The Great Indian Wedding Reception

Last evening, we went for a wedding reception. South Indian receptions are by custom, less boisterous and sedate as compared to the typical Punjabi wedding that goes on for days and has lots of drinking, dancing and singing. This one was somewhere in between. There was the customary South Indian Classical music being played ‘Live’ but it was managed by a drummer who stood in the middle and belted out racy versions of the classics – getting a group of youngsters in the crowd to roar in approval and hand out requests. That’s a change from the group of guys playing on stage and being practically ignored by the whole gathering. Then there were hostesses serving snacks. Alcohol, of course, is still a complete no-no, which is good because you wouldn’t want too many truths to come out at these family gatherings when a cartload of gossip is exchanged. Or a favourite uncle making a mess of himself socially.

What hasn’t changed is the long queue snaking up to congratulate the bride and groom who sit on outsized ‘thrones’ and meet an endless procession of guests who stream in, shake their hands enthusiastically and then grin for the cameras. The only problem is that the video cameras are recording at the same time and they would have 30 seconds of people standing still with smiles plastered on their faces or worse, fidgeting and sweating in the heat. Since this could go on for more than an hour, the resultant video is a torture to watch, even for the bride and groom. It gets relegated to the shelf where it is sprung only occasionally on unsuspecting guests when the conversation runs dry in a matter of seconds and they can’t be whisked away to dinner immediately. The equivalent of those huge wedding albums which are still given away and provide fodder for pointing out how much people have ‘changed’ years later. The change is always in terms of girth and age, neither of which is complimentary and so what has changed is never explicitly stated. Indians can never be direct in person, they always speak tangentially, which is a national trait.

Thankfully, the feast was still South Indian and served on wide banana leaves. There are places where the buffet has replaced the traditional meal and a choice of Indian cuisines. But it invariably ends up feeling like eating in a restaurant. Here, the speed with which the servers deposit item after item in precise quantities in a matter of seconds is still a treat to watch. Before long, the leaf is covered with everything from pickles to pappads, a pulao, sambar rice, curd rice, a couple of sweets and the obligatory bottle of mineral water on the side. The payasam, the glorious liquid dessert made out of everything from lentils to vermicelli to jackfruits and a regular on such occasions seems on its way out. A pity for all those who have grown up with it and lusted for it from childhood. The sweets were the ras malai and the gulab jamun. Maybe they serve payasams in North India now – true Indian integration!