Saturday, January 1, 2005

Weddings and all that

Weddings and all that
By Narendra Luther

I was pleasantly surprised to read in the papers that a Pakistani court rejected a plea that some snacks may be allowed to be served at wedding reception apart from the beverages. So presumably there is a ban on the service of eats at such receptions. Frankly, I did not expect that such a progressive and strict measure would be applied in a country like Pakistan. It gave me cheer and hope. If they can do it, surely we too can.

I have attended weddings of all sorts from the poorest to the richest. I have attended weddings where no more than 20 persons came from the side of the groom. Incidentally that was the wedding of the son of the late Krishen Kant in Hyderabad. He was then the governor of AP, and later became the Vice President of India. When the party was about to leave, a relation came unexpectedly and had to be accommodated as a member of the wedding party. That would have made it 21. So Mrs. Kant stayed back! I know it since I was from the bride’s side and asked the groom’s father for the reason of the groom’s mother’s absence.

The fare was very simple and after lunch the party drove back to the Raj Bhavan.

Lavish Weddings

I have attended weddings where the guest list was 10,000. Yes, ten thousand if not more. Separate enclosures were made for important invitees. Fortunately, I happened to be one of those who were taken to the special enclosure. The explanation given was that the host, a politician, could not afford to ignore his political supporters. I do not who bore the expenses.

I have attended weddings of business men in which some of the items of the menu, especially fruit are imported especially from Singapore or Hong Kong. We counted twenty items of pudding and fruit at more than one parties. Business must be very profitable to be able to have such parties. I felt sorry that I had only one stomach and one day to savour only some of the items on offer at such parties.

I have attended wedding parties of the sons and daughters of officials where a thousand or more guests were invited. The spread was indeed lavish though not on the same scale as that of the politicians and businessmen. Still, the expenditure must be enormous. One can’t help asking oneself how they could manage to spend so much.

I have only read about the weddings in the family of the richest Indian in England - and one of the richest in India. One was celebrated in Paris and the other in Kolkota. Every name that mattered in any field was there. I cannot bring myself even to guess the expenditure at those weddings.

The Demonstration Effect

I have attended weddings of children of attenders and class four employees who at some time worked in my office. That is part of the noblesse oblige, we were taught. Miss a wedding of big man, but not of your subordinates. It is a matter of prestige for them. And there too I am surprised how they manage to spend so much.

When our maid’s son was to be married, we gave her 5000 rupees by way of help. She invited us to a reception where 500 guests were invited. My wife asked her why and how she could afford that. He replied coolly that the parents of the bride were meeting the expenditure. My wife reminded her that she had two daughters and how would she cope with the expenses on their marriages. I regretted why we had given her the financial help if it was to form only a fraction of her extravagance. Many people fall into the debt trap because of the marriage of their children. The poor wish to do as the rich people do. That is what is called the ‘demonstration effect’. It is for that reason that it is important for the big people to behave modestly because then the smaller people will emulate their example.

I always return form such weddings with a bad conscience. The expenditure on some weddings would be enough to feed the inhabitants of an average slum for one year. I admit I make for an ungrateful guest at most weddings. Even in writing this I feel I am betraying those who invite me.

It is not only the expenditure but the guest list too which surprises and scandalizes me. Important persons are invited whether they are friends or not. One Chief Minister held a special reception to which he invited only IAS officers to introduce his new son-in-law to them.

‘Conspicuous Consumption

Some friends tell me why I get worried about that. So long as they pay their taxes, they are entitled to enjoy themselves. That is not all. It was perhaps with such cases in mind that the Economist, Nicholas Kaldor, suggested the imposition of ’Expenditure Tax’. In India, my friend, the late Professor Gautam Mathur was a strong supporter of this concept. According to the proposal, for example, if some one spent ten lakhs on a wedding, he would have to pay a tax of three lakhs on that. Nehru entertained Kaldor and had his proposal examined. Due, however to the complexities involved, it was not implemented and the conventional Income Tax stayed on. Would that have curbed what Thorstein Veblen in his classic treatise, ’Theory of the Leisure Class’ called ‘conspicuous consumption’?

I can see the point of persons who have earned the money by sheer hard work to spend the way they like. To ascribe insensitivity to such person to the teeming poor also is not entirely fair. The poor have always been there. They will always be there. Some of them are poor because of their own fault. In any case they are not poor always because of the rich. So why should they cast their shadow on every celebration? Some of the poor who take to begging, accost me when I come out of a restaurant after a modest meal, or out of a shop after buying some fruit. They are shrewd in their own way trying to catch their quarry in its most vulnerable moments.

Many persons have big celebration also because of social pressure. During the Second World War, and in the period of our food deficit, there used to be a Guest Control Order. It was good in some ways. It reduced the social pressure to have big parties

But all said and done, I can’t stomach these lavish weddings. Sorry, I do stomach some of them if invited, but feel some revulsion after that. By all means enjoy on festive occasions, but moderate them.

Now that we are having some contacts with Pakistan, let us pay them a compliment by adopting one of their good pieces of practice. There is no border check for ideas.


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