The big fat Indian wedding has tested positive for coronavirus

Social distancing on point.
Social distancing on point.
Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Ritwik Sharma and Bhavneet Kaur would have tied the knot at a local court today (March 20) in India’s capital. The duo was to then host a reception for family & friends.

An uninvited guest, coronavirus, ruined their plans.

Most courts are now shut in India due to the global pandemic. And the duo wasn’t keen on a traditional, ritual-based wedding.

“Cancelled”: Sharma, a journalist, had only this to say in the meme he sent out on March 14 showing a completely empty long table from Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

See you after coronavirus.
See you after coronavirus.

Many thought he was joking, but Covid-19 left Sharma and Kaur with few options except this bold one. Their families, including the vulnerable elderly, were to fly in from far off places like Jorhat in Assam and Agra in Uttar Pradesh. “Once we began contemplating postponement, we heard a lot of our relatives from Agra tell us we were doing the responsible thing. That gave us the conviction to cancel the event (reception),” he said.

Shriya Nair and Jignesh Waghela were to go through the nuptials yesterday at a well-known Dombivali banquet hall some 40 kilometres northeast of Mumbai. They ended up with a truncated function at her father’s apartment, involving only immediate families.

“It has been a stressful few days…but my family was brave about it,” Anil Nair, the bride’s 55-year-old father and an HR consultant, told Quartz. “All vendors I spoke to were surprisingly cooperative. Because we were rescheduling and not cancelling, most of the service providers agreed to accommodate us at a later date.”

(Left) The ceremony at the Nairs’ apartment on March 19. (Right) Anil Nair and the newlyweds.
Image: Family album

Covid-19 has likely cast a gloom on hundreds of such families across wedding-crazy India. For cancelling such an event means emotional and financial resources, corralled over months,  going waste, besides the lost time and effort.

An Indian wedding, in many cases, can last up to eight days. Outfits are meticulously chosen, elaborate meals arranged, guests managed, jewellery and gifts readied—and most often, according to tradition, it is the parents who must crack open their life’s savings.

And this is what goes into making weddings a $40 billion industry in India.

🎧 For more intel on the wedding industry, listen to the Quartz Obsession podcast episode on Indian weddings. Or subscribe via: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher.

On the other hand, it is also a major employment generator. Each such event has scores of vendors and service personnel involved, from catering and decor to photography and makeup. This only adds to the logistical nightmare.

All the more so if the families involve non-resident Indians, and especially if either the groom or bride is one.

One such couple—the groom being from Australia and the bride from Mumbai—and zeroed in on picturesque Goa to get married next month.

In sickness and health.
Image: Love Shoot Repeat

“We were roped in to cover the wedding that was to have about 350 guests,” said Nandkishore Kapoor, photographer at Mumbai’s Love Shoot Repeat. Uncertainty over visas and international travel has now forced the couple to advance the dates and downsize the reception to 100—and in Mumbai, not Goa.

But then nothing matters more than the safety of their families, these folks agree.

Keep calm, sanitise, and marry

For the ceremony at home, too, this aspect was on top of Nair’s mind. “We kept sanitisers everywhere, especially near the entrance and the catering area. We made regular announcements among our guests to sanitise their hands regularly,” he said. The family also requested that senior citizens abstain.

The humble hand sanitiser has become an essential item in Shobhita Khurana’s kit. The freelance makeup artist from Delhi, who generally wears a mask during flu season, has now made it an all-season affair.

For the Mumbai wedding that Kapoor shot, makeup artists wore masks inside the room, and the couple decided to get their wedding shots indoors to avoid exposing themselves to infection.

Some insist on frequent sanitising of surfaces, too, even though the Indian Council of Medical Research has assured there is no community transmission of Covid-19 yet in India.

Now, even Khurana’s family has asked her to cancel future bookings. “Thankfully, this is a lean season, so I don’t have too many appointments. And even among those that I have, there have been requests for cancellations or rescheduling,” she said.

For folks like Sharma and Kaur, “the only good thing is that we won’t have to apply for the court marriage again. We’ll just need to get a fresh date.”

Others may not get to see such a silver lining. At least not so soon.