India’s increasing obsession with celebrity weddings is not just a normal phenomenon. Implicit in the public mania is a deep-seated, hitherto restrained longing to adore and allusively endorse ‘love marriages’. Now for a culture that not only prides itself on ‘arranged marriages’ but sternly criticizes love marriages, it is quite absurd. Is it the new generation of India venting its frustration at the cultural restrictions that have muzzled their dormant romance for so long? Or is it Indian hypocrisy at its worst?
On a positive note, this, in a sense, is India wanting to battle for its freedom. For generations, Indian culture has been extremely restrictive about young people choosing their life partners. Caste, social status and religion are the pre-requisites for marriage and mutual attraction and personal choice were vehemently discouraged. Falling in love with the opposite sex and mulling the possibility of getting married are too cinematic a concept to consider in real Indian life.
Let me hasten to add that there is no knock down argument on which one – love marriage or arranged marriage – is the best way forward in terms of matrimonial bliss. But India’s explicit push for arranged marriage is more than a socio-biological conviction. Arranged marriage is deviously advocated to preserve racial “purity”. Strangely enough, even within the same religion, inter-caste marriage is an abomination. Technically, high caste people even lose their caste status for marrying from lower castes in addition to the social ostracism and sanctions which involve forfeiting the privileges reserved for high castes. These primitive and pre-scientific rules are still applied in subtle ways – even among highly educated folks.
As if that was not annoying enough, our cultural hypocrisy lies in how we condemn love marriages by associating it with loose character. In India, except in most of the Northeastern states and the Hills of north Bengal, falling in love with the opposite sex is considered a manifestation of a lowering of moral standards. “How can people from “acche gharana” (a decent family) do that?” – is the question they ask, claiming moral high ground for those who prefer arranged marriage. To me, presenting the “arranged marriage versus love marriage contention” as a matter of superior moral belief is ridiculous. Within this economy, even the concept of match-making is quite orthodox and deeply rooted in the caste-based system. I was informally interacting with a bunch of research scholars in IIT Guwahati a month ago and I was surprised to know that even their life partners would be chosen by their parents. These are PhD students in one of the best and most modern university in the country.
In our country, parents are considered gods and as such is an expression of utter submission to parental authority. But mind you, deep down there is a soaring sense of rebellion against such conventions. Professors and students from metropolitan universities and colleges from across the country will tell you that there is an ever increasing trend of ‘on-campus love’, live-in relationships, one-night-stands etc. But when they graduate and go home, they pretend to forget everything and once again submit themselves to their parents as if they know nothing about relationships and marriage.
However, new India looks poised to get over such hypocrisy soon. At least people seem quite prepared to celebrate the romantic life-styles of their celebrities. The unending supply of photographs of celebrities in multiple rounds of wedding receptions depicting absolute glamour, glitz, itinerary and locales does not seem to quench the public thirst. Conservative India is savouring this romance, at least vicariously.
But then I suspect that there could be other underlying reasons behind our national obsession with celebrity weddings. It is possibly India’s innate cry for global recognition. After having been inappropriately branded as a country of snake-charmers, hungry children, dirty cities and elephants by the advanced world for so long, now we are announcing our arrival on the world stage.
It could also be that celebrities themselves are making a statement of their newfound status in society by way of their over-hyped weddings and extravagant celebrations. I call it a “Lekin aaj mentality”! In most of conventional Hindi movies, the protagonist (hero) goes through poverty, social exclusion, injustice and so on to reach the top. In a climactic scene, the hero meets the antagonist (villain) and runs him through the flashback of his sob story telling him how he (the villain) exploited him (the hero). Then he makes the final statement with a resounding line- “Lekin Aaj, dekh main kahan hun” (Literally – But today, look where I am). In a country with a developing economy, a parvenu attitude is just fine! We all do that in varying degrees proportionate to the scale of our perceived success.
Rich and famous Indians are going to continue to rock the world. We have seen businessman Lakshmi Mittal and politician Janardhan Reddy putting up lavish weddings for their daughters. We have seen sportsman Virat Kohli and film star Anushka and now other stars Ranveer-Deepika and Priyanka-Nick grabbing headlines with the sheer opulence of their many weddings! We, the poorer folks can do nothing but be sanctimonious and condemn it pretentiously. But on second thought, some politicians do not seem to like these lavish wedding parties, either. In 2011, KV Thomas, the then state minister for Food and Public Distribution had famously condemned such wedding saying that 15 percent of grains and vegetables in India were being wasted through such functions. That’s a lot of waste to justify our sanctimonious objections.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, for conservationists, there is reason to be happy. At a time when the marriage institution is defied and live-in relationships are taking precedence, such a pounding accentuation of marriage is something to be thankful for.
“For generations, Indian culture has been extremely restrictive about young people choosing their life partners. Caste, social status and religion are the pre-requisites for marriage and mutual attraction and personal choice were vehemently discouraged. Falling in love with the opposite sex and mulling the possibility of getting married are too cinematic a concept to consider in real Indian life.”