Big fat Indian weddings remained a fairly constant occurrence even while all of the world was hit by the far-reaching and dire consequences of COVID-19, with the booming wedding sector seeming practically unaffected. But are these lavish Indian weddings just a synonym for conspicuous consumption?
“The big fat Indian wedding”— a phrase whose meaning we understand with no explanations, one which has a story of its own. Considered as a day when an individual’s importance sits on a pedestal, the wedding day itself gets placed on a seat of high importance. “It is the most important moment in your life” is a tagline that we get to hear from numerous wedding brands (from the couture lehenga makers to the wedding planners and shaadi websites). Weddings are seen as this watershed moment in one’s life so it isn’t very surprising when we see people spending huge amounts on a single wedding, leaving the wedding sector booming as a 50 billion dollar industry.
Human beings live in societies comprising of social circles ranging from those within the family to those that exist through your professional as well as educational lives. The people involved in a person’s life keep increasing with time (that is unless you are Squidward); and in an Indian wedding, no one gets left behind (literally). Everyone from your dur ki bua to the brother of your dad’s office colleague gets an invitation and most of these people end up in front of food counters on your wedding day. After all, no one denies an invitation to gorge on free food and judge as if all the decisions for the Last Judgement have just become their sole responsibility.
Enter into play Rousseau’s ‘Amour Propre’— a need for comparison and approval by others to measure your own self-esteem— leaving the day to become a parade of impressing and cajoling absolutely anyone you have ever met (or sometimes haven’t), a task so important that it rises above the will and desires of everyone else (including the bride and groom). It becomes a day of your reckoning— your societal status, your wealth, your miserliness, all come under the scrutiny of your not-so-friendly rishtedaars.
More than anything else, it is a matter of prestige and social standing— to be able to throw a lavish wedding and to be able to spend all that money. In a very basic sense, yes it can just be seen as a way to show off,” says the father of a recently-wed bride (who spent crores on the particular wedding day), in conversation with a DUB correspondent.
This leaves anyone in their right mind (so to say) with only one viable option— spend all your money on the people whose you might never meet again.
In addition to this, weddings also end up being considered as a two-way process. “They invited us to their daughter’s wedding so obviously we have to invite them to ours” can be heard numerous times from the room while the guest list gets drafted.
But people alone cannot be blamed. Cinema has a huge role in shaping our lives while constantly shaping its own ideas based on societal traditions. Shows like ‘The Big Day’ or ‘Made in Heaven’ and movies like ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’, ‘Shaandaar’, or ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ are the perfect examples of the romanticisation of these huge Indian weddings with choreographed dances and colour-themed events. But when such scenes try to be implemented in reality, they leave families with bills understandably rising up to a hefty amount.
For that top 1%, this sometimes comes as more of a boon than a bane, providing them with an opportunity to dust their hands off the accumulated sums of corrupted “black” money with most of the wedding transactions occurring in cash.
More than the upper middle classes or higher economic classes being affected by this, the brunt of the “wedding craze” can be felt by the poorest of the poor who end up taking loans (mostly from informal institutions such as that of the moneylenders or large zamindaars) and spending the rest of their life trying to repay them. An average Indian ends up spending around one-fifth of their lifetime earnings on wedding celebrations, an amount that seems absurd when put into this perspective.
Indians are known to mortgage properties, take as many personal loans as they can afford, or beg and borrow just to ensure that there’s enough display of gold at a wedding. In certain regions, people explicitly demand gold as dowry in the name of ancestral tradition. Even the poorest of parents will try to give at least one gold chain to their daughter to save face,” explains Dr Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, a New Delhi-based think-tank.
In the worst of the worst scenarios, many end up committing suicide as they are unable to bear the burden that comes hidden under the veil of “celebrations”. More than a private, happy affair, wedding days end up being something you need to worry about and start saving for from the day one’s child is born.
When analysed more carefully, this ends up perpetuating not just economic inequality, but also a certain gender bias, with parents preferring to have sons over daughters as it entails less spending (in the form of dowry) and a transfer of a majority of wedding expenses to the other family (in India, traditionally, the bride’s side pays for the all the preparations and bears all the costs of the ceremony). This, in turn, provides a reason for a huge majority of families in India to engage in practices like female foeticide, beginning a vicious cycle with no end in sight.
So, it all boils down to one question— is it all worth it? Is all this spending on that one “magical day” worth all the efforts and hard work that went into earning that same amount of money? Have weddings just become a day to satiate our people-pleasing tendencies? Are big fat Indian weddings really viable in a capitalist economy?
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Feature Image Credits: theknot.com