Notes From Father Of The Bride

Published: December 13, 2015 18:43 IST
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Our daughter has just got married and I am still coming to terms with the empty room in the house. My wife has adjusted almost immediately - maybe it's a mother thing. But that's not what I am going to talk about. It's not about pain and separation. While I will mope for a little while longer, I will do that privately. Right now, it's about the practical institution of not marriage but wedding. Yes, that's right; organizing a wedding is an institution in its own right. I will tell you about the nuts and bolts, the logistics, the experience, the learning! We had no primer, no manual to refer to. This was the first wedding of the next generation in the larger family, so no one to turn to. Our daughter and son-in-law were batch-mates in college and had been seeing each other for years, so the "arranged marriage'' thing, was not, thankfully, an issue. I cannot give any guidance on how a marriage gets fixed up through networking or newspapers or numerous matrimonial sites. For the rest:

Wedding Planner:

Always a good idea. With a multitude of vendors and countless specialized wedding services, direct engagement will turn you mad. Let the planner interact with the decorator, the venue, the caterer, the photographer, the card printer, the choreographer, the band, the DJ, the florist, the pundit... whew, it's an endless list. Oh, the days of simplicity and innocence when we got married - just the tentwallah, the halwai, the colony lawn, the camerawallah was all that was required to get hitched.

Card:

There are cards and then there are cards. We were simply shocked to know that the price range of decent cards begins at the criminal, reaches stratospheric proportions, and moves beyond. The options were mind-boggling. We decided to be sensible about the type and price of the card. The card we finally selected (designed by our daughter) was simple and elegant. We knew that the longevity of the card was very limited and spending a fortune on a short-lived piece of paper was a strict no-no. Should the card reach its destination solo or with an accompaniment? What should the accompaniment be? Indian sweets, dry fruits, chocolates, a bottle of champagne? Your choice. Should it be hand-delivered or couriered, even locally?  You decide. We couriered most of our cards, even locally. I'm sure gift packets can be couriered along with cards, but we didn't do it. Cards to relatives and very close friends we delivered personally along with laddoos freshly made by our family mithaiwallah from old Delhi. But we had it wrapped most elegantly by a professional gift-wrapper (yes, this category also exists as a standalone specialty and is doing very well, thank you).

RSVP:

The concept doesn't exist in India save for certain exceptions. Most don't bother to acknowledge the receipt of the wedding card nor confirm whether they will make it. Forget others, I am myself guilty of this. A card by itself doesn't usually work. An e-card, save for the younger generation (who are into saving paper and not bursting crackers), NEVER works - too impersonal, too casual (they are calling me out of formality is the assumption). A personal phone call (not through the secretary, please note) is a must if you are keen that the person attend.

Catering:

The number of people attending is vital for the purposes of the minimum guarantee to be given to the caterer. Adopting a percentage (should it be 60 or 70 or, as we were told by the caterer, 80% of the total number of guests invited?) is always a dangerous game. Nothing works better than a direct confirmation. But alas, even here there are pitfalls. People confirm they are coming, then don't show up. Or say they can't come and show up on the day, sheepishly explaining that their original program got canceled. And if you have called people for the sangeet and the wedding, then no formula works. Many people, unless they are close, attend only one program but confirm their attendance for both. They think it's the polite thing to do. But it creates huge issues with the catering department. And with the usurious catering rates, falling below the minimum guarantee is a financial sucker punch. There's nothing amusing about paying good, hard-earned money for empty plates! So what did we do? We spoke to everyone personally, save a few who we couldn't get through to (and who predictably didn't land up); after receiving firm confirmations (will certainly attend, won't miss it for the world, how can I not come?), used differing percentages for each category of guests, even for relatives. And it worked for the sangeet, but went off-target at the wedding where our pessimistic outlook on participation of friends and relatives was belied beyond our belief. Thank God for the margin the caterers keep!

One tricky issue is whether payment is to be based on the number of persons attending or the number of plates used. The latter is the normal way caterers run their revenue model, but it's dangerous territory in a situation of multiple cuisines. If anyone starts with Indian and wants to move on to, say, Continental, the normal tendency is to junk the used plate and take a fresh one. We are all guilty of it. So you land up paying for two. If you start with Indian, move to Chinese, and, still hungry, move to Continental, chances are you have used three plates. The host has well and truly been taken to the cleaners! So how about just the number attending? Trouble is that many people, especially during the wedding season where they need to attend more than one wedding, show up, meet the bride and groom, hang around for a while and move on without dinner. The number of plates used can be audited, the number of persons attending is not - it's my word against the caterers. The ideal formula could be a mix of both options (lower of the two or some variant) if your caterer agrees.

Liquor:

This is a tricky one. Consumption depends on various factors - the weather, whether the venue is outdoor/ indoor, the ambience, the mood, the company, the age, and very importantly, the brand of liquor. We consulted friends in the liquor industry and the consensus formula that came out was 4 persons per bottle of 750 cc. But this was the base figure. Add to this the likely variation on account of the above factors, and you get into the unknown zone. God forbid if ever the liquor falls short. You will never hear the end of it till your dying days. Your daughter will never fail to remind you. Your wife will never forgive you. So you err on the side of caution. Huge caution. Keep a massive cushion. But that's not all. After distillation, when whiskey is aged in casks, some evaporation (2 %) takes place called the ''angels' share''. Something similar happens during bar service - ''evaporation'' on account of servers and bar-tenders. Even the strictest control doesn't help, though the extent of misappropriation can come down. Alas, this phenomenon is something you have to live with, as well as factor it in the quantity to be ordered.

How about the break-up of spirits, I hear you ask. Dicey, very dicey! Again, depends on the demography of the persons attending as well as the other factors cited above. We were urged to buy lots of rum in view of the large presence of army personnel. But they are all senior officers, we countered. Wouldn't they prefer whisky? They would, but it is November, the weather would be nippy, the atmosphere would be convivial, nostalgia would hang thick over the gathering, many of them may hark back to their early mess days. Ok, done. How about wine? Only ladies and youngsters, and ''evolved'' drinkers. So we bought accordingly. Imagine our shock when we almost ran out of the entire stock of wine (for the two events) on the sangeet itself, and had to replenish for the big day.  Important information - keep the liquor license safely till your stock lasts, else you may be in a soup.

Drivers' meal:

Very important and the right thing to do. Else you will have disgruntled drivers driving their employers home. A disgruntled driver is a traffic menace, and you don't want that. Best is to create an area outside, and give them food packets, or, as our caterer did, organize a buffet outside with good, wholesome and filling food. Decent thing to do when it is cold and drivers are waiting outside for hours to chauffeur their employers home.  

The Pundit:

Some people like it lengthy, some short. Some want it traditional, some like it modernized. Some just sit through it without comprehending, some want the shlokas explained. I am, of course, talking about the ceremony. Your pick. Do you want it to precede the dinner or follow it? You must decide. The advantage of having the ceremony before the dinner is that the couple (especially the bride who has been through hell the whole day) can leave early instead of arriving at the marital home along with the milkman. We wanted it compact and crisp. We wanted it explained. We wanted a pundit who could also hold forth in English. And we got a really good one. He finished exactly on time, kept the close family and friends in thrall, explained the rituals every step of the way and kept the whole affair dignified and pleasant. The new element in the process (new because it did not exist when we got married) is that the marriage certificate is given there and then. You just need to provide the necessary documentation to the pundit well before the wedding date. This certificate can then be used to obtain the official government certificate.

Photography:

What can be the issue here? Isn't it fairly straightforward? Alas, no. Posed or candid, 5D or normal, whether pre-wedding shoot or not, normal photo album or hardback story book, whether a drone is required - the list is endless. They paint such a fantabulous canvas of options and use subtle blackmail (wedding only happens once in a lifetime, she deserves the best), that you are tempted to tick every damn box on the menu. Beware!

Crowd engagement:

Do you need to keep the multitude engaged? Or just leave them be? Let them drink and eat, and leave? Our experience is that a party without a diversion is a very dull affair. Highly forgettable; like thousands of parties one attends. Nothing to keep it memorable. Just another routine, boring stuff. The options of jazzing it up are very many. We had the choreographed dance by family members (now a sine qua non of any sangeet), flash mob, flair bartenders, DJ and an announcer to keep the crowd entertained. All the expenses (believe me, these things don't come cheap) were worth it. The wedding dinner had a roaming violinist doing old Hindi songs and bagpipers to add an element of zest to the solemn affair.

Gifts:

We were warned that in spite of the huge popularity of cash (most practical and useful), there would be an avalanche of gifts. That's exactly what happened. Umpteen flower vases, photo frames (some elegant, some tacky), bedcovers/sheets, dinner sets, cutlery sets, glasses, the list goes on. There were many duplicates (the gifts were, therefore, a complete waste); many gifts appeared to be recycled (inside one such gift, the card of the earlier gifter (does such word exist?) was found much to the mirth of the young couple. But how to safeguard the gifts, especially the cash envelopes? Does one keep stuffing one's pocket with the envelopes? Who does one hand them over to? Is the person trustworthy? Tough questions. We made a strong room behind the stage manned by two trusted aides (whose loyalty was beyond doubt) where the gifts received were dispatched regularly. The other issue is - who keeps the cash received? Gifts in kind go to the young couple who are setting up their new life, but the jury is still out regarding the cash. We were advised by ALL that the cash is for us - to help us mitigate (somewhat) the financial rigors of organizing the wedding. It's a subsidy to help you. We, however, decided that the young couple also deserves a financial break to begin their new journey and handed over all the envelopes to them. The contents of the envelope speak volumes of the donor. Though there is no hard and fast rule regarding the quantum, anything less than a floor figure given a person's stature and closeness stands out like a sore thumb. So if a CEO of a big company hands over Rs 501, his miserliness marks him forever in our minds. The problem arises when it's turn to reciprocate - do we maintain his ''standard'' or do what we think is right? Probably the latter. Gifts received on the occasion of marriage are tax-free and one should keep a complete list of donors in case questions are asked by the tax department later. The list will be useful when the cash is deposited in the bank. The list is also helpful when the turn to reciprocate comes.

Rituals:

Like I mentioned earlier, the only rituals we had at the wedding ceremony were meaningful ones which still make sense in today's day and age. So out went kanyadaan which we thought to be an archaic concept. Our daughter is an independent, thinking person, fully capable and self-assured, in no way inferior to her husband. She wasn't a ''property'' to be ''handed over''. My wife was not ''handed over" to me either and our marriage is no worse of for it. Similarly, no vidai. No throwing back of rice and coins to repay her ''debt''. There's no debt she owes us. Whatever is ours is hers (and our son's). Just a walk to the car, a tight embrace (which lasted longer than usual), a lump in the throat and a goodbye till tomorrow. She also held onto her emotions. Probably, the thought of ruining her (expensive) make-up or spoiling her (very heavy and atrociously priced) lehenga stopped her. This is, of course, our view and in no way to be construed as disrespect to the traditions or to the fine folk who wish to observe them. So no brickbats please!

All in all, it was a very interesting experience. The bonding that developed between our larger families during dance practice every weekend was a big upside. Not that we weren't close. But the weekly get-togethers on the terrace followed by drinks and dinner did the trick. The events went off well , the weather held out, the food and booze didn't run out, the guests went back happy, and the young couple, particularly, our daughter gave a thumping endorsement - what more could we want?

Now the last item.

Budget:

There's no such thing. Lucky is the man who keeps within the budget. The person who does stick to it has probably cut back on something. You never know when that extra unforeseen item hits you - the additional heaters because the weather suddenly turns nippy, more than anticipated turnout of ladies for the mehendi  (you had only paid for such and such number), the actual consumption of soft drinks (didn't the caterer assure you it's part of his package?), that wonderful and insanely priced sari that your wife decided to buy at the last moment, the exorbitant charges of the jeweler to polish old jewellery (and you had only budgeted a token amount, remembering your days); one can go on and on. You thought you get your security deposit back intact, but are shocked to learn that there was delay in hand-over because the guests had one too many and wanted to sit longer. You can monitor, but you can't control. That's the nature of the beast. No amount of planning, no amount of excel sheets, no amount of staff doing the backroom operations can save you. Just accept it. And also accept the fact that your daughter is priceless and the budget, however off-kilter it gets, cannot come in the way of seeing her satisfied smile as she waves off in the departing car to start a new innings. But having said that, my son better get a scholarship if he wants to do his MBA abroad!

(Ajay Mankotia is President, Corporate Planning and Operations, NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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