“My name is Love, but I don’t believe in love; ours is an arranged marriage…,” says Deepak aka Love Gola. At 5 pm, with only five hours to go for his wedding, Deepak is sitting slumped on the floor, dressed in a pair of checked boxers and a half-sleeved vest and leaning heavily on his mother Amita. The 22-year-old gym instructor and his extended family have congregated at Jattumal Dharamshala, at the far end of Sitaram Gali in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, from where the baraat will set off this evening. “I had big plans for my wedding. I wanted to go to the parlour to get dressed but all I could afford was a hair cut,” says Deepak, running his fingers through his hair that’s streaked blond.
Deepak, the youngest of four siblings, had got engaged to Priya Prajapati, a 22-year-old from Nand Nagri in East Delhi, in April, six months before the Central government’s sudden decision to scrap notes of Rs 500 and 1,000. The decision scuttled his dreams of a “grand wedding” and what followed was an endless spiral of cost cuts. “Demonetisation ne sab pe paani pher diya (Demonetisation played the spoiler),” he complains.
Deepak’s 53-year-old mother Amita, her face taut, is concentrating on the mehndi her niece is drawing on her outstretched palms. Deepak’s sister Bhavna, 32, is lying on one of the three mattresses spread out on the floor, trying to put her three-year-old son to sleep. The few others in the dharamshala, a few cousins and friends of the Golas, are idly waiting for the ceremonies to begin.
“Since November 8, we have only been queuing up outside banks — I, my son, daughter, niece… Sirf dimag mein tension hi tension hai (I have been very tense),” says Amita, whose husband Roopchand, a property dealer, died four years ago. Amita gets nostalgic as she talks about their wedding in 1978, incidentally the year of the last demonetisation exercise. “Of course, then I didn’t know any better. Or at least I don’t remember going through such trouble,” she says.
“We had saved up Rs 2 lakh for the wedding. We queued up to exchange some money but the first three days, by the time our turn came, the money at the bank would get over. We finally managed to deposit all the money after 10 days, and then began queuing up to withdraw it,” says Deepak, stretching out his mehndi-painted feet. The family could eventually only withdraw Rs 58,000, the budget hence for Deepak’s November 23 wedding.
The government has set a withdrawal limit of Rs 2.5 lakh for weddings, with stringent conditions — claimants have to produce wedding cards and copies of advance payments made. Besides, withdrawals are allowed only from balance available before November 8. “We didn’t even try. We weren’t sure if we were eligible and there was no time anyway,” says Deepak.
Indu, 24, the third of Amita’s four children, says, “If this (the demonetisation) hadn’t happened, bhaiyya ki baraat would have set off from a banquet hall, not from a dharamshala.” The siblings exchange a quick smile. They had hired a banquet hall but cancelled it for the dharamshala close to their home.
A few paces from the dharamshala, the forced austerity at the Gola household finds its echoes in the markets of Chandni Chowk, the Capital’s hub for all things matrimonial.
At the office of Jea Band, one of the oldest wedding organisers in Old Delhi, Anil Thadani, 45, is busy handling the “mood swings” of his clients. “All our clients are panicking… Most of them come to us with old notes, phir gussa dikhatein hain, koi emotional ho jata hai (Some clients get angry, some turn emotional). But we have no option, we have strictly stopped accepting old notes,” says Thadani. The company, which featured in the 2001 movie Monsoon Wedding, organises venues, tents, bands and decorations for weddings.
“There are 150 auspicious wedding days in a year and business is usually brisk then. But this year, 25 per cent of our bookings have been cancelled, many have been postponed, and 15 per cent is on credit. We have been forced to lay off some of our staff,” says Thadani, stopping to admonish someone on the phone: “Pooja shuru hone waali hai, ghodi nahi pahunchi (The puja is about to begin, where is the horse)!”
“A lot of families are also opting for day weddings to cut lighting costs,” he says, though adding that while the move has hit the industry, in the long run, it will “make the sector more organised”.
At the dharamshala, Amita is still disgruntled. Unmindful of the caked mehndi on her palms, she angrily pulls out a cloth bag full of Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes and says, “This is all the money we have! We cancelled the reception and the sangeet. All the other ceremonies — haldi, mehndi and the wedding — are being done in one day. Ladki waalon ne kuch dahej bhi nahin diya. Unka cash bhi humne hi line mein lag kar exchange karwaya (The girl’s family didn’t give dowry either; it was we who got even their old notes exchanged),” she says. “We didn’t buy new clothes for ourselves or gifts for our guests. I am wearing a sari my mother gifted me. The only thing we bought was a suit for Love,” she says, pointing to a beige-and-maroon sherwani hanging from a nail on one of the pillars.
At Chhabra Store, one of the most popular bridal wear shops in Chandni Chowk, Manoj Kumar, 44, a salesman, says many families have, like the Golas, cut down on their trousseau budget in the wake of the new policy. “Lehenga sales have been hit. No one is buying lehengas for more than Rs 15,000-20,000,” says Kumar. “Bride toh lehenga kharidegi hi, par relatives ke liye ab koi kapde nahin khareed raha (The bride will of course buy the lehenga, but no one is buying clothes for relatives),” he says, folding a bright red sari.
Kunal Singh Chhabra, 18, the store owner’s son who is overseeing operations at the shop today, says sales have gone down by 80 per cent. “The first three days after November 8 saw zero business. Even now, the ones who come to us insist on giving us old notes. So we take the money from them and send our boys to queue up outside banks,” says Chhabra, who is an undergraduate student in Mumbai and is in the Capital on a break.
However, he backs the demonetisation move. “I want to become a politician when I grow up. So I think it is brilliant.”
All along Katra Asharfi, the lane in Chandni Chowk that has over 200 bridal-wear shops, including Chhabra Store, most are empty, with desperate salesmen calling out to people on the road. Across the street, there are lines but outside banks and ATMs.
Chhabra, however, is hopeful. “Have you seen the movie Band Baaja Baaraat? The actors in the movie say no matter what, weddings will happen. That is absolutely true. Just give it some time,” says the budding businessman.
A little more than a kilometre away is Dariba Kalan, the Mughal-era bazaar for silver jewellery. “There have been no customers since morning. We have lost 70 per cent of our business. The artisans are suffering, they are not accepting cheques,” complains Vineet Seth, 48, who owns Durgadas Seth Jewellers and Silversmiths. He is also anxious about the rumours that have been doing the rounds. “People are very scared. Look around, most shops are shut. We have been receiving messages on WhatsApp about possible raids by the Income Tax Department,” says Seth, who is also the general secretary of the Dariba Jewellers’ Association.
Apart from the silver stock that’s piling up in his shop — jewellery, bowls and cups — Seth is worried about his “top-selling gift item”, silver boxes with framed notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. “No one wants them now. I have to get these notes replaced. Now, people are only buying silver coins worth Rs 250,” he says.
Seth is not completely convinced about the demonetisation, rattling off a few idioms to express his state of mind: “We have entered a tunnel, let’s see if there is light at the end of it… Dekhein oont kis karwat baithta hai (Let’s see how it goes),” he says.
A kilometre away is Kinari Bazar, the one-stop shop for wedding bling — shimmery laces, envelopes, turbans for grooms and chooda-kaleere (bangles) for the bride. “Modi ji ne bahut accha kiya, sabko barbaad kar diya (PM Modi did a very good thing, he killed our business)!” says Piyush Gupta, 30, who owns a shop in the market. “Business has gone down by 50 per cent. People are opting for court marriages, no one wants turbans and bangles anymore. We sell items worth Rs 10, 20 and 50. But the few people who come to us come with Rs 2,000 and we turn them away,” he says.
“Shaadi ka mazaa hi nahin hain (the wedding fervour is missing),” says Deepak’s sister Bhavna. Around her, everything is moving at an unhurried pace, with little to suggest that Deepak will take his wedding vows in a few hours from now. There is no decoration — no marigold flowers or electrical streamers — no trays of food going around, no piled-up gifts.
The family had got the wedding invitations printed before the notes were scrapped, but not everyone who received the invitation is here. “Though I sent invitations to my four sisters, eventually, I asked only two of them to come. The other two have big families. Where would they have stayed? Now they won’t invite me for their children’s weddings,” worries Amita, hurriedly collecting her belongings to get dressed at a neighbour’s home. “Beauty parlour bhi nahi gaye, khud hi taiyaar ho rahe hain (We are not going to the salon either),” says Bhavna.
Ram Veer, 23, a mehndi artiste from Aligarh who visits Delhi during the wedding season every year, says it’s been an exceptionally bad season for him too. “We charge Rs 50 for designs per hand, but that hardly gets us any money. We usually make all our money from bridal mehndi — Rs 1,500 for both hands and feet. Earlier, we would be booked for the entire season, but this year, there are no customers, only cancellations,” says Ram Veer, sitting on a stool outside a beauty salon at Sitaram Gali.
Unlike the Golas, many families have also cancelled their orders for wedding cards. “We have stacks and stacks of printed invitations but customers haven’t been collecting them. All the customers just disappeared. Sab thap ho gaya hai (Business has shut completely),” says C P Singh, 42, owner of Maharaja Papers and Cards in Chawri Bazar, the Capital’s biggest market for invitation cards. “I have been sitting here for hours… People say demonetisation is a good move, but I don’t know, it all seems uncertain now,” he says, looking out at the empty street.
As the sun begins to set, there is some sign of activity at the Jattumal Dharamshala. Two workers from Radhe Radhe Snacks and Caterers, an 80-year-old shop in Chandni Chowk’s Sitaram Gali, have arrived. The menu is basic: samosa and chai. For its owner Pradeep Sharma, 45, that is a severe downgrade. “Usually, there are 250-odd items on the menu during the wedding season. Kashmiri aloo, shahi paneer, kadai paneer, tawa sabzi… they are all off the menu now. Clients are only asking for potato dishes. Four of my orders have been cancelled. At the Gola wedding too, we are only making snacks,” he says.
Though the sudden note ban forced the Golas to trim their wedding expenses, Deepak had booked the band, dhol and photographers in advance. “We had already given them some advance payment and they said if we cancelled, we wouldn’t get the amount back. We still have to pay them some money. Right now, it’s all on credit,” says Deepak, now slipping into his sherwani in the courtyard. His sister Bhavna and elder brother Sonu, 30, help him with the accessories. Indu has gone to a friend’s house to get her hair done.
Outside, members of Rahul Band are getting impatient. “Panch baje se aaye hain, pata nahin kab baraat niklegi (We have been here since 5 pm, don’t know when the procession will leave),” says band master Moolchand, dressed in a blue velvet outfit with yellow trimmings.
Moolchand and his team of 11, all from Mahua village in Uttar Pradesh, come to the Capital only during the wedding season, and play bass drums, trombones, French horns, bugles, and sousaphones, set to tunes of old Bollywood songs. This time, however, Moolchand says, their trip has been wasted. “This is our fifth wedding of the season, but we haven’t earned much. Some tell us to take cheques, but what will we do with that?” says Moolchand, who has signed up for the Gola wedding for Rs 12,000. He has got no money so far.
The dholwallahs, who have spread out in the courtyard now, are worried too. They are from Solapur in Maharashtra and, like members of the Rahul Band, make trips to Delhi during the wedding season. “We are supposed to get Rs 6,000 for this wedding, let’s see. Hopefully, they will enjoy the music and gives us good shagun (money),” says Raja Chouhan, 23. “We will stay back till March. If the income isn’t good, we will return to Solapur.”
Dressed in a blue shirt, trousers, a red jacket and a red hat, Chouhan is keeping an eye on Rahul Band. “We will have to make sure we lead the baraat. If we go first, before the bandwallahs, we will get to pick the money the guests throw,” he says.
In the courtyard, Bhavna is giving final touches to the groom. A dupatta is tied around Deepak’s waist, a turban placed on his head and a garland of Rs 10 notes put on him. Deepak turns emotional. Wiping away tears and hugging his siblings, he begins to head out. His mother and sister Indu still haven’t arrived.
His best friend, also called Love (Anand), arrives with another garland of Rs 10 notes, interspersed with a few Rs 100 notes. “Dost ke liye itna toh karna tha (I had to do this for my friend). It cost me Rs 1,500,” he says, patting his friend on the back and posing for a photograph with the garland.
It’s dark now and the videographer’s flashbulb lights up the courtyard. For a little while, at least, the tension dissipates and Deepak tries to enjoy his big day. The revelry picks pace as the band begins playing the song Ye desh hai veer jawanon ka, and Deepak and his friends and relatives break into a dance. A few in the crowd pout for selfies and pose for photographer Vikas Kumar.
Kumar and videographer Dharam Singh, from SR Studio, are happy to oblige everyone, though they admit being worried about their payments. “They booked us for Rs 35,000 for three days. But now, that it is just a one-day function, I don’t know… Let them have a good time today, we will discuss money later,” smiles Kumar, rushing to take the groom’s photograph with his sister Indu, who has arrived in a dazzling green sari, matching eye-shadow, and crimped hair.
After a few rituals, the group heads to the street outside, where Ajay Giri, 24, has been waiting with Rani, the mare which Deepak will soon mount. Rani is dressed for the occasion — a jasmine garland around her ears and a red, velvet cloth on her back. Giri and Rani have been booked for Rs 10,000, but all that money goes to his owner. The only money Giri makes is the shagun, usually in notes of Rs 100 and 500, or even 1,000 if he gets lucky. These days, he barely gets Rs 200 in all for a wedding. “Earlier, Rani would do three weddings in one night; now one and some days, none. Here too, I am sure Rani will get gud (jaggery) and I will get nothing,” he says.
He is right. Bhavna feeds Rani some jaggery and Deepak climbs on to the mare with some help from his friends. Giri is forgotten.
Finally, Deepak Gola’s baraat begins to take shape. The air is filled with beats of the band and dhol and the wedding procession dances with abandon. Neighbours look out, bodies bent over window sills and parapets of roofs. One of Deepak’s uncles takes out a bundle of Rs 10 notes and flings it on the groom. As the band and dholwallahs rush to grab the notes, the uncle quickly collects the notes and stuffs them in his jacket. Disappointed, the band and dholwallahs return to their spots and switch to a new track, Aaj mere yaar ki shadi hai. Happy with the new song, another relative tosses some money in the air and this time, band master Moolchand alerts his team members in time. Two of them rush and get the money.
The procession begins, making its way past homes and shops, many of which have signboards of ‘Yahan udhaar mana hai (No credit here)’ placed outside. The procession holds up traffic on the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk.
A few metres away from New Delhi Railway Station, the band, dhol and ghodi are relieved and members of the baraat accommodate themselves into a few cars, some of their friends and relatives, the others hired. They are off to Nand Nagri in East Delhi, where Deepak’s bride is waiting for them.
“Ladki waalon ne sirf pachas logon ka khana rakhwaya hai. Kya kar sakte hain, choti shadi hi hogi (The girl’s side has arranged for food for 50 people only. What can we do, it will be a small wedding),” smiles Amita, squeezed into the rear seat of a car.
Two days after the wedding, as Deepak Gola settles into his new life, he has mixed feelings about his wedding. “Enjoyment nahin hui poori paison ke wajah se (Couldn’t enjoy the wedding completely because of the cash crunch). But I am happy, lifetime ki commitment hai,” he says.
A wedding planner
Government scraps notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination
Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das says a member of the family can make a one-time withdrawal of Rs 2.5 lakh for a wedding
RBI issues new rules, says wedding card, copies of advance payments made for booking marriage hall and caterers will be required for withdrawing Rs 2.5 lakh. Withdrawals allowed only from balance available before November 8, and for marriages solemnised on or before December 30
Banks cite non-issuance of operational guidelines from the central bank for being unable to disburse cash up to Rs 2.5 lakh
RBI relaxes one of the conditions for withdrawal of Rs 2.5 lakh, says declaration needed only for payments beyond Rs 10,000. Earlier, a drawee had to declare all the payments he needed to make
RBI says those seeking to withdraw money for weddings need to submit a list of persons to whom the cash is to be paid and declaration that they do not have bank accounts