Great Indian weddings and the politics of child marriages
Election season in India is also about digging up past social crimes
Shobha Chauhan is contesting Rajasthan's Pali district in the assembly election, and she was recently caught on video promising voters she would stop the police from stopping child marriages in her constituency. Child marriage was made illegal in India in 1929. Perhaps her suggestion was not made because her Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a drubbing in Rajasthan - there appears to be a lack of good news in any of the five states going to polls, which is probably why Prime Minister Narendra Modi has gone ballistic with his speeches, even dragging in India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's love for roses - but rather because marriage season is upon India.
After American TV actress Meghan Markle sent millions of "English" girls into paroxysms of jealous and hatred this summer by becoming the first dark person to enter the royal family in matrimony, India, the champion of ostentatious weddings, is out to prove this season that it has no shortage of royal weddings. (Incidentally, have you seen Prince Charles' family photograph on social media with an analysis by a facial reading expert? Each royal member appears to be looking for a Brexit of her/his own, except five-year-old Prince George.) Leave aside the irony of how young Indians, in order to get around their families' stultifying conservatism, have been using matrimony sites as the desi version of tinder, the Great Indian Wedding is more central to existence than getting a member of the family elected Member of Parliament. Here are India's wedding highlights of 2018:
Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas: Of course, even a fuddy-duddy like me has known of Priyanka Chopra ever since she was crowned Miss World back in 2000. That means she is at least 36 years old, if not 40. When she entered films, many a young colleague in my office heralded her as the hottest thing since Linda Lovelace. Any actress who's led a multi-season US TV show and was in the movie Baywatch is no doubt a smart cookie. The fella she's marrying? I had no idea who he was despite my daughters' "OMG Papa" and other such, until I watched the Jumanji remake and was convinced that this 25-year-old good-looking guy was marrying her for ulterior motives. It couldn't be her singing (you mean you've forgotten that terrible disc she cut?) or her writing (an airbrushed memoir is coming soon to a mall near you); it must be her business chops. Their wedding ceremony was proof that too much Instagram is not necessarily a good thing, especially for the aunties caught in ghastly mid-expression.
Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh: This Bollywood A-lister wedding was revealed on an insufferable Indian satellite TV chat show characterised by interminable giggling and dim-witted quizzes; which means it wasn't spontaneous at all. Deepika is remarkable for talking openly of her mental health battles, unusual in India's conservative society, and thereby helping ordinary Indians confront such issues. Ranveer is remarkable for wearing more eye-liner than his woman. Deepika, on said TV show, candidly confessed that she liked Ranveer for his emotionalism, in contrast to her well-known ex-boyfriend Ranbir Kapoor, who is apparently an unopenable box. They were married in Italy, and had strict restrictions on Instagramming the event, which I thought was smart until... various media outlets that had obviously paid a pretty penny for exclusive photo rights are now torturing us day in and day out with the same happy, colourful spontaneous snaps. Deepika might be the most gorgeous woman on the planet, but enough already!
Isha Ambani-Anand Piramal: The grandest and most lavish (and in India's eyes, the most important) wedding between scions of two major business families is slated in a week from now. Isha is a smart and beautiful young woman, but the intensity in her mother Nita's eyes has probably scared all young men away over the years. Isha lives in a billion-dollar tower in south Bombay, and Beyonce will apparently perform at her wedding, so you can safely conclude that her dad Mukesh Ambani was not at all affected by the November 2016 demonetisation. Isha dresses are likely to be overshadowed by her mom's blinding spacesuits. The highlight so far has been a paparazzo who while taking a photo of Mukesh, Nita, the kids and the son-in-law-to-be shouted out to the most powerful man in India that his Jio phone service was not working properly. That's what I call "speaking truth to power".
Modi is likely to attend the Ambani-Piramal reception, the way that employees show up at the boss's daughter's wedding looking garishly downmarket and carrying a gift that will immediately find its way to the trashcan. How can the prime minister of the world's fastest-growing big economy not attend, when he has to face a parliamentary election six months from now? If the trends in the current assembly elections hold, Modi will probably look less than ebullient. No wonder his party colleagues are talking of child marriages in this season of the Great Indian weddings.
Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist based in India and author, most recently, of 'The Spy Chronicles: Raw, ISI and the Illusion of Peace'