An IAS officer from Andhra Pradesh will be spending just Rs 36,000 on his son’s wedding this month. Basanth Kumar, Commissioner of the influential Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA), is a follower of the Radha Soami Satsang where lavish weddings are discouraged, and the amount stipulated for spending per family is Rs 18,000. The young couple in question, a banker and a doctor, has also issued strict guidelines to guests that they only seek blessings, and not gifts. In keeping with the Radha Soami style of doing things, this marriage is a community enterprise with other members contributing with flowers and helping out in the kitchen. It is a three-day affair with all the usual traditional pomp and gaiety but, minus the circus that has come to define the great big Indian wedding.
Kumar is being hailed as a shining example of sophisticated austerity in a culture where a recent wedding spectacle cost over a 100 million dollars, way more than the dazzling fictional nuptials depicted in the Oscar-nominated film Crazy Rich Asians (even they were supposed to have spent just 40 million dollars). It is a contentious question, exactly how much is appropriate for the fathomlessly rich to blow up on glittering frivolity without descending into a zone of crass tastelessness. There’s no one correct answer. Somebody who’s made it beyond his wildest imagination may get a high from fulfilling the expectations of family and friends who’ve been counting on his generous, reckless extravagance — who’s to say what new money should or shouldn’t buy. Whenever anyone ups the ante of consumption, there’s always a lot of sanctimonious opinions on how that kind of cash could have been so much better spent but fortunately in a democracy, people are entitled to spend wealth they have created, in any which way they like. But then along comes a Kumar, a formidable disruptor, who has all the stature and power but remains totally immune to social pressure to live the dream.
Another reason to if not exactly admire Kumar’s attitude but appreciate his quiet pragmatism, is that for the young couple in question there’s still a lifetime of personal milestones left to achieve. A marriage is the start of something new. Yet, one can’t help but feel while watching these high decibel weddings play out on social media, that they feel like a grand finale. Like nothing more spectacular will even happen after the newlyweds waltz off in a vintage Rolls — the best is already behind them. After that kind of fairytale build up, is it so surprising when real life ends up feeling sadly anticlimactic in comparison. Only last week, my Instagram feed was full of a grand marriage of a Delhi family, held in Doha, Qatar being the current hotspot with a new Ritz Carlton and no visa hassles for Indians. The bride, all of 25, shimmied away in a variety of delightful outfits with a suitable groom of a similar age, validated by her parents. Jane Austen noted perceptibly, in a different century, that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. Though that’s true, one can’t help but notice that for the times we’re living in, the odds are stacked decidedly against you when you have committed to something, ostensibly, for the next 50 years, that you’re barely old enough to understand.
If we weren’t so tied down by the social norms we’ve inherited, or heady with Cupid’s lovestruck arrow, everyone at every age would think harder about pledging themselves to unions that will (infuriatingly) far outlast the emotions that impelled them into being. Trying to negotiate the day to day business of living with someone is mostly a fraught enterprise, and achieving marital happiness requires more than fantastic photos to look back on. In a video called 100 years of Beauty that’s got over a million hits on YouTube, an engaged couple gets a glimpse into the future when professional makeup artists change their appearance for every decade, till 90. The experiment was meant to provide the couple some perspective, of what they were getting into, and what staying with the same person till then really means. It’s hard to consider the future when it’s just one single day that’s always in focus. So those couples who make their vows quietly and choose to fade into the background, should they be applauded? Not necessarily, relationships require work, however, they’re celebrated. To be sure the Cinderella wedding, is not by any means, the worst way to start off a union. But depressingly enough, neither is it the best.