Biswajit Mohanty

True, marriages are made in heaven. But the events and the celebrations are witnessed on the earth. Over the years, drastic changes have taken place. How I wish people would suddenly turn unsociable overnight and stopped inviting friends and relatives for marriages! For me, it would save the bother of dressing up, cancelling tours and missing my favourite Netflix movie. 

In the twin cities, one can rarely recall a perfect marriage party which s/he enjoyed.  

Compared to the simple and delightful ways in which marriages were celebrated two decades ago, they have now turned into ostentatious events, where people compete with each other in a shameful and rather obscene display of wealth and pomp. The venue overflows with guests making it difficult to even stand peacefully without being shoved or asked to move aside; forget about sitting. At a recent event, I could not find a parking slot as cars were parked up to 1 km from the gate. Who is in the mood to walk a km on a sultry hot summer evening? 

As a rule, I avoid attending VIP marriages - since you are a non-entity in such grand events unless of course you are a 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. They have a whole army of sidekicks who carry out all chores; from delivery of invitations to greeting the guests at the venue. I wonder why even they invite ordinary mortals who never get a chance to meet or greet their host. 

The latest trend at many marriages is a live band belting out the latest Hindi music hits which normally attract a gaping crowd. The cacophony prevents all attempts to strike a decent conversation with other guests or friends present. I sorely miss the mellifluous notes of the shehnai and the tabla as they mingle into the gaieties of the evening; which used to be the sole entertainment at Odisha weddings during the nineties.  

In the not too recent past, marriages were a leisurely affair which people used to look forward to; not to be finished and done away quickly. In fact, I remember the ladies of the house preparing for days together. Older and experienced relatives arrive and camp at the host’s house and advise the anxious mother and the bride about the various ceremonies, 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 paan.  

The celebrations used to kick off at least 4-5 days before the D-day. There were mini feasts every day with garrulous relatives and close friends. Peals of laughter would ring through the house as younger cousins joked with the prospective bride or bridegroom about the partner. Sadly, this practice has vanished due to the pressure of modern life. Children’s exams, hubby’s demanding job at the MNC and reluctance to give up home privacy for a few days prevents such fun.   

Marriages used to be social occasions to meet old friends, catch up with relatives and also fix a suitable match for offspring. It was also the place where gawky girls would gingerly wear their first saree which sort of signalled to the world that the girl was ready for marriage. How awkward and self conscious they felt in their inappropriately draped sarees! The unmanageable pallu would obstinately 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 cracked a government job, it would immediately evoke the interest of mothers anxious 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 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, I get multiple wedding invitations for the same day. 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 visiting Durga Puja pandals. 

Food is another sore point with me. I strongly believe that it is the host’s first duty to serve a decent dinner to guests who have spared time to attend. It is rare to get wholesome and tasty fare nowadays. I remember the elaborate sit down dinners we used to enjoy a decade ago. Traditional cooks were earlier engaged to cook a normal Odia meal with a basic non-vegetarian item of fish or mutton. Chicken was rarely served. The number of dishes rarely exceeded seven. 

During the early 80s when buffet dinners came into vogue, guests used to find out if it was a buffet. In fact, it was considered infra dig to pick up a plate and walk up to the buffet table to be served. Many refused to attend such feasts. No longer now!

But Cuttack and Bhubaneswar have a terrible dearth of reliable caterers. There are umpteen dishes 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 Odia items like mudhi ghanta, fish mahura, chencheda, kheer, fish curry, mango khata, lemon rice, etc most of which have now been smothered by 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. They have replaced these delectable dishes. 

Caterers often cause major embarrassment to the host as there is a likelihood of food shortage halfway, or otherwise the food prepared is flavourless. Though people spend lakhs on jewelry, decorations, printing cards, clothes and gifts, few pay attention to culinary details or devote adequate attention to guests. The host is under the mistaken idea that once he entrusts the job to a caterer or hotelier, his responsibility ceases. I do not think that there are more than half a dozen dependable caterers in the twin cities who can be trusted with serving a decent meal.  

I have also found that most well-known hotels in Bhubaneswar serve highly over priced, shoddy and tasteless food, prepared by semi trained cooks or maybe kitchen assistants. Some hotels even serve leftovers of one banquet at the next feast! A posh hotel in Bhubaneswar now charges Rs 1,700 to Rs 2,000 for a full course non-veg dinner that would cost less than Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 per plate if cooked by the host! Who has the time or manpower to do it himself!

Due to the very less number of serving tables, there is a mad rush at the food counters. With guests shoving and pushing each other to serve themselves, many a times, I had to return hungry after lying to my solicitous host that I had truly dined well!

If you want to see how a crowd behaves at a relief centre, look at the ice cream table. It is invariably mobbed and I rarely find a chance to break into the circle of squabbling kids and pushy mamas to get a serving. I do not know why ice cream fascinates everyone even now when it is available at every street corner of Odisha.    

I am also disgusted with the games played by the caterers and 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. They are assured that food is coming, which doesn’t happen actually. Guests fail to realize is that this is a carefully orchestrated pantomime!  If you arrive after 9:30pm, many items would be over and you will only get cold leftovers. The mutton curry would be only curry, no mutton!

The host must realize that unless s/he devotes time in proper planning and execution, it is bound to become an unbearable torture for the guests. An ideal celebration is one where the host greets each guest personally with the same unabashed 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 warmth by caterers who do not look away when you need a fresh serving. I am sure many of you would recollect the tiny number of weddings where things went off well which you enjoyed attending. But it also cannot be denied that wedding parties no more excite everyone like it used to once.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.) 

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