Fat weddings told to go on diet

Wedding of the son of the imam of Delhi India, with soldiers and 2000 guests

Marriage celebrations have become a convenient venue for ugly display of wealth. The Kejriwal government proposes some restrictions

Celebrities from all over the world queued up for the wedding of Mukesh and Nita Ambani’s daughter Isha with Anand Piramal. Participating in the week-long extravaganza were film stars, diplomats, politicians, even America’s former secretary of state of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

In one of the many events, they were seen dancing with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan amongst others, with Karan Johar acting as master of ceremonies. Cost was never going to be a concern for the richest man of India, but a wide range of figures as to how much the marriage cost is doing the rounds.

According to one estimate, it’s a $100 million wedding, while another estimate, reportedly sourced from the family, puts the amount less than $15 million. Whatever the exact cost, we know it’s a big fat wedding that is supposed to leave the whole world awestruck.

The Isha Ambani wedding is making international headlines, as global stars flew in to perform. No less than singer Beyonce performed at the pre-wedding celebrations in Udaipur, giving rise to speculation about how much the singer was paid. Just to give some perspective, Time magazine reported that the singer charged more than $3 million for performing at this year’s Coachella festival. Mail Online did a story titled The Most Lavish Wedding ever?

It doesn’t get better but there are many examples of such fat weddings that captured the imagination of people in 2018 — Sonam Kapoor and Anand Ahuja, Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone just to name a few. One can’t escape the feeling that India is a country of contradictions. It’s a poor country of rich people. People aspire to marry their near and dear ones with aplomb and have known to have sold their houses, farms and jewellery to fund a lavish wedding.

One estimate is that on average a middle-class family spends 30 per cent of their savings on weddings. And even those who cannot afford it, borrow to spend insane amounts of money.

While India is in the news for one of the most lavish wedding in the world, here in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal government has taken a contrarian stand. He is of the view that this kind of wasteful expenditure cannot be allowed and food be wasted in a country where millions go hungry. This ugly display of wealth must be curtailed by regulating it. The Delhi government is working to put a limit on the number of guests that can be invited for wedding celebrations and other grand parties in the capital city. For big fat weddings lead to traffic congestion, and adversely affect the city life even if we keep the moral question aside.

The matter is with the apex court, which is taking keen interest. Delhi’s Chief Secretary Vijay Dev apprised the Supreme Court that the government will frame a policy to put a limit on the number of guests and put a check on the availability of food to prevent wastage and avoid traffic congestion. Dev insisted that “balance has to be maintained between the requirements of the rich and the poor.”

A Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta sounded sympathetic to the concerns of the Delhi government that the copious amounts food and water that is wasted at such gatherings, said that it is “unacceptable” against the backdrop of the water crisis and alleged starvation deaths the city witnesses. The bench noted, “vulgar and extravagant display” of wealth by the rich causes public inconvenience.

The Delhi government will initiate a measure to regulate the number of guests you can invite for a wedding in the city, but also will ensure that food is not wasted. Arrangements to serve the excess food to the poor through NGOs is also proposed. A time of six weeks was sought to come up with a policy proposal. The Supreme Court set a deadline of January 31 to frame the policy.

The question is: How could government regulate the number of guests people can invite. The CEO of a leading event management company which has a turnover of over Rs 500 crore doesn’t want to comment on the government policy. He, instead, gives a broader picture, that his business will not be affected much as big fat weddings are mostly destination weddings and are held out of Delhi. Due to pollution and congestion, people prefer locations like Goa, Jaipur or Udaipur, he says. Doha, Dubai, Italy, Holland are also emerging as favourite overseas wedding destinations for Indians.

Further, he clarifies that food accounts for minuscule part of the expenditure, not even 10%. “It’s more of a political gimmick than anything else. They won’t be able to solve the food problem of the country by restricting the number of people attending a wedding in Delhi,” he says.

But there are many who support the government initiative. It’s the first step in the right direction, they say. Archana Dalmia, belonging to a prominent industrial family, (and also in charge of the Congress Party’s grievance cell) says, “The big fat Indian wedding needs to go on a diet. They’re spending so much and the poor are watching. The new generation probably likes it but I think there’s so much waste.”

Critics are not hard to find. Former diplomat KC Singh avers, “Imagine the impact the Ambani wedding would have had if Mukesh had donated hundreds of crores spent on silly dance and music extravaganza and chartered flights to a social cause.”

Though there are strong reasons to regulate marriages, the question remains: how? People are touchy about matters that concern family, religion and tradition; and marriage is one of the biggest events in the life of an Indian. In terms of economy, the wedding industry is one the fastest growing segments and is estimated to be in the range of over Rs 300,000 crore. It acts like a catalyst for sales in sectors like jewellery, automobiles, tourism, consumer durables and is a big source of employment to florists, technicians, artisans and about 3 lakh vendors across the country.

Marriages might be made in heaven but they are solemnised on earth – and that can be very expensive and wasteful.

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