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It is one of the first weddings in the COVID pandemic season.
The venue is sparsely decorated – partly with fresh flowers and partly with artificial flowers.
As the guests cautiously trickle in, they are greeted – not with a spray of perfume or a flower – but with a sanitiser.
Before the bride’s family welcomes guests, a man stands with a thermal scanner near the entrance. A bunch of masks are kept in a tastefully decorated basket for those who have forgotten to wear one. The music plays at low volume and the festive banter that is so typical of Indian weddings is missing.
The bride’s parents greet each guest with an apology: “We are sorry for the inconvenience but we had no choice. The protocols are strict and we have been warned to follow them. Please excuse us.”
Just then, three cops in uniform troop into the venue and a sense of unease is visible every face.
Chewing paan and waving his baton, one of the policemen asks, “Sab niyam se ho raha hai? (Is everything according to rules?)” and glances around. He spots a group of men near the coffee stall and sternly tells the host, “Social distancing nahin hai.”
The host is visibly uncomfortable. “How can I ask my guests to move away from each other?” he asks.
Two boys arrive on the scene and politely take the policemen to a corner where they serve them coffee and dry fruits.
The policemen leave the COVID wedding as abruptly as they arrived.
When the boys are asked as to what transpired, they gleefully declare, “Shagun de diye aur wo chale gaye.”
As the ceremonies begin, the bride and the groom take to the stage, with no masks in sight. The prolonged photography session begins with exchange of the garlands and all masks come off instantly.
“How can you wear a mask for a photograph which is going to be a part of memories?” asks a friend of the bride, rather indignantly.
Incidentally, the bride and the groom’s families had got specially designed masks that had ‘Hum ladki wale‘ and ‘Hum ladke wale‘ written on them. “We had got different coloured masks for both the parties for the reception which has now been cancelled. We will gift those masks to a relative whose wedding is scheduled for December,” the bride’s sister announces to anyone who cares to listen.
The dinner, meanwhile, is a humble affair with a surprisingly limited number of dishes. Many guests leave without having dinner. The bride’s father says apologetically, “The caterer was unwilling to roll out a large number of dishes for only 100 persons. Not economically feasible, he said. Besides, we have noticed that many guests are unwilling to eat outside due to the Corona scare, and some of them even informed us when we invited them.”
The most hilarious part of this ‘COVID’ wedding however are the mix-ups that take place during the ceremonies. The groom asks the bride’s sister – instead of his own – to hide his shoes before the ‘joota churai‘ ceremony. “With the girls wearing masks of similar colour, the poor guy got confused,” laughs the bride’s cousin. “We secured the shoes with no effort whatsoever!”
Among the guests too, there is ample confusion with people either not recognising each other because of masks, or greeting the wrong person.