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Opinion | Why Indian weddings make me blue

Nobody expects him to hit the gold standard of Warren Buffet or Premji, but Ambani can certainly do better than this

Nita and Mukesh Ambani with Hillary Clinton at their daughter Isha Ambani’s wedding celebrations. ap
Nita and Mukesh Ambani with Hillary Clinton at their daughter Isha Ambani’s wedding celebrations. ap

Last week, two Indian weddings irritated me. My housekeeper’s supposedly simple bash and the big wedding you tracked so closely. They raised questions that have always bothered me: When will Indian women shake off the conditioning that they were born to serve others? When will India’s rich embrace the responsibility of being wealthy?

It doesn’t help that I’ve always been anti-weddings.

Growing up, I believed that attending Sindhi weddings was the ultimate curse of being born in a community that aired its blinding collection of blood diamonds every time someone got married. Every wedding I was forced to attend was preceded by intense negotiation with my mother about the quantity of bling I was prepared to wear. Sometimes we tired each other out so much that even the most ornate accessories couldn’t help us shine through the evening. I hated weddings until I was old enough to be allowed access to that other Sindhi must-do-at-a-do: the wedding bar. I survived my wedding only because of my favourite old monk who never left my side.

But weddings moved beyond the two extremes of diamonds and daaru for me when I realized the spell they cast over Indian women.

I watched colleagues and friends drop out of the workforce when they attained their ultimate life goal: marriage. I winced every time I encountered an educated, smart, privileged woman who had devoted her life to running a home and bringing up children, not out of choice but because this is what she was brought up to do.

“The internalized rule to always take care of others locks a girl into ignoring her own self, her own needs and wants. Slowly it becomes an ingrained habit," says academic Deepa Narayan in her book Chup: Breaking The Silence About India’s Women. “Pleasing is, in essence, training to forget yourself, because if you have your own needs and preferences, it interferes with the total focus on serving others."

My housekeeper’s life goal was marriage from the day she came to work with us six years ago. She was thrilled when a boy came to “see" her and announced he liked her. “I’ll come back to work only if he allows me," she said before she rushed off to buy her pattu sari, every south Indian bride’s wedding must-have. They met and were married in a couple of weeks. She widened her eyes in shock when I suggested she negotiate some rules beforehand, like the fact that she didn’t need his permission to work. Maybe all will go well, but for now I feel like I failed an Indian woman.

Which brings me to the celebrity wedding that bothered me the most in recent weeks and no, it was not Priyanka Chopra’s monetized wedding. Sure, I was slightly taken aback by the way the actor and her husband Nick Jonas signed multiple brand deals in the run-up to tying the knot and I’m dreading what this will do to the future of celebrity weddings. The paid partnerships may have taken spontaneity out of the mix but they were all above board and not disguised as emotion. The couple clearly spelled out the brand promotions and Chopra even managed to get Amazon to make a decent donation to her favourite charity, Unicef.

Chopra got married on her own terms but how do you describe what Mukesh Ambani did for his daughter Isha’s wedding? Every few years a rich Indian businessman buys wedding glitter worth a few hundred crores and sprinkles this largesse (invitees call it hospitality) over Bollywood’s A-list and a palace venue for his prince or princess.

The cost of the Ambani wedding was estimated to be 700 crore, or the amount of aid that the UAE government supposedly offered Kerala after a severe flood crippled the state earlier this year.

At least Ambani picked The Oberoi Udaivilas over the Palace of Versailles (remember Lakshmi Mittal circa 2004?) so the Udaipur economy got an adrenaline shot, the high of which will stave off bad times for a few months.

The Ambanis fed 5,001 people in Udaipur three times every day during the course of the pre-wedding celebration but the family has always been known more for wealth creation than wealth distribution. You certainly won’t find Mukesh Ambani’s name alongside Azim Premji on The Giving Pledge, an initiative founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that encourages the rich to contribute the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Even if Ambani is uncomfortable giving like Premji—India’s second richest man whose net worth is roughly half of Ambani’s—why not use a daughter’s wedding to leverage some much needed goodwill instead of showing us how he could summon the most famous film and music celebrities from India and abroad to do his bidding?

Nobody expects him to hit the gold standard of Warren Buffet or Premji, but Ambani can certainly do better than this. He faced similar criticism a few years ago when he opted to build the world’s most expensive private residence (after Buckingham Palace) in the heart of south Mumbai. It’s disappointing to see Ambani make such public statements repeatedly in a country like India.

I warned you at the start of this column. I hate weddings, especially wasteful, ostentatious, glittery celebrations. Yes, even the ones that my extended family hosts.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets @priyaramani

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