It’s an all too exotic affair; the big fat Indian wedding, popularized the world over by Bollywood’s larger than life depiction of the myriad traditions and customs that form the celebrations in a typical Indian marriage ceremony. Of course knowing its penchant for exaggeration, I always did wonder whether the real stuff was even moderately close to what I had seen in innumerable Hindi movies. Where the Raichands and Malhotras got married on sprawling lawns, with thousands of baraatis accompanying the groom. Where the bride adorned in kilos of gold sat waiting for the groom to arrive as his family hurled 100 rupee notes on the bandsmen. Where riches were shown off with reckless abandon for any and everyone to see.
So last week as I packed my bags to attend a close friend’s wedding in Ludhiana, I was skeptical, intrigued and full of excitement to see for myself the splendor and grandeur of a real Punjabi wedding. And boy, I wasn’t disappointed! It was almost like déjà vu, the scenes all too familiar, mirror images in fact of those filmy family dramas I had seen for years and yet so new and awe inspiring. For someone like me, used to dull, anxiety ridden Maharashtrian weddings, where the major emphasis is on maintaining a high degree of non-conspicuousness and death stirring boredom, this was a culture shock of sorts. Everything, from the clothes to the venue, the food and the gifts was blatant, in your face, non-pretentious, extravagant and like it or not, liberating to an extent.
Now whether this is a case of the reel inspiring the real or vice versa is for sociologists and film enthusiasts to study, but what I am sure of is that the nature of the Punjabi people reflects strongly in their marriage celebrations. Their vivaciousness, free spirited and uninhibited zest for life and strong sense of family and community comes alive during their weddings. The no holds barred, full throttle approach to having fun, the songs and dances and the rustic sense of humor are all in fact perfect ingredients for a 3 hour family entertainer. No wonder then that Bollywood has latched on to this culture and fortunately or unfortunately passed it off as a collective representation of the so called traditional Indian wedding ceremony. For apart from the Punjabis, not many of us from other parts of the country celebrate marriages in such a flamboyant, lively manner.
As you go down south the fun element in the wedding is slowly replaced by a solemn demeanor. The rituals get more intense and the celebrations less flashy. The dancing baraatis are replaced by stoic faces twiddling thumbs on plastic chairs. The sprawling hotel properties give way to non-air conditioned halls. And the massive buffet spread is substituted with simple but delicious fare served on a banana leaf
There were many debates among my friends on what the 'right' way to get married was. Was such extravagance really justified? Ideally I would have been the first one to dismiss any such excessiveness. But after all these years of being a cynic, I've sort of realised that weddings are an idiosyncratic expression of a region’s attitude towards life. People down south are known to be conservative and introverted in their approach to many realms of life. Up north, especially in Punjab it is the opposite. And instead of dismissing their zeal for living, perhaps we should celebrate it!
Here's to big Indian…umm Punjabi weddings!