Weddings in the families of India’s rich and famous — politicians, businessmen, movie stars, corporate chieftains — are ostentatious by design. Each extravagance is carefully intended to be aah-ed over by the thousands of guests, every excess meticulously plotted to outdo all previous weddings in the peer group. The recent wedding of Gulf-based tycoon Ravi Pillai’s daughter added further weight to the term ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’. Pillai reportedly spent Rs 55 crore on the event and hired the art director from the mega-hit Baahubali to design the 8-acre setting.
Sowmya Reddy’s wedding in Bangalore could have been one such lavish affair. Instead, the only daughter of Karnataka’s transport minister Ramalinga Reddy, chose to make it an occasion that was anything but grandiose. The 32-year old US-trained environmental engineer and activist recently married fellow activist Abhishek Raje. The end-November nuptials were the anti-thesis of the blingy, indulgent ceremonies that have trended from New Delhi to Mumbai and have, more recently, leached into Bangalore. “People spend crores on weddings but Sowmya wanted a simple, no-waste wedding; my family and I were fully supportive of the idea,” says Ramalinga Reddy.
The short marriage was a temple ceremony rather than a destination wedding. The guest list consisted of less than 50, only family and friends. The bride wore a cotton sari and her mother’s jewellery. The customary after-wedding reception was standout because it was a “green” event. The venue was the popular, sprawling Bangalore Palace but there ended the similarities with recent weddings such as the spectacular one of the grand-daughter of Kannada movie icon, Rajkumar, and the gold-themed one of the daughter of high-profile Bangalore legislator, Munirathna of the Congress Party.
For the Reddy wedding, the one-page simple invite was on recycled paper, and the family made a “no gifts-no bouquets” appeal to guests. The decorations consisted of 5,000 potted plants, reusable natural cloth and paper flowers. The fare was not just vegetarian but vegan, in keeping with the couple’s dietary sensibilities. The ritualistic “tamboola” return gift usually consisting of coconut, betel leaf and sweets made way for neem, sandal and mango saplings as takeaways. Describing the thought behind the green wedding, the bride said simply, “I have grown up this way.”
Sowmya, who drives an electric car and carries her own coffee mug to meetings to avoid using plastic, says she got sensitised to animal rights at the age of 12 after watching animal slaughter videos on TV. She first gave up meat and then turned vegan, shunning all animal products. Since then, she has taken up causes of all hues, organising protests, meetings and discussions on social issues such as lake rejuvenation, women’s rights, animal cruelty, waste recycling and the rights of sexual minorities. Sowmya even runs a vegan restaurant in Bangalore’s Koramangala area.
The Sowmya-Abhishek marriage reception began to take shape weeks before the Bangalore Palace event. Dhruva Kumar of Wedding Mansion, whose firm handles decorations at all the city’s glitziest weddings, said the Reddy family had stipulated that they wanted a “simple” wedding. “‘Simple’ usually means people don’t have a budget but, in this case, the thought behind it was about making non-wasteful choices.” Kumar, who is used to flying in exotic orchids from Thailand and Heliconia from Holland to decorate the mandap and the pathways along sought-after themes like Victorian or Roman, worked with the simplest of materials for the Reddy wedding — cloth, paper and plants. “It was a revelation that we could make something look so spectacular out of such ordinary things,” he says.
The menu was remarkable, too. The vegan bride forbade the use of milk, ghee, butter or any other animal products. N Chandrashekar, the caterer, said he improvised with coconut milk and soy milk to create a tasty and healthy menu containing jackfruit biryani and local fare like vangi bhath, dosa and idli. “It was a huge change from the rich, ghee-laden fare that we are used to creating,” says Chandrashekar, whose team undertook many trials ahead of the big day.
A wedding means painstaking planning and Sowmya was not fully prepared for the challenges that a green wedding brought. On the day before the reception, for instance, she was fielding frantic calls from the caterer about the unavailability of steel tumblers to serve water. “Nobody uses steel tumblers anymore because people have this feeling that they are not clean enough,” she says. “We should all wind back 15 years ago when steel plates and glasses were perfectly acceptable.” Finally, melamine plates and steel glasses replaced disposable plates, bowls and cups.
It did not end there. Over 180 workers of Bangalore-based recycling firm Hasiru Dala (green brigade) were deployed to segregate the waste properly. The food waste was promptly dispatched to a biogas processing facility. “Only two tons of wet waste got generated from a wedding for 18,000 people, averaging an incredible 114 gm per guest,” said Marwan Abubaker, co-founder of Hasiru Dala. In the two weeks since that wedding, Abubaker has deployed his army of workers to three other weddings and has a dozen inquiries.
A sustainable wedding may be an odd happening in these days of outlandish helicopter baraats and white-skinned wedding hostesses. By thinking of each wedding detail and coming up with better alternatives, Sowmya and her husband gifted themselves a sustainable wedding. “We refused to be overwhelmed with the task of greening our wedding, instead we looked for ways to reduce the carbon footprint on each item,” says Sowmya, who aspires to get into politics.
Earlier this year, Loksatta Party’s Bangalore chief Meenakshi Bharath set the trend by choosing to go with e-invites, gifts wrapped in outdated calendar covers and local blooms such as jasmine and marigolds for the decorations. Guests went away with jasmine saplings. At the wedding of Titan Industries CEO Bhaskar Bhat’s daughter, the waste was immediately packed and sent away to a recycling plant. Weddings like that of Bhat, Bharath and Reddy give thousands of guests something to ponder over. Kumar, the decorator, sums it up, “People become famous for hosting jumbo weddings but now there are families getting recognition for the simplicity of their events.”