A desi wedding in America during the global pandemic

The bride is in the United States. She has been there since she graduated from high school in India. She enrolled in a small liberal arts college in upstate New York on a 89% scholarship. After graduating magna cum laude, she was won a fellowship for her PhD in science at a well-known, private university. She received many offers but selected this one because it fit her research interests the best.

After her Doctorate and post-doc, she landed a job at one of the top labs in the world in her area of specialisation. While still in grad school, she met a fellow PhD student, who already had an MD to boot, but didn’t want to practice medicine. After dating for four years, they decided to tie the knot.

It’s going to be a transcultural, in addition to a transcontinental, wedding. Yes, the groom, or “boy,” as we like to call them, is American. Everyone is worried about the girl — will she lose her culture and values altogether? Will she wear a sari or a white wedding gown?

Questions galore

Will it be a church wedding or one with Vedic rites? What about the food? No a sit-down Indian meal? Any chance that at least curry and rice might feature on the menu rather than just Hors d’oeuvres, canapĂ©, wine and fruit?

The guest list? At the very least, about 150. Nothing less will do, even in the US. Family, friends, friends of friends can easily make up that much. And what about the bride’s school and college mates, not to mention the groom’s extended circle of family, friends, and acquaintances?

300 would be more realistic. Oh, but that would create some venue issues. How about a theme or destination wedding? Possible, but too expensive? Also a logistical nightmare, in terms of getting everyone to the exotic location?

But then the pandemic strikes. Everyone waits patiently for the first wave to subside so that international travel is possible. Tickets are booked, hotel reservations made, the excitement builds up. Then calamity strikes. The second wave in India is much worse that the first. There are infections, luckily recoveries too, in the wider family circle. Then vaccinations follow, first with a little difficulty, much more smoothly later.

Then new travel bans hit everyone’s plans. Indians can’t enter many countries in America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australasia. What happens now? Well, the wedding must go through as planned. No point postponing it. But the four-five days festivities must be put off by several months. Air tickets and hotel reservations have to be rescheduled too.

No big fat Indian wedding. Forget the size and scale of Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun (1994). That was fantasy. Two families getting together, with every ritual and nuance enjoyed, observed, and recorded for posterity.

Not without the usual misunderstandings and hiccups, of course. Forget band, baaja, baarat. Now even something simpler, very basic, is ruled out.

Various time-zones in cyberspace

What then? We have to adapt to the times and circumstances. It’ll be a much more modest affair, a court wedding, with a straightforward ceremony, signing of papers, registration, and a photo shoot in the Botanical Gardens or some such nice place. But how will the bride’s dad join? Well it has to be via a web platform. A real wedding, but happening across cultures, continents, and time-zones in cyberspace.

For the dad, the biggest day in his life as a parent will pass quietly. There will be no strains of shehnai, the sad, soulful songs of vidai or farewell of the daughter from her natal home. The father won’t even be able to give away the bride in the Indian tradition of kanyadaan.

Except virtually, of course. He will remember the day, though, as one of deep absence, rather than bearing witness to tearful departure. It will remain etched in his heart not so much in terms of bidding goodbyes as marking new beginnings.

Why should he be sad? He gathers all his nearby relatives and takes them out to a nice meal in an upscale restaurant — with protocols and social distances of course. This is not his lot alone, but during the pandemic, it is ghar ghar ki kahani hai (a story common to many households).

The scattering of peoples across the world, departures, arrivals, and the of the dispersal of the diaspora — this is an age-old phenomenon. In recent decades, the shrinking of time and space makes international travel easier than ever before. Every middle-class Indian has some relative abroad.

But coronavirus has effected one more major change. It has dematerialised cultures and communities as never before. During the pandemic, when aged parents died in India, their offspring settled abroad were unable to attend their funerals or conduct their last rites in person. Some of these rituals were done online, long-distance, in virtual mode. Similarly, corona weddings too must happen online now.

In both cases, wherever we are and howsoever separated by time and space, one thing never changes. Love. Our feelings for those we care for are not affected by these barriers. Thought travels faster than the speed of light. Think of someone and you are with them in an instant, quicker than the blinking of an eye.

Those we love live within us however far away they might be. We are with them now or shall meet them soon enough in one form or another. That way, in the here and the hereafter, we will always find each other, discovering new ways to connect and be together.

Right now, however, it’s time to clap our hands and fill our hearts with song, laughter, and joy. The bride, groom, and relatives — as well as the cake across continents — will of course be real, although not in the same place or time. But it’s time to give thanks and offer congratulations for a lean, clean, transcontinental, cyber-wedding.

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