Cover story: Tinkering with tradition
Whether you’re the bride, the groom, the host or just someone with 200 glittery invitations to sangeets, mehendis, nikaahs, nuptials and receptions this year, you won’t be able to escape this wedding season. Rings will be exchanged, pheras taken and solemn promises of togetherness, sharing and love will be made. But somewhere through it all, you’ll probably notice little changes – the location may be out of the ordinary, the couples might wear something unusual, the rituals itself could stray from the norm. India’s brides and grooms are proving that weddings needn’t just be big and complicated; they can be personal, romantic and a little crazy as well. Read on for their stories... and please do RSVP.
The hip hilltop
Nutritionist and bestselling author Rujuta Diwekar’s wedding is the stuff of aww-evoking romance. She was trekking from Kashmir
to Manali with her partner GP (his initiative, Connect with Himalaya works with local communities) when they found themselves at Naggar, the ancient capital of the Kullu Valley. Moved by the beauty and serenity of the place, the two decided to have an impromptu wedding. Only 15 guests (close friends and family) were called and a pandit of the local seventh-century Krishna temple would solemnise the union.
“I had already decided not to pay any more than Rs 25,000 on our wedding,” Diwekar says. The priest, who organised the ceremony, chai, lunch and sweet dish, did it for Rs 5,000. “I was stumped,” says the bride. “We closed the deal, went down to the German Bakery, I had a cup of cappuccino and GP called our parents, sisters and close friends.”
Their ceremony was simple. No kanyadaan, no frills – just a prayer to the earth, mountains, lakes, streams, and the local deity. The bride wore the same sari that she’d worn at the China-India Yoga Summit, plus earrings and a necklace bought by the groom’s mother. The groom, however, wore a new kurta – but only because his sister got one for him on her way up! The guests lunched on traditional Himalayan fare: red rice, kadhi, moong, rajma, and sweet rice with almonds, walnuts and saffron. Later that evening, everyone tucked into pizza, coffee and tiramisu by Roberta, known as “Manali’s most celebrated Italian chef”.
The touch of whimsy
Kabir Chandra and Prachi Narayan also confess to being romantics. This media couple – he works with Sony BMG and she with CNBC – ensured that their wedding reflected their personalities. Where most couples would think of engraved invitations with gold lettering and cutesy motifs, theirs spoofed Sita’s swayamvar, featuring their own faces morphed on kitschy illustrations of Ram and Sita. The invite to the pre-wedding cocktail party contained “Cock brand fireworks” and the wedding itself was irreverent but undeniably Indian. The guests were welcomed at the entrance by two politician-style posters of the couple, the reception counters were labelled ‘Sharab ka Theka’ and an iktara player walked around serenading the crowd.
Chandra says their off-beat wedding was possible largely because they both have easygoing families. “They’re very simple folk who don’t like very flashy or loud things,” he says. Theirs was a quick Arya Samaj nuptial – “Long ceremonies bore both of us,” admits the groom. Prachi ditched gold for antique silver that came from her mother-in-law and it complemented the simple silk sari that she bought after just one round of shopping. Even trousseau shopping was spread over only three days. As for the groom, he wore a kurta that took 15 minutes to choose. The couple then flew to Thailand for what they are calling a “post wedding holiday”. Because “honeymoon is just too embarrassing a word”.
The DIY celebrations
An extraordinary wedding usually begins with an unconventional couple and a riveting back story. Jeff Weber, a robotics engineer, and Parul Vora, who has a Masters from the MIT media lab, met at Cambridge, where they bonded over fixed-gear bikes and Polaroid photos. Their 2009 wedding at a California ranch was an ode to their “shared passion for making things”, recalls Parul’s sister, Deepa. From the masquerade ball engagement party to the pre-wedding funfest (guests showed up in wigs, hats, fake moustaches) to the actual ceremony, the wedding paid homage to the couple’s love for modern design and all things fun.
A central motif for the event was a bright red dot: clown noses for every guest at the pre-wedding party, custom CDs Parul and Jeff made, and the design of the dinner table arrangements.
To the baraat, Jeff rode a cycle-rickshaw he’d procured and fixed himself. His mother read from Winnie The Pooh at the event and Deepa sang Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love. And surprisingly, Parul’s parents Shailesh and Lakshmi, remained the driving force behind much of the event planning.
Pomp with purpose
When Tamil-Brahmin boy Ram Krishnan married Muslim girl Farida Ahmed, the celebrations were bound to be a little unconventional. “Key members of our families were seated next to us and everybody else showered their blessings in the form of rose petals from the periphery,” recalls Krishnan. “In a way, it was a perfect metaphor to what I believe the dynamics of marriage ought to be like.”
There were little touches during the sangeet and mehendi, like a churanwala churning out traditional treats. Their reception, however, was a nawab-themed affair with an out-of-the-box surprise – the bride’s sister and cousins organised a flash mob that comprised family members, friends and their parents’ colleagues. Lanterns were released into the sky for good luck and the couple made sure their celebrations didn’t adversely impact the environment. Printed invitations were sent only to those guests who didn’t have access to the Net – everyone else got e-vites. Homes and the event venues did away with energy-guzzling strobes and halogens – instead there was discreet ambient lighting.
‘I do’ it differently
Essentials only: Planners like Lakshmi Rammohan (of Delhi and Bangalore’s Dreamweaver Wedding) are seeing more couples cutting out pointless frills. She cites the example of an Australian bride and a groom from the Shetty community earlier this year. The couple had an Arya Samaj wedding and paid for it themselves.
It’s about me: Couples are also making sure that their identities aren’t lost in a sea of sequins, aartis and clichés. “A fair number of weddings I’ve done have [happened] with no financial aid and very little input if any, from parents,” says Rammohan. “These events tend to be tough in the planning stage, as most couples do want to include family. But they have a clear idea of what they want and go about putting that in place, making fewer allowances for parents to involve themselves.”
Custom blend: Candice Pereira, creative head and co-founder of Mumbai’s Marry Me Wedding Planners, has put together everything from a celebration-for-two to a 5,000-guest affair. She says that much is changing with the way we wed. “Catholic weddings are incorporating sangeets and mehendi, we also get more requests for a Western-style reception - with first dance and speeches.” Pheras incorporate the exchange of vows written by the bride and groom themselves.
Invite only: Uttara Shah, a wedding card designer, says she has turned books, diaries, calendars, durbar fans, paintings and digital photo-frames into invites for couples looking to go beyond glittering ivory stationery. For the wedding of actor
Imran Khan and Avantika Malik, she created a diary in which the invitation appeared only on the page of the wedding day – guests could use the rest of the book. She’s designed a pinwheel invite for a mela-themed mehendi party at Karjat.
From HT Brunch, December 2
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