[Note: This is the unedited version of my column published 22 July, 2012 in The Deccan Chronicle & Asian Age newspapers]
Is there anything we Indians love more than a wedding? We are always ready to go to one, conduct one, or even better, hound unsuspecting young adults into one. Everyone is happy at a wedding, especially the two stars of the day: the photographer and the priest. The photographer can indulge in his autocratic fantasies. He is the only one who has the power to interrupt proceedings and order the bride and groom to pose awkwardly–“Chin up and smile, mouth closed. Now look left. Wait, one crooked tooth is showing.” He has fun blinding everyone with the flash, and tripping up aunties in heavy sarees with the cable wire. He also presides over the reception queue, often positioning warring relatives next to each other. The priest has a field day as well, asking for odd things to be produced at regular intervals: a silver spoon, a blade of grass, an old-style plastic fan, a sickle! “In triplicate, and I want it yesterday!”
One of the reasons we love weddings is that we are unfailingly optimistic about them. Your ordinarily street-smart Indian goes all starry-eyed at the prospect of a marriage. Business problems? Personality quirks? Late arrival of the monsoons? Marriage is the cure.
I’ve always thought the marriage obsession was driven by Indians’ love for more children. But I now see a sinister angle to it: parents want us to grow up . Now, unless you’re a rebel, chances are your parents have paid for everything your little heart desired. And now that you’re working, you’re having the time of your life–out in the big bad world pretending to be an adult, and making money too, but being treated like a child at home (elaborate meals, hot tea, the works). In Western societies, the kid is urged to get out there into the real world as soon as they start earning. But in India, the only way to force us to grow up is to get married. Cue a child approximately 10.6 months later and you’ve acquired responsibilities of your own as well!
But wait, did you think it was only human marriages that we were keen on? You’ll be thrilled to know that the honourable residents of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have been performing weddings for, wait for it, frogs. The groom was of good character (he had no habits), and the bride had traditional values with a modern outlook. The ceremonies started with the auspicious annointing of vermillion and ended with the giving away of the bride. All guests agreed that it was quite a grand event with excellent food, and, although the frogs’ view wasn’t presented, I presume there was a little feast of bugs laid out for them. And perhaps they were sent off with a lot of fanfare in a paper boat with flowers taped on and “Jest Married” scribbled on it. In India, we don’t really need a reason to have a wedding but this one was conducted to bribe Lord Indra into bringing the monsoons. You see, Indra had a thing for the amphibians, and desired that they extend their family line as soon as they came of age. (I have a suspicion they would’ve procreated even without a wedding, but hey, why pass up an opportunity to make them feel awkward?)
In other parts of the country, there are intermittent reports about people (usually women) marrying a tree or a dog or a goat to make up for some deficiency in their horrorscopes. In one instance, the groom couldn’t make it to the ceremony in time so a picture of him was placed on a clay pot and the bride married the pot. Whether he actually turned up after that, we don’t really know, but apparently, the pot was much more easy on the eye and didn’t demand a cooked breakfast at 6.00am, so we can assume the bride was quite happy.
Having thought deeply about these weddings, especially the frog wedding (please Google for their wedding album), I’ve come to the conclusion that our human weddings are not that different. No one asked the frogs if they wanted to get married, no one asks young girls and boys if they want to either. You just give them a deadline, and invite the extended family and well-meaning neighbours to slowly coerce them into believing it’s a good idea. Or take the rituals. The bride and groom never really understand what’s going on–just like the frogs. And maybe that’s a good thing.