The stage was adorned with flowers, embroidered tapestries of artistically woven silk cloths sparkling light bulbs. On this 25 feet long and 15 feet wide stage, two big simhasanas (thrones) were kept, waiting for the prince and princess to sit. Before it stood Govind, wearing a foot long and nine inches wide, elongated sehra (crown) that was an embroidered turban having a sparkling maroon silk strip was juxtaposed by two golden ones and strings of pearls and flowers were attached to them, covering his face. His bride, Seema, wearing a heavily crafted Banarasi sari and a matching maroon choli looked like a princess, wearing a heavy diamond stuffed necklace and a huge nose ring. Matching to his groom’s sehra, she adorned a tiara on his head, having nine tapering diamond studded twines, climbed to the stage from its left flank, holding a heavy garland inter-woven with red roses and white Chrysanthemums with strings of exotic carnations and hydrangeas, supporting it. Govind was also holding a similar garland, only a bit lighter.
The stage was at the far end of a huge marriage hall to which a staircase was leading from the left flank and on the right, disk jockey had set up an elaborate band that had started playing ‘Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge,’ from a popular Hindi movie.
Deepika was thrilled to be there with her sister and bhabhi (sister-in-law). Wearing a bright crimson, silk sari with a sleeveless matching blouse, she was fully armed with a Smartphone, having a good 15 megapixels back camera. She rose from her chair, the moment Govind and Seema landed on the stage from the opposite flanks and lights had started flashing on them, and came at the aisle, about two feet space between the two rows, enough for her to stand and shoot.
Touching the camera option on the four inches wide screen of her phone, she started shooting—very much like a professional photographer—and ‘thanks to the digital age, even I can shoot,’ she thought and first took a few still shots and then switched over to the video option.
“That would be a treasure to watch later!” exclaimed her sister.
“And, we don’t have to wait for the bua (paternal aunt) to give us the ‘official’ video,” quipped her bhabhi.
There were indeed an army of ‘professional’ photographers, four holding big still Nikon cameras with zoom lenses and flash guns and two with videos, one inside the marriage hall and another out, at the food pavilion that was mounted on a crane with a ten feet long arm, shooting every step guests were taking and every bite they ate.
On the actions caught by them was displayed live on a huge 6 feet wide screen inside the hall. “Look bhabhi, the one which I just shot is no way less than the one on the screen,” Deepika told her sister-in-law with a sense of pride.
“Yeah, our phone is better than their big cameras!” she wittingly replied.
And, she couldn’t help remember her own wedding, 15 years ago, when the photographers, had handed over them hundreds of prints with rolls of films and many of them were either out of focus or were shaken and a roll of video tape that had developed cracks after they had played it a few times and no friends and relatives of her had shot any photos or videos.
Deepika went on catching all golden moments with her and she was amazed to hear a loud boom sound. Immediately, she took her mobile in her right hand and focused it on a stage where a gun had just exploded the moment Seema put her garland around his would-be groom’s neck. While the smoke filled the air, hundreds of currency notes rained from its nozzle.
They were escorted by two boys and two girls to their simhasanas. And, they sat on its thick, red cushions, to be supported by similar thick cushions on their backs. Adroitly woven, golden borders in teak wood flanked them.
The escorts stood behind Govind and Smita. Now, the band started playing another song, ‘Dulhe Ka Sehra Suhaana Lagta Hai’ from Hindi movie, Dhadkan, sung by Nusarat Fateh Ali Khan.
Slowly, the music slowed and died down. Now, guests, one by one, in groups, started climbing the stage and stood being the throne, to pose for a shot.
Deepika with her sister and bhabhi also climbed the stair and they stood behind the bride and groom’s simhasanas and Deepika again took out her mobile, but this time she held it from the front and tapped the front camera to record a Selfie with the bride and groom.
Suddenly, a light fell on them and in the photographer’s bight flash, a fine-cut diamond mounded in her nose ring sparkled.
So, did her dreams.
On day, a prince would come, mounting a stallion—not just a mere horse, and she; a princess, waiting on a much bigger stage, wrapped with gold and diamonds, would garland him.
And, she would be on cloud 9 forever, a great accomplishment from her existing status when everyone calls her Miss Singh and she feels as if people are missing something. Just add an extra e and s to it and she would be a Misses Singh then!
Alas! Her wish came true in less than a year.
Her father has searched, searched and searched a suitable boy for him.
And, found a tall, suave and handsome engineer for his ladli (loving) daughter, who was just at the ‘marriageable’ age. Rahul, the groom, working as an executive engineer with the state public works department, was earning a legitimate six-figure salary.
Besides, hordes of upari kamayi (extra income; bribes).
Naturally, such a ‘suitable boy’ doesn’t come cheap.
But, he and his father were really men of honour.
“No, we don’t want anything; whatever you feel like giving that’ll be of your daughter only like gold and diamonds. We just want that baratis (guests) must be welcomed royally.
So, they were.
The wedding pavilion was a huge replica of bada-imambada, the famous monument of Lucknow and a symbol of its ganga-yamuna tehzeeb (composite culture), the entreaty of Avadhi culture. Like the architecture of the complex reflects the maturation of ornamented Mughal design, namely the main imambara, the wedding pavilion had a large vaulted central chamber. But unlike the imambara that contains the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula in a 50 by 16 meter and 15 meter tall arcade, a large simhasan was kept there for the bride and groom and was flanked by a series of chairs for the guests.
And, like the famous imambara, there were eight surrounding chambers of different heights, for the guests to eat, dance and enjoy and the builders have tried to imitate imambara again as there were seven identical doorways, instead of 489 identical doorways in the imambara, through which people inter into it, which is referred as the Bhulbhulaya. And, very much like the famous imambara, there was a huge entrance to the main wedding pavilion, resembling the 59 foot high Rumi Darwaza, at just outside the imambara.
The minute guests entered into the wedding pavilion, the felt like entering into a bygone, Nawabi era, as servants dressed in typical Avadhi style, in silk kurta and churidar and supporting a cap, welcomed the, with a smile and offered them itra (oil-based fragrances), swathed in a wick of cotton and sprinkled rose water on them, that wrapped them in a cooling sliver, a great relief in the scorching heat of June. Like in the imambara, guests saw many gigantic structures all around and imagined being a part of royalty.
The guests were ushered into the first chamber that was the left flank of the glorious wedding palace. But soon, women shifted to the right chamber, leaving women behind.
In the left chamber, a bar was set up. Young bartenders, wearing sstylish marron kurta that goes with a white Churidar and tunic with loop button handwork over the neck of kurta, were looking as the servants of Nawab Wajid-Ali-Shah.
They dutifully poured rum, whisky and vodka in fine cut crystal tumblers and handed over to guests. Bacardi rum, Johnny Walker Red and Black Levels whisky and Absolut vodka were flowing like water. Guests rushed to grab their drinks before they are over and enjoying them, munching alongside roasted cashew nuts and almonds.
Umesh picked up a glass of vodka and asked bartender to pour guava juice into it and he dutifully handed over the glass to Umesh who picked up one more and gave it to his buddy, Rajesh. “Vodka tastes great with guava juice,” Umesh said.
And, they sat at the cushioned seat, enjoying the drink, munching roasted almond and cashew nuts together. On the right flank, women were enjoying fresh fruit juice and soft-drinks and were putting delicately roasted pieces of chicken and mutton kebabs in their mouths.
“Thanks God! The worse is over as now, cash crunch because of note-bandi (demonetisation) is a bit easy, else we were not enjoying it,” said Umesh.
“What cash crunch? There is no money problems for us. Remember the wedding of that neta (politician) from Karnataka, who had held a great wedding of his daughter, costing 500 crores in the hey-days of demonetisation?” asked Rajesh.
And, yes there was the BJP neta, an ex-MLA, Gali Janardhan Reddy, who is also a mining baron, who hosted a big, fat and grand wedding, one of the most expensive wedding ever held in the country. The wedding took place in the Bangalore Palace Grounds on 16th November and the entire venue was made to resemble the ruins of Hampi, the great capital of the Vijaynagar Empire. There were replicas of King Krishnadevaraya’s palace, Lotus Mahal, Mahanavami Dibba and the Vijaya Vittala Temple among other buildings.
“Our Singh sahib is no less. See, he has created imambara here, after all, if Hampi is a symbol of Mysore, imambara is of Avadhi culture, our own,” replied Umesh.
A wave of music floated; being played by the D.J. on the background floated on the air.
Suddenly, another wave—of soft metallic music –filled into their ears. They looked at the left flank, their wives were calling them and their hands, full of glass and gold bangles, were creating a musical wave in the air.
“Let’s go inside, to the main wedding pavilion where shadi (wedding) will take place,” Rakhi, Umesh’s wife called.
And, they moved inside where marriage ceremony was taking place and they felt like entering into the famous Sun Temple of Odisha as a giant ornamented chariot of the Sun god, Surya, crafted in wood with twelve pairs of elaborately carved stone wheels was supporting the wedding hall that was in the form of the audience hall (Jagamohana) in the Temple. Although, the original hall is about 128 feet tall, this was just 12 feet, but was looking as grandeur as the original temple in faraway coastal region.
“Singh sahib has really created our unique Indian culture here,” said Rakhi.
“Yes, our Ganga-Yamuna tehazeeb, a hallmark of Avadh,” Umesh replied.
This grandeur was extended inside as well, where Jagamohana was the grabh-griha (sanctum-sanctorum) where a square hawan-kund (urn when sacred fire burns) was kept, the pandit (priest) was chanting mantras and Rahul, wearing elaborately crafted asehra that was an embroidered turban having a sparkling brown silk and two golden strips alternatively and strings of pearls and flowers, attached to them, were covering his face, was standing in the front. Deepika, his bride, who was behind him, was not wearing a sari, but a heavily embroidered red, tassar silk lehnga, crafted with gold strings, having delicately women fine embroidery and a matching maroon choli that was even more finely woven, to be matched by a long red dupatta, around her long neck. She indeed looked like a princess, wearing heavy diamond stuffed necklace and a huge nose ring. Matching to his groom’s sehra, she adorned a tiara on his head, having nine tapering diamond studded twines, was standing behind Rahul, to take feras (circles) around the sacred fire, so that the most essential feature of Hindu weddings, sapt-padi be over and they will be united for next seven births.
Soon, the pandit, dressed in saffron silk kurta and a white cotton dhoti and supporting a rudraksh garland around his neck and a tilak of chandan and roli (sandal and vermilion), put a spoonful of ‘ghee’ (clarified butter) and woolen wicks in the hawan-kund to evoke the God, Agni (Fire God), to bear witness to the ceremony.
A pink cotton band tied them together. First, Rahul went ahead and Deepika followed him, being just half-a-step behind. They slowly completed all seven feras and the priest kept on putting ghee in the fire and chanted seven blessings or vows for a strong union. After six feras, Deepika went in the front and Rahul followed her and then they together made seven vows.
By the time, she has taken these seven vows, she was indeed on the skyaa as now, she would be a queen in a palace, with servants at her command, shopping in gleaming malls every weekend, eating out and annual holidays abroad.
Feeling on the sky, she produced a i-Phone from the pocket of her lehnga and took a selfie; a selfie of Rahul and Mrs. Rahul Singh together!