Verve Wedding Diaries #9: A Banquet With A Difference
The bride wore white. So did the groom: a white tuxedo with black trim, a black tie and black buttons. A typical Turkish bridal couple at first impression, it would seem, from the wedding celebration photographs recently published in British national dailies. A gold tiara adorns the glowing bride’s elaborate headdress. A thick gold necklace hugs her neck, already discretely covered by part of the traditional wedding dress. It resembles the 24-carat clunky gold necklaces that you would see at Punjabi weddings, before the huge gems (precious and semi-precious and other bling), that became ubiquitous after a spate of Yash Raj films, replaced them. The late cineaste may well have been responsible for single-handedly making the Punjabi wedding the template for weddings countrywide.
I digress. Back to the Turkish wedding. You would presume that the bridal couple would be cutting a tiered wedding cake and feeding family and friends. Instead, Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and his bride Esra Polat spent the day ladling out food from behind a counter in a truck, to homeless and hungry refugees fleeing from Syria. Their hometown, Kilnis, is in south-east Turkey, near the border with Syria. At the time of writing, four million refugees had already fled from the civil war going on next door. The couple abandoned the traditional custom of a wedding banquet and personally served food to 4,000 of them.
Apparently, this rare gesture at a time when empathy appears to be disappearing was done at the behest of the groom’s father who works for a local charity which helps the Syrian refugees. Perhaps, the couple was initially reluctant to partake in this pop-up philanthropy and forego traditional ceremonies and feasting. But they were gently persuaded and, it seems from the expressions on their faces, they actually enjoyed celebrating their wedding with strangers from a neighbouring country.
I just couldn’t help contrasting this with what happens in India. I shudder to think of the wedding season, which with band, baajaa and baraat will soon be upon us. My mind still boggles at the great, big, fat and getting fatter Indian wedding. Banquet tables almost topple over with obscene amounts of food. Flown in from distant corners of the country and even the planet, much of it languishes after the guests are done. Worried about waistlines, cholesterol and the collateral damage of la dolce vita, an increasing number of guests and even wedding gatecrashers nibble more than gorge on food.
Nevertheless, wedding caterers keep adding on cuisines: each season sees newer culinary ethnicities. Thus, most of the French, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian (pan-Indian: there is something from each part of the country), Korean, Ethiopian cuisines — spill out from garbage bins. Prawns as big as turtles, armours of lobsters with bits of flesh still clinging to them, chunks of meat and rivers of curry and runny soufflés often end up in the dump. Increasingly, not even the waiters are interested. And the cordon sanitaire around the festivities keeps out those who go to bed hungry each night.
Keeping up with the Joneses and the Jains, not to forget the global Indians and dollar billionaires, not only exhausts bank accounts, often resulting in penury and debt for the not so well off, but also, the limits of the imagination are blasted away. In other words, there are no limits. No shadow is allowed to fall between the thought and the action (to rather unfairly misquote the late poet T. S. Elliot). Imagine or wish for something, and wedding planners will rub their Aladdin lamps. And, voila, the impossible will materialise.
Playing king and queen
Castles with moats, a desert with palm trees and an oasis, the Eiffel Tower (a bit commonplace these days), Thomas Jefferson’s Palladian-style Monticello mansion with towering columns, the White House — you command and it will appear. Perhaps, there will even be an ersatz Rashtrapati Bhavan wedding one day, with Madame Tussauds providing spitting images of all the former Indian presidents. All you have to do is sign the cheque. Even the real Versailles can be your palace for a few nights and the bridal couple can play at being king and queen even though they stop short of the grand finale at the guillotine. A fort in Rajasthan might do for the merely rich.
Forget horses and elephants, grooms in wedding finery descend from the skies in helicopters to brides and mandaps, ready and waiting below. A few years ago, a young man hovered in a helicopter over Kapashera, a rapidly growing village on the outskirts of Delhi, before descending to join the rest of the assembled baraat. This flamboyant groom had spent most of his savings on this high-flying gesture. I wonder if he had enough money left over to carry off his new wife into the skies and a new life, with her singing Fly me to the moon.
Nuptials are also being solemnised in the strangest of places these days. There is hardly a spot on earth and beyond where couples who want to be different and make a statement will not go: underwater, mountaintops, distant deserts, in the clouds in a plane with wedding guests in attendance. Some adventurous couples have even exchanged their vows while bungee jumping.
Perhaps, they just want to be different. The young Turkish couple did not want to be different; they wanted to make a difference. If only more Indians heading to the mandap or altar would do the same.