As a hormonal teenager growing up in the 1970s, I was so enamoured of Shabana Azmi that I took up the courage to write to her with a suggestion that we elope. She was some 14 years older than I, and not quite the star she later became, but something about her – perhaps a mix of the cerebral and the sultry - stirred me up in curious ways. And in the spirit of the precocious boy Erasmus Leaf in the endearing film Dear Brigitte, who is infatuated with Brigitte Bardot and writes epistles of love, I wrote to Shabana and poured my heart out.
I never received so much as an autographed photograph from her, which left me broken-hearted, which pain was amplified years later when I learnt that she had married a poet named Javed Akhtar.
But one of the points I emphasised in my letter to Shabana, I recall, was that I would be perfectly happy to settle for a sherbet wedding – a simple, no-frills wedding. This was as much a concession to my penurious state as to the fact that during the Emergency, which had been in force about that time, the government had introduced a Guest Control Order, which stipulated a ceiling on the number of guests who could be invited even to private ceremonial events like weddings.
It was a time of enforced socialist austerity, and everything was strictly rationed. And if you needed additional provisions or sugar or ghee to prepare sweetmeats for a wedding, you had to file an application in triplicate with the Civil Supplies Department. And since Indira Gandhi’s minions ran a pretty efficient police state, civil supplies inspectors would turn up unannounced at weddings and – I kid you not – do a head-count of the number of visitors and levy a fine if they exceeded the ceiling. I remember my aunt was married in 1976, when the Emergency was in full force, and my siblings and I were put on sentry duty to sound early warning alerts in case we espied the inspectors coming. Needless to say, it took the joy out of the festive occasion for us.
Others elsewhere across India, of course, had far worse experiences of the Emergency, but it says something about those perverse times that they reduced even a 12-year-old such as I to a nervous wreck at what was to have been a joyous occasion.
Nevertheless, although I detest the notion of enforced austerity to this day, particularly when it is characterised by hypocrisy and double-speak, the realisation that there may be some merit in the voluntary curtailment of conspicuous consumption, particularly on weddings, has stayed with me over the years.
Many years later, when I did get married, in far more material times, it was an event of such spartan simplicity – solemnised by an Arya Samaj priest on the foyer of my wife’s parents’ home – that even if a posse of Emergency-era civil supplies inspectors had raided the premises, they would have been satisfied by the low head-count of invitees.
Which is why I’m profoundly gratified by the news that Vidya Balan had a temple wedding this morning, attended by only a handful of immediate family members.
Weddings are, of course, intensely personal affairs, and – like I said earlier – I don’t much care for enforced austerity. But to me, the solemnity of the occasion is inversely proportional to the scale of operations. And although I enjoy a lavish Sooraj Barjatya production, with four weddings and as many suhaag raats, as much as the next man, I have to admit that some of the most solemn wedding ceremonies I’ve attended have been at austere temple weddings – of the sort that Vidya Balan gave herself.
As actor Aamir Khan noted (here) after one of his Satyamev Jayate episodes, “‘Bade dhoom dhaam se shaadi,’ is probably one of the most common phrases in India. There's so much of emotion, thought, focus, all concentrated on the ‘event': ‘How will I look on that one day?’ ‘How will society perceive me and my chosen partner?’ ‘What will they say about the wedding arrangements?’ ‘What will they say about the invitation card?’ ‘What will they say about the food?’ ‘What will they say about the clothes?’”
But, as he observed, not enough consideration goes into the lifetime that the married couple will hopefully spend together.
The higher up the social ladder you are, the better off you are, the greater the societal pressure to have a vanity wedding. And of course, economists will tell you that big fat Indian weddings keep the wheels of commerce spinning in a good way. But it’s just as true that among much of middle-class and lower-middle-class India, the compulsions of lavish weddings push entire families into indebtedness (more here).
So, thank you, Vidya Balan, for demonstrating through your personal preference for a simple wedding ceremony that the happiness of what is perhaps the most important day of your life is undiminished by the austere nature of the occasion. You could have had as lavish a wedding as you wanted, but sometimes less is more.
Updated Date: Dec 14, 2012 13:54:23 IST