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September 17, 2017

Neha Hiranandani On Choosing A Small Ceremony Over An Elaborate Event For Her Pheras

Text by Neha Hiranandani

She wanted to avoid the circus-like proceedings and crazy aunties — both an inevitable part of getting married in India

March in Delhi is usually a good bet. Winter has left and summer, that pesky house guest, has yet to make his long, unwelcome visit. At this time, the mischievous weather gods always seem to be on a tea break.

We quickly sent out our wedding cards. But just 20 were delivered, and no, that wasn’t a mistake by either the very distinguished card company EDC or the equally ‘indistinct’ courier service. Neither D nor I wanted what we dismissed as the ‘Indian circus’ wedding — overdressed aunties complaining that the Thai curry didn’t have enough prawns, heliconias growing unnaturally from the ceiling like some mangled rainforest and warring relatives who would, truth be told, rather be at our funeral. So although we’ve done our fair share of circus attendance, our wedding was attended by our most intimate circle as we took our pheras around a diya.

From what I understand, we were blessed to have the only wedding that has been permitted to be conducted in the inner sanctum of the Akshardham temple. The ceremony itself was peaceful and sacred in so many ways. But that peace broke as soon as we left the temple premises. In the privacy of our departing car, instead of being the bashful bride, I turned to D like a crazed banshee, screaming, “Get this damn dupatta off my head NOW!” Remember this truth all ye wedding shoppers: Sabyasachi is always better in photographs. An avalanche of tearing fabric later, my hair spun into a foot-tall hairsprayed beehive with bob pins dropping onto my forehead like mutilated bees, I turned to face my new husband. He looked faint as he realised that the peach he had married had turned out to be all bleaches and cream.

But we weren’t total revolutionaries; we allowed our parents a party each in Delhi and Mumbai following the wedding ceremony. I missed most of the Delhi function since my demonic outburst had resulted in severe damage to the beehive and make-up; I needed heavy-duty repairs that basically meant more make-up along with an outfit change. D and I rocked up at the function somewhere around midnight but in typical Dilli style, no one had really noticed that the bride and groom were missing.

“Now this is the fun of shaadis!” said a merry uncle, his face ruddy with pleasure. “Ek haath mein peg aur doosre haath mein leg.” Panicking, I wondered whose leg was in disrepute and was relieved to find a bony tandoori chicken in his hand. Before I could reply, D and I were accosted by an enthusiastic, if overdressed, aunty: “Oh, you both just arrived? I thought you were here only.” I started to stammer out something about beehives and bob pins but luckily, she was much more interested in conspiring with the waiter. “Mera red wine ko Coke ke glass mein laana. Jaldi.” She momentarily turned her attention back to me: “Are you wearing Abu Sandeep? So nice. But I’m going to kill those two boys. Three people here are wearing the same sari as me.” By now I was pretty desperate for one of those wines-in-a-Coke-glass myself!

We jetted out straight from our Delhi function to Mumbai for the encore. And talk about a culture shock! The calligraphy on the card had stylishly spelt out ‘eight o’clock in the evening’ and by 7.59 p.m., not only had several guests turned up but they were beginning to gasp! I was shocked. “An orderly queue?” I thought to myself. “How barbaric! What kind of city is this? Why aren’t folks climbing over each other, leg and peg in hand, shouting, ‘Oye, congratulations yaar! All the best!’” And that’s when I realised the sad truth that every immigrant to Mumbai must inevitably face: the city may be the commercial capital and singularly responsible for 25 percent of the nation’s industrial output, but let’s face it. Mumbai does not know how to do chicken tikka. And sure enough, the tandoor station at the party had been conspicuously replaced by something I was seeing for the first time — a ‘Jain counter’. But I had no time to investigate this curiosity (food without onion, garlic and meat? Is it even food?) because there was that queue to deal with. The line had begun to snake around the room, doubling up on itself, and from where I stood, it seemed unending. After shaking the hands of over a thousand strangers and repeating the same conversation, I started to become delirious. “Congratulations!” I began saying to people instead of receiving the felicitation. “Congratulations to you. Just wonderful!” I exclaimed to a particularly stunned aunty shaking her manicured paw. D stared at me. The beehive was in place this evening but the mind clearly wasn’t. His peach probably needed medication too.

The next day we headed to the Seychelles so that we could sleep. For a week. The North Island is supposedly one of the finest boutique hotels in the world. And I insist that you must tell me what it’s like if you visit. I wouldn’t know because I slept for seven days straight. Apart from growling at D, my only other human interaction was growling at housekeeping when they insisted on servicing the room.

Somewhat rested, we left for Dubai to host a hundred of our friends from Delhi and Mumbai. The Burj Al Arab did a fantastic job and so many memories were made in those baroque corridors under mirrored ceilings. I’m grateful for many things about our wedding including the Dubai weekend but perhaps none more than this — social media hadn’t taken over our collective lives yet. So the espresso-martini-fuelled dinner at places like Zuma (which had just opened its doors that month) with our friends roasting more than toasting us never showed up on Facebook. Our celebrations could remain private without the pressure that comes from posing for photographs that pop up on several dozen Instagram pages. And, of course, we skipped hashtags that would have definitely included #Beehive #JainCounter #CrazyAunties #ChickenTikka #DelhiDoesDubai.

It was a wild ride and I would do it all over again. Just as long as I get to do it with the same guy!

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