It was the summer of ’97 and my daughter and I were travelling around in Europe. Every place we went to we saw brides and grooms in the customary white dress and morning coat with the carnation in the lapel. We saw them in the Vatican , in the Colosseum in Rome (unbelievable right!), in the beautiful parks in Madrid and oddly enough in the courtyard of the Military Museum located inside an 18th century Barcelona fortress that exhibits an impressive collection of weapons dating from the 15th century to present day. We saw them near the beach, in front of the Eiffel Tower, on the steps of the Rembrandt museum in Amsterdam and in the St Marks Square in Venice and a few floating in their finery in a gondola too!
The wedding couples were of all nationalities—Japanese predominant among them. In fact on the night train between Venice and Paris our fellow passengers in the couchette were a Nigerian diplomat and his daughter who was on her way to get married in the city of love.
This scene repeated itself last year when we stayed in Hitchin, a small town between Cambridge and London. We stayed in a coaching inn and that night there was a wedding and a party to celebrate it. The inn was full of guests staying overnight. This I hear is common in the UK now as very few couple get married in churches. They prefer out of metro towns and arrange the wedding and the party in a package deal of about €2000. Guests are served dinner and a drink and the rest, including stay in the inns/hotels are taken care of by the guests who come for the night or weekend, enjoy a huge complimentary breakfast, relax and then drive back home.
The photos of the couple who got married were however shot in front of the church to give it the authentic look. The contrast to the dull grey church walls and creeping ivy to the black and white suit worn by the groom and the flyaway white satin and net concoction worn by the bride was pure Gothic.
At any given time, barring the Tamizh months of Margazhi (December-Jnuary) and Adi (July-August), in temples all over the south, you can catch a wedding or two in most temples. The Thirutani temple and Tirupathi are popular places near Chennai just as the Vadapalani temple in the city for wedding venues. There used to be a time when in the villages the whole street would have a pandal constructed to host the wedding of somebody living on the street. All the houses and the thinnais accommodated visiting people and every wedding was a community affair. With the advent of marriage chatrams and choultries weddings migrated out of homes to public places. Today weddings are held in special mandapams or hotels that cater to every need of weddings.
In the West it was always considered fashionable for the bride to be late. In India, the auspicious time dictates that the wedding—whether it be the seven steps around the fire, the tying of the sacred thread around the brides neck, exchanging rings or giving your ‘kubul’ to the Qazi—should be performed at a particular moment. So the chances of the bride or groom being late are minimal. In the Brahmin weddings, the bride changes into a nine yard sari in between the ceremony and the priests do tend to hassle and create tension the ladies to bring back the bride to the sacred fire to finish the rituals.
In Delhi and Mumbai, if you are invited to a wedding at 6.30 PM (as weddings tend to be performed late in the evening) guests do not arrive until 8.30 or so as they know for sure that the bride and groom will appear only around that time.
This custom is slowly creeping into south Indian functions as well. Especially before the reception hosted in the evening, the bridal couple disappear to beauty parlours to get their make-up and dressing done professionally perfect. They dawdle and casually walk in at least an hour late. In India punctuality is not an important thing. However courtesy demands that the main characters of the event be in their places when invited guests walk in. Most often, the guests are sitting around or standing uncomfortably clutching on to presents and flowers with a blank expression on their faces “What am I doing here?”.
My husband remarked at the last wedding reception that we went to saying, “No show of groom and bride. The people who invited us are also not to be seen. Maybe they are waiting for a crowd to build up so that like film stars they make a late entrance and then can get mobbed by the guests who are waiting to greet them!!” The queues in front of a dais on which couples stand to greet friends and relatives are getting longer and more crowded.
The bevy of photographers, video people and sundry characters standing in front, just below the stage and blocking the happenings can also be quite dampening. That is why some smart hosts arrange huge TV screens to show the couple. Somebody did remark, “To see the wedding on a screen, I might as well have stayed at home or watched the live streaming on the Internet”.
Are we forgetting the simple rules of hospitality?