B L O G : By Dr Biswajit Mohanty
With trepidation I approached the door after hearing the bell.
A relative had come to invite me to his dear daughter’s marriage.
Oh not again! I was sick and tired of attending marriages over the last few weeks. The wedding season was in full swing; the auspicious period being for only one short month. He left after making me promise that I would come to bless the couple. As if without my blessings, the marriage would be left unsolemnised !
How I wish people would suddenly turn unsociable overnight and stop inviting friends and relatives for marriages! It would save me the bother of dressing up, canceling tours and missing my favourite movie on the TV !
What a change has taken place over the years !
Compared to the simple and delightful ways in which marriages were celebrated a few decades ago, they have now turned into ostentatious events, where people vie with each other for a shameful display of wealth. So many people are invited that it becomes difficult to even stand peacefully without being shoved or asked to move aside; forget about getting a chair to sit !
As a matter of rule, I avoid attending VIP marriages since you are a nonentity in such grand events unless of course you are a cabinet minister, a top babu or the editor of a leading newspaper.
Certainly, no VIP or his wife will ever visit your humble abode to invite you. VIPs have a whole army of sidekicks who carry out all the chores; from delivery of invites to greeting the guests at the venue. It is rare to find a VIP host standing at the entrance to personally greet the guests ! Of course he will come rushing if somebody whispers in his ears that a big shot has arrived ! VIPs only deign to greet VIPs ! I wonder why they invite ordinary mortals who never get a chance to meet their host .
The latest trend at many marriages, is a live band belting out the latest Hindi film hits which normally attracts a large gaping crowd. All eyes are on the makeshift stage where gyrating dancers enthrall the invitees. Nobody seems to have any time to even greet each other. More ever, the cacophony prevents all attempts to strike a decent conversation with just anyone. I sorely miss the mellifluous notes of the shehnai and the tabla merging beautifully into the gaieties of the evening- something which used to be the sole entertainment event in wedding receptions during the 90s.
In the not too recent past, marriages were a leisurely affair which people used to look forward to; not something to be finished and done away with in a hurry. In fact, I remember the ladies of the house preparing for days together for the event. Older and experienced relatives used to arrive and camp at the host’s house and advise the anxious mother and the bride about the various rituals, the bridal costume and ornaments, the gifts for the groom’s relatives, etc. It also provided a wonderful opportunity for the women to exchange family gossip and betel leaves !
The celebrations used to kick off at least 4 – 5 days before the D-day. We used to have mini feasts every day with garrulous relatives and close friends. Peals of laughter would ring through the house as the younger cousins would joke with the prospective bride or bridegroom about the hotly awaited partner.
Sadly, this practice has vanished.Many would say this is due to the pressures of modern life, issues like exams of children, hubby’s demanding job at the MNC where he works et al !
Alas ! The fun part has simply disappeared.
Marriages used to be great social occasions to meet old friends, catch up with relatives and also look around for a suitable match for one’s eligible offspring. It was also the occasion where gawky girls would gingerly wear their first saree which sort of signaled to the world that the girl was now grown up and ready for her bridal avtaar.
How awkward and self conscious they felt in their inappropriately draped sarees ! The obstinately unmanageable pallu would keep on slipping despite desperate attempts to keep it in place! I also remember the shy maidens catching furtive glances at the young lads paraded by the proud would-be mother -in- laws.
If the boy’s mother announces that her son had joined the state government as an officer, it would immediately evoke the interest of worried mothers looking for a “suitable boy”. At the same time, every daughter would keep on wondering if their dear father could afford the fat dowry for a “sarkari job jamai”.
No classified advertisements for grooms or brides were issued in those days! Matches were fixed by word of mouth by an eager aunt or uncle who devoted time and energy to scour the market !
With burgeoning urban populations, we get multiple wedding invitations . If you fail to attend, the host takes offence. Ultimately, visiting a marriage reception is reduced to a packaged tour as one hops from one venue to the next, just like a Durga Puja mandap tour !
Food is another sore point with me. I strongly believe that it is the host’s first duty to serve a decent dinner to his guests who have spared time to attend the party. It is rare to get wholesome and tasty fare nowadays. I remember the elaborate sit down dinners we used to enjoy a few decades ago. Traditional cooks used to be engaged to cook a normal Odiya meal with a basic non vegetarian item mostly fish or mutton. Chicken was rarely served. The number of dishes rarely exceeded six or seven.
In fact, it was considered infra dig to pick up a plate and walk up to the buffet table to be served. During the early eighties when buffet dinners were coming into vogue, guests used to ask their hosts – when they came to invite them- about thet kind of dinner arrangements were being made. Many refused to attend buffet feasts !
The twin cities have a terrible dearth of reliable and professional caterers. There are umpteen number of items displayed on the food tables but most of them will be dripping with oil and masala and rarely would one find a tastefully prepared dish high on taste and light on the belly.
I miss the traditional Oriya items like mudhi ghanta, fish mahura, chencheda, kheer, fish curry, mango khata, lemon rice, etc due to the onslaught of kitsch food. Nowadays, Punjabi food like Naan, gobi matar, matar paneer, butter chicken find place with ersatz Chinese food like fried rice, chowmein and chilly chicken which have replaced these delectable dishes.
Caterers often cause major embarrassment to the host as food is likely to go short halfway, or be of dubious quality and taste. Though people spend lakhs on jewellery and decorations, printing cards, few pay attention to culinary details or take care of the guests.
Though many are aware of the terrible quality of food served by hotels and caterers, the host does not want to be burdened with the bother of ensuring his guests are served a meal they would really enjoy. They are under the mistaken idea that once the job of serving food is handed over to a caterer or hotelier, their responsibility ends.
I have also found that most well known hotels in the twin cities serve highly over-priced, shoddy and tasteless food, prepared by semi trained cooks. Some hotels even serve leftovers of one banquet at the next feast ! A posh hotel in Bhubaneswar now charges Rs.800 to Rs.1,000 per plate for a full course non-veg dinner which would otherwise cost less than Rs.250 to Rs.300 per plate if prepared by the host himself !
Due to the extreme scarcity of serving tables, there is a mad rush at the food counters .I find it extremely rude and unbecoming to see guests shoving and pushing each other to reach the food tables. Many a times, I had to return hungry from parties after lying to my solicitous host that I had truly dined well!
I am also disgusted by the games played by the caterers/hoteliers to make super profits by ensuring that food intake is reduced. I have seen diners milling around food tables with empty plates waiting for fresh servings. The serving staff request people to wait on the plea that fresh servings are on the way. Guests fail to realize is that this is a carefully orchestrated pantomime meant to deliver a message : Get Lost !
The head waiter would rush towards the kitchen shouting at the assistants to bring in the food, but nobody would respond. After an endless wait, disgusted guests waiting for a refill finally leave. Similarly, if you arrive after 9:30 p.m. which seems to be some sort of a cut off time, don’t expect a proper dinner. Many items would have been finished by early birds and you will only get cold food at this hour !
If you want to get a first-hand feel of how a crowd behaves at a relief centre, take a look at the ice cream counter in a marriage venue. It’s invariably mobbed and I rarely find a chance to break into the circle of squabbling fat kids and pushy mamas to get a serving of ice cream. I do not know why ice cream fascinates everyone!
Marriages are truly made in heaven , no doubt ! But the celebrations are on the earth. And in the twin cities, one rarely attends a truly memorable marriage party.
The host must realize that unless he devotes his time in proper planning and execution of the event, it turns out to be an unbearable torture for the guests.
An ideal celebration is one where the host greets each guest personally with the same kind of warmth for both VIPs and commoners. It should also be a spacious venue where people get the chance to mingle and converse with fellow guests and get to eat hot and tasty food served with love by caterers who do not look away when you need a fresh serving !