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Wonder Weddings

Not too long ago upper middle class weddings were family affairs where a few prominent members in the very near social circles were invited to bless the bride and groom and then they eat a simple vegetarian meal and be done with it. Not anymore. Today a typical upper middle class wedding is a gigantic financial and logistic exercise. To begin with there are at least 3 major functions if you are from the bride side. The first is a Mehndi ceremony aka “Sangeeth” ceremony. Then there is the “Nalugu” where the bride goes through the pre-wedding rituals. And then there is the marriage itself. Even as recent as a decade ago, except for the wedding, the Mehndi and Nalugu were performed at the bride’s home. Today a wedding home is locked. Everything is sub-contracted and here is where the financials fly north.

A typical Sangeeth ceremony takes place in a function hall with a capacity of 150 to 200 seats. The stage for the Sangeeth, the artistes, electronic equipment and floral decoration cost a minimum of Rs. 400,000 – say 8000 USD. The snacks and dinner, drinks tot up to Rs. 1100 a plate which is another Rs 220,000. The host is down by another USD 4400. Gifts can round that figure off to another Rs 75,000. So by the time the bride and her friends bid goodbye, your wallet is lighter by nearly 14000 USD. Here onwards the number and the expenses jump up geometrically. The Nalugu crowd swells from 200 the previous night to 800. And the actual wedding can touch around 1200 to 1500 guests. The saving grace is liquor is not served in Andhra region during these two functions. But savings there are eaten away by expenses elsewhere. The main culprit is food.

In Nellore town this correspondent attended two weddings. In one, the dining theme was a wild-west town. The dining hall was decorated like a set from Sharon Stone movie “The quick and the dead”. Waiters had their ears pierced, wore stiletto shoes and hats on their heads. The waitresses were Ukranian women dressed in gowns, and were seen serving coconut water. 17 of them were asked to come from Hyderabad and booked in a 3-star hotel in town. There were at least 19 items in the main course and the dessert counter had another 10 varieties. Each plate was 800 Rs. That’s a straight Rs. 12 lacs or 24000 USD. The marriage hall inclusive of decoration would set you back by another Rs. 8 lacs. Security arrangements, power costs, gifts, hotel and travel arrangements would cost another Rs. 12 lacs. The wedding bill itself when you finally round it off would total Rs 32 lacs. Add Nalugu and Sangeeth you are hovering around the Rs. 50 lac figure. In other words you would have spent 100,000 USD.

This is the figure in a town like Nellore. In a city like Hyderabad, you could add another 50% to that cost. And we are not even talking Allu Arjun or Ram Charan Tej style weddings. They constitute the .0001% of the population. Instead we are talking about the 1% of our population. In the Hindu calendar there are 100 muhurath days in a year. And AP has 23 districts. The Country has 643 districts. Do the math and the sheer scale will hit you. On a conservative basis India’s wonder weddings rotate a billion US dollars worth of local currency. If you join the celebrity weddings you are looking at a multi-billion dollar industry. For the uninitiated the sheer scale can be shocking. But the show goes on without any signs of slowing down. Whatever the reasons, weddings have become a show of strength. They are now taken as an excuse to trumpet your arrival as someone with a standing in the society. The price for vanity never seems to have a ceiling.

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