Wedding — or Bollywood film?

31 Aug

by Avani Nadkarni.

I went to a wedding a couple weeks ago and was one of 650 guests.

When I tell this to the average American, I get at least a dropped jaw or speechlessness. When I tell the average Indian-American, I simply get an unsurprised nod.

Weddings are the lifeblood of Indian-American society. During the spring and summer season, many families will attend one nearly every weekend, sometimes two in one weekend. And they are week-long, Bollywood-scale events, from the grooms arriving on horses or horse-drawn carriages amidst a dancing crowd to the brides draped in ornate outfits—the products of a pre-wedding trip to India—and gold jewelry to the legions of well-dressed and jewelry-dripping guests. There are production-like dances at each event, the products of weeks of practice by friends and family of the couple, and of course, lots of late-night, joyful dancing at the reception.

For Americans, weddings are meant to be intimate events to celebrate the union of two people.
For Indians, weddings are spectacular, over-the-top parties to, yes, celebrate the union of two people, but it’s not all about the couple. It’s also about the joining of two extended families and it’s about putting on a never-before-seen show for the entire network of family and friends.
These weddings are a delight for the guests, who get to toss their own worries away for a while and sip cocktails in the middle of their own Bollywood film, each wedding trying to outdo all the ones that came before it.

For the stars of the show—the bride and groom—it is exhausting.

“I just want it to be over so I can be married,” one groom told me a week before his August nuptials.

While I enjoy being a guest at these lavish affairs—and hope to have a beautiful wedding myself one day—the realist in me can’t help but ask: Is it necessary? If a couple is in love and ready to get married, why the theatrics? Why not a simple wedding, with only close family and friends and a simple red sari? Why not save some of that hard-earned money on a down payment to a home or, at least, a lovely honeymoon?

In short, because it’s not in Indians’ blood.

When arranged marriages were more common in India, and divorce even more rare than it is now, weddings were a celebration of not just two people, but two families uniting for life. Even now, in modern day America, Indian immigrants and their offspring see marriage as the joining of two separate families into one union. When that becomes clear, it is easier to see why the pomp and circumstance ensues.

So as more and more of my own close friends begin getting married, I will agreeably pile on the jewelry and watch them try to outdo each other, because I know that underneath the armor lie the recipes for a good marriage: A deep love, commitment, family ties and lots and lots of dancing. Who can argue with that?

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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Social Life


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