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Sunday, August 09, 2020

How the pandemic has shrunk the Big, Fat Indian wedding

People are spending less on weddings that now feature masks, hand sanitisers and social distancing.

Written by Surbhi Gupta | Updated: July 26, 2020 8:10:35 pm
Sanitisers, masks and a wedding in Delhi. (Source: Creatif films by Sahil Arora)

Delhi-based digital marketer Chaitali Puri and her Chandigarh-based fiancé Nitin Arora had started planning their engagement and wedding in December last year. They wanted a “big fat Punjabi wedding”, says Puri, a two-day event on May 1 and 2, which would include pheras at sunset followed by a party that would last the whole night. The couple got engaged on March 16, but a week later, everything looked uncertain, as the country locked down on March 22 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A wedding takes months, sometimes even years, to plan. Each detail is agonised over, from coordinating outfits with the decor, to creating sangeet playlists, researching destination venues, and sampling lavish menus. Most emergencies are factored into the plans, but how could anyone plan for an unprecedented global calamity? Puri and Arora are among the many couples whose nuptial plans were foiled by the lockdown. While some decided to postpone their weddings, others decided to forego grand events, opting, instead, for intimate functions at home, as soon as the government allowed weddings with up to 50 guests, beginning May 4.

“This isn’t the time for the big fat Indian wedding at all; intimate weddings and home ceremonies are the way forward,” says Aanchal Tuli, who runs The Millennial Bridesmaid, a wedding-planning company in Gurugram. She had two weddings to organise in April and two in June. One family was particular about the muhurat, so they went ahead with a ceremony including 10 people, at home. Others have postponed their plans indefinitely. “Two of my couples are abroad, so there is no way they can come to India any time soon,” she says.

Puri and Arora finally did get married in an intimate ceremony at home, after the latter’s father suggested on May 1 that they could still go ahead as planned the next day. “What followed were 12 hours of complete madness,” Puri says. The permissions for the wedding and travel from Chandigarh to Delhi were managed by 5 pm on May 1 and a pandit to officiate the ceremony was finalised by 7 pm. The wedding feast was cooked at home, and the celebrants all wore masks, maintaining proper distance from each other. Sanitiser bottles were placed all over the house, says Puri, who wore her mother’s sari, along with her grandmother’s vintage gold choker, instead of the elaborate lehnga which she hadn’t been able to collect from the designer.

Preparations for a religious ceremony at a Sikh wedding in Delhi.

Shafiqullah Dar, a 30-year-old teacher in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, too, had planned to have a grand wedding on May 31, with over 300 people in attendance. “My sister got married last year and 600 people had graced the occasion, and we had served a full-fledged wazwan,” he says. In Kashmir, weddings are synonymous with wazwan, a feast comprising 15 to 35 dishes. So important is the wazwan that wedding dates are fixed for when the waza, the cook, is available. Guests sit in groups of four around a traami — a round copper platter that is heaped with rice and loaded with dishes such as seekh kebabs and methi korma. There was none of this for Dar’s wedding. The guest list was trimmed down to 20, and comprised only immediate family. “We savoured a home-cooked meal served on individual plates and the menu was also limited,” he says. “Everyone was so amused to see a baraat, they were calling me a COVID dulha,” he says.

“A lot of weddings in Kashmir happen in June and go on till October. We had some bookings before Ramzan and some after, but now due to the pandemic, most are getting cancelled and we are being asked to return the advance,” says Javed Ahmed Bhatt, who runs Hamdard Tent House in Anantnag district. “We’ve lived through unrest and curfews in 2008, 2010 and 2016, but weddings used to take place, even if fewer in number. But during the pandemic, there have been almost no weddings,” says Bhatt. The few that do happen feature what is being called the “pandemic wazwan”, with fewer dishes cooked and served by wazas in PPE suits and, like at Dar’s wedding, eaten by guests on individual mini traamis.
One of the biggest challenges is preparing the guest list, says Namrata Rajgarhia, owner-founder of Two Fat Ladies, a Mumbai-based wedding planning company. Besides organising two to three different events for different groups of 50 people each, they’ve instituted a strict RSVP system.

According to Tuli, people no longer want to spend huge sums on weddings, and neither do they want large, elaborately decorated venues, where the paucity of guests will only make the contrast with weddings in pre-COVID times appear starker. Food menus have changed because guest lists have shrunk and buffets are being avoided because of hygiene concerns.
The intimate art of bridal make-up is one of the peculiar challenges of weddings right now. Delhi-based make-up artist Leena Bhushan ensures that she’s alone in the room with the bride and one assistant when working. “We’re sanitising our products before and after the make-up, washing our hands constantly and doing temperature checks of the brides, apart from wearing masks, face shields and PPE suits. I’m covered from head to toe,” she says, “But it is taking us four hours instead of two with one bride, so our work has only increased,” she says.

Weddings planners are now required to source masks and sanitisers as well. Good quality masks are bought and made to match the theme of the occasion. “Every table will have a sanitiser and entry and exit will have the standing sanitising unit,” says Tuli. Wedding planning teams have also shrunk in size. “We used to work with full-time employees and freelancers, but now we’ll only work with employees whose backgrounds we’re sure of,” she says.

Still, weddings, like other celebrations, are about families and communities coming together and social distancing remains a challenge. “It’s such a social event, you end up hugging people, touching the feet of elders, or dancing with friends,” Rajgarhia says. Her recommendation is that her clients postpone their plans, if they can. “Those who want to do it now should opt for home ceremonies, with a bigger celebration later.”

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