - in the distance.

Such vulgar carnivals are unlikely to disappear. India is still a feudal country where the rich and powerful feel compelled to display their wealth at weddings as a show of strength.

But one young man, Varun Gandhi, one of the lesser known members of the Gandhi dynasty, showed last week how it can be done differently. His wedding was a dignified and tasteful affair. The ceremony in a Benares temple was attended by 25 relatives and friends. After enjoying a simple meal, they dispersed.

Amrit Dhillon is a New Delhi-based writer