A few years back, on the insistence of a close friend and colleague, I attended a wedding in his extended family in Mumbai on a working day. My wife and I traveled for 5 hours from Surat to Mumbai by an afternoon train for the evening function and then took a train right afterwards to get back to Surat late at night. When the wedding invite came, I was reluctant to go to it because I didn’t know either the bride or the groom, or the parents of the bride who were the ones who insisted to my friend that I attend. It was a very large wedding function. There were perhaps 300 types of dishes to eat. I am not sure if I actually did meet the bride and the groom – and when I say meet, I mean go on stage and get a photo clicked as proof of attendance with completely unnaturally made-up bride and groom, who have been artificially smiling incessantly (incidentally where a video of people being photographed is also taken- who would ever want to see the DVD of people standing on stage to get their photos clicked – I know I haven’t seen my marriage DVD for that very reason).
But at least I showed my face to the bride’s parents who were pleased that I made it. But I guess I wasn’t pleased with the whole exercise. I wasn’t sure what was the point of the whole exercise. What exactly did I achieve by attending the wedding? Getting to know the bride or the groom was not even an implicit objective in this case because neither did I know them to start off with, and neither did I or anyone else make any effort to help us get to know them. Did it strengthen my friendship with my friend, because my friend’s family was pleased that their cousin’s friend attended on their insistence? Or was it essentially one of those social norms where you gotta to do what has been done for ages?
As I reflected upon it, it deemed upon me that the rewards of meeting accepted social norms are very limited for me, both at a personal and at a professional level. Being my own boss, I can afford to be a social recluse. Being a well-adjusted (meaning very-comfortable-in-my-own-skin) introvert, the social rewards are actually negative for me at a personal level. From that day I firmly swore not to attend weddings simply because it’s commonly expected social behaviour. My firm “swearing” was tested when I was invited to the wedding of a person who has been working directly with me for a few years.
After vacillating for hours, I decided to go with my wife to this wedding only to find that bride and groom were delayed significantly (as is the norm in Indian weddings). So we ate and then as the bride and groom entered and immediately sat down for their “saat fèrés” around the sacred fire, it meant that it would be hours before they would be able to “meet” guests. So we did the next best thing – just like millions of devotees spend gazillion sums of money and time to queue up to get a few microseconds of a glimpse at something mysterious about 20 feet away in the famous Tirupati Balaji temple before being hustled rather unceremoniously out of the prime viewing spot to make way for the millions queuing up behind – we too got into a queue of sorts – paid our respects by waving a hand and were blessed with an appropriately demure smile signalling acknowledgement from the intended receiver. We had sort of “achieved” what we had come for and then found the shortest and quickest path to the parking lot.
That day, I renewed afresh my firm “swearing” to not attend weddings in general. Perhaps if the objective of marriages like this is to just get a photo clicked on the stage, then photoshop could be used. Stitching apps that do a great job of putting together disparate pics into one seamless collage are easily available (and you get a bunch of free accessories such as clown noses and false moustaches in addition). If you think that’s sacrilege, then perhaps attendance by live streaming would do the job. What’s wrong with seeking and giving blessings through whatsapp, instalive if all other wishes, religious or celebratory are equally acceptable in the form of emoticons or plagiarized memes?
Clearly you would be right in inferencing then I have very little appreciation for the need for social norms. More importantly, you’re probably asking by now, how would it be if everyone stopped attending each other weddings, then my unguarded answer to you is that I don’t really care now. My marriage is done, so’s my sister’s – and my children can worry about themselves. Close friends who wanted to get married have already married.
With 500+ staff members at school, I get quite a few wedding invitations and it’s not practical that I go to each of those. I barely have time to “connect” with my own family – forget connecting with the world. That’s also why I am not on Facebook – reading about “how cool the coconut water that someone had was” is not my idea of connecting. If I started accepting every invitation for a wedding or a social function, I would be doing that for a large part of my life. I would rather use that time to spend time with my family, or to read a book or to pursue a hobby of mine, or just get some work done.
And if I choose to go to a few instead of going to them all, then it’s not really fair even though I know some people better than others. However, the logic that I use to justify my stance is that all of these relationships have been formed at the workplace, and therefore under the rather relevant guise of practising the value of fairness, I decline all staff wedding invitations.
Yet another reason for my not attending weddings is not to be part of such wasteful expenditure which at both an individual and at an aggregate level is such a colossal waste of resources. I argued futilely with my parents about not having a large wedding for me and having an austere arya-samaj sort of wedding instead and giving me the money saved to fund our very nascent and fledgling preschool. My father told me pointedly that the wedding is not about you, but it’s about what we want to do – which was to invite as many people as possible to a grand function, ostensibly to share their happiness.
And my wedding wasn’t even that grand as compared to the many ostentatious and egotistic show of wealth and power that we keep hearing about, some of which I have had the misfortune of attending. Some of these invite 500, and some 5000 people, almost all of whom insist on the photo on the stage. No wonder, that I still come across people who tell me that they met at my wedding, and I go blank (aha, that’s the reason we capture each of those faces in live action on DVDs so that we can watch them over and over again and avoid such unforgivable social gaffes).
Anyway, does all this mean that I don’t attend wedding invitations at all? Well, I do attend some weddings. Be careful especially when sending me invitations to destination weddings, I just might accept the invitation, especially if you don’t know me that well – because then I won’t be required to show face at most of the functions, and I could do exactly what I would like to do. And in thinking that I am surely not alone and therefore people have wised up about who to invite for exotic-locale weddings.
But if weddings were about close friends or family, and were small affairs which allowed for meaningful interactions with the guests and/or those getting married, then I would attend them. Of course, if you want to meet close friends or family, what would you do when the to-be-married-people have all been “wedded” off?
Instead, if weddings were about discussing the joys as well as the trials and tribulations of the marriage, rather than incoherent words being mumbled 50 feet away in rituals that seem to be designed to stupefy the audience by boredom, then I would attend them. Of course, if weddings were mostly about sports or adventure activities, with some quiet time given to everyone to read, rather waiting patiently for the 2 a.m. Muharat while wearing some rather uncomfortable expensive never-to-be-worn-again clothes, then I would surely attend them. In fact, even If weddings were just relaxing (preferably with some spa massages thrown in) & timely affairs rather than the stressful & unprofessional affairs that they are, then I would attend them.
But alas! Despite all the respect that people tell me they have for my visions (at least those imaginary people who I interact with in my daydreams), no one ever consults me about how weddings should be organized. I console myself by rationalizing that this glaring affront probably has to do with the fact that massive changes in social norms are very hard to conceive and execute rather than believe that the lack of consultation might have something to do with the undisputedly contrarian views that I have been espousing or the fact I have no respect whatsoever for social norms.
As no one organizes weddings according my fantastic vision of ideal wedding functions, and in addition (affront upon affront) they refuse to consult my calendar to see if I am conveniently placed on the day, I take my revenge against the world by not attending weddings (petty revenge you might say, but then at least I feel vindicated)!
Of course, from an individual’s point of view, I know how important a milestone marriage itself is, as against the wedding, even though the importance of marriage is often seen from the prism of the opulence of the wedding. For people who really matter to me, or for people to whom I matter, what I would ideally like to do is to get to know the unknown spouse where applicable, or to just have a coffee (or chaas – one of my pet grouses – why is it that we never go out to have inexpensive and far more nutritional chaas) with them to understand listen to them and if solicited, share some advice on marriage, as patronizing as it sounds. If only a fraction of the money spent in weddings were spent on pre-nuptial marriage counseling, it would make marriages so much more happier. But then my lack of understanding of social norms has already been acknowledged. Such expectations, whether valid or not, are not going to be met anytime soon.
So, where I get browbeaten or blackmailed (read: by my mom), or where my kind friendly neighbours who don’t care in the least bit about my “Weltanschauung” and might turn into not-so-kind and not-so-friendly neighbours, are involved, I attend those weddings, as fleetingly as humanly possible to get my presence registered.
In all other cases, my life’s ambition is to mumble “best wishes for your wedding” and give some evasive answers when implored to attend the wedding and minimize the resulting antipathy by sending across some gift vouchers. Even better, if I can avoid that awkward invitation “confrontation” in the first place, as written words are more facile: “Please do accept our best wishes and a token of the same in the form of these Shoppers Stop vouchers (or Croma or Amazon).”
And there now – I have let the cat out of the bag. I leave now to prepare for the demise of whatever little social standing I had left.