What’s an Indian wedding without drunken parking lot hangs, mind-numbing bhangra benders, mountains of laddoos and marigold, being photographed while eating, placating the baraatis and the metaphoric naraaz fufaji? Zoom’s oh-so-polite and sanitised weddings just didn’t do it for us. It didn’t have that four-day hangover.
Indians and weddings have a relationship like no other, one that not even a global pandemic can spoil. And when the pandemic hit India bang in the middle of the wedding season back in March, our first reaction was to pretend it didn’t exist. But as lockdowns forced people to stay indoors, and the mahurat dates continued to line up, Indians were forced to forego their mega-event shaadi plans and opt for Zoom weddings instead.
For once, brides and grooms didn’t have to meet and greet thousands of thousands of guests, parents didn’t have to shell out a pretty penny on tent houses, hotels, and caterers, and newlyweds could focus on what truly matters — their new union, not organising and then reeling from a big fat Indian wedding.
But as the pandemic seems to have slowly become ‘old news’ (even though India’s Covid rising tally continues to haunt us), our band bajaa baraats are back. And in some cases, they’re bringing in tow frighteningly large numbers of guests — see this recent video from Gujarat.
When the pandemic hit
Weddings in India are no spontaneous, low-key affair. They are planned months in advance, and involve a lot of investment. At the start of the pandemic, many families did postpone or cancel their impending celebrations, while many decided to go right ahead.
And with a booming telecom industry and a lot of free data, many decided to opt for virtual weddings. For instance, a groom in Mumbai married his fiancé who was sitting in Bareilly, while the priest was chanting mantras in Raipur.
While one couple ensured that all their ‘Zoom guests’ could witness the ceremony in its, another groom decided to borrow outfits from his brother-in-law and replace the traditional juttis with the more comfortable Crocs. Recorded dance performances and virtual haldi application sessions also ensured everyone had the closest experience to a ‘real-life’ wedding.
So, with like everything else in India, the jugaad instinct kicked in and people ‘rocked’ Zoom weddings.
A typical Zoom meeting allows upto 100 guests. But if you wish to have around 500 guests on Zoom, you will have to pay an additional Rs 3,791 for the month. Which would almost be equal to the price of three plates of food at an Indian weddings. The math made the Zoom weddings pretty appealing, not to mention the ‘world is ending’ feeling was all too real throughout the lockdown.
Add to that, a drastically reduced number of ‘real’ guests, elimination of the number of ceremonies and events — you could be saving yourself from Covid, and not have to sell a kidney to fund your own wedding. With the Minstry of Home Affair guidelines restricted the number of wedding guests in Unlock 3 and 4 to upto 50, weddings became small intimate affairs. For a while.
Back with a bang, celeb style
The ‘small wedding’ of former Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy’s son and Bigg Boss 2 winner Ashutosh Kaushi may have grabbed headlines back in April. But more recently, it’s the the neverending #NehuDaVyaah ceremonies, of singers Neha Kakkar and Rohanpreet Singh’s wedding, and music maestro Udit Narayan’s son Aditya Narayan’s nuptials with actor Shweta Agarwal that have grabbed eyeballs for being lavish affairs.
Even though Covid-19 protocols were reportedly followed during both the weddings, the social-media frenzy and the absence of masks in most of the images almost made one believe that coronavirus has already been defeated. And with celebs hosting weddings, #YOLO becomes a very real emotion among the mass.
Can host, will host
Even with Covid-19 restrictions in place, and some periods of relief when places like Delhi allowed upto 200 guests for weddings, social gatherings continue to be high-risk scenarios for contracting the virus. Despite the mandate of masks and downloading the Aarogya Setu app, and mandatory temperature checks, most functions don’t see many people follow precautions, as I recently found out at a wedding I attended.
While masks were in place, social distancing, especially during the baraat procession, was not strictly followed. The venue had no one checking temperatures of the attendees, or enquiring if the Aarogya Setu app was in place. Sanitisation, too, was not carried out in any manner.
Weddings flouting Covid norms and hosting more than the allowed number of guests have accelerated the spread of Covid infections. And with announcements from Moderna, Pfizer and Astrazeneca about the possibility of vaccines arriving by 2021, caution has been thrown to the wind. Many have even ‘escaped’ to destination weddings, in smaller towns and scenic locales such as Udaipur, Jaipur, and Manesar where rules might not be as stringent, or one can call more guests to be part of the wedding.
In fact, when Delhi reintroduced restrictions in the end of November, by putting a cap of a maximum of 50 guests, many made a beeline for Gurugram, which still allowed upto 200 guests. Moreover, people who were willing or rich enough to cough up fines imposed for flouting rules might just do exactly as they please, while the music of the shaadi DJ’s makes them blissfully forget the raging pandemic. mean no matter what Zoom offers, doing a hook step in real life with the bride or groom is not quite the same as a recorded virtual dance performance.
But ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ being the attitude of many Indian ‘wedding enthusiasts’, people are determined to plough through. And so, ‘tis the season of endless ceremonies and big fat Indian shaadis, and Zoom weddings have receded into the folds of history, probably never to emerge again.
Views are personal.