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The Great, BIG Indian Wedding Spectacle

Weddings are really huge  in India – no matter which way you look at them – their sheer scope, size, budget, variety…

To see how huge, all you have to look at are the proliferation of everything bridal.

Bridal shows, bridal trousseau’s, bridal jewels, and so on.

Wedding planners have become mandatory appendages to every wedding.

After all, each wedding has multiple events.

And each occasion has an unique theme which is carried out in everything from decor to food.

And typically, thousands of guests. So, wedding planners are no longer a luxury, they are a necessity.

Wait! What am I saying? I forget this is India I am talking about, so I simply cannot generalize like this!  Let me rewind a bit.  I am talking specifically about weddings of the upper classes, and especially those based in the large metros of India.

So, within these classes, with money flowing freely (much almost exclusively in the form of cash that you can touch and feel),  weddings are celebrated exuberantly and ostentatiously, the Indian way. Naturally.

The show opens with the wedding invitations. Some are as large as a book. Elaborately created by professional designers. Using hand-made paper, hand-painted or hand-printed. Hand-delivered with sweets, a silver memento or even a designer sari. So, when it starts with a bang like this (i.e. setting the expectations), you can imagine that it has to end with a bigger bang. A much bigger bang! Enough to keep guests talking for weeks, if not months.

The hospitality industry simply thrives during wedding seasons. Grand halls and ballrooms, five-star hotels and up-market restaurants – they all do well. Orchids have become passe when it comes to flowers. Now, people are on the lookout for what exotic flowers can be imported from Singapore or Europe…preferably something rare, that no one has used before. !

Being unique is the name of the game. We are talking Unique with a capital U. God forbid that any concept or design from a previous wedding be reused!

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Want to see the diversity and variety that exists in Indian weddings?  These are just a couple of the quick finds of Indian wedding planner websites.  Here’s a wedding planner’s website so you can comprehend the range of choices of types of weddings possible. And check out this array of very exclusive wedding plans.  These are for destination weddings in Goa, Rajathan, Kerala and the like. What amazing settings!

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Speaking of settings (you know, like in the movies), here’s a rather unique and interesting phenomenon. Bollywood stars also do well during wedding season. They are ‘invited’ – basically, paid to meet, greet and mingle with guests!

At a recent high society elite wedding, several stars were on hand as “guests”. They are also paid (much more, obviously) to perform for the guests.

Shah Rukh Khan himself was the star attraction at a recent wedding celebration. The draw was his dance performance for the wedding guests!

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With all the attention on him and the other mingling stars, one wonders if anyone paid attention to the real stars of the wedding.  The bride and groom.

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And, can you imagine Brad Pitt dancing at someone’s wedding in the U.S. for a fee?  Wow!

Time to start a new trend, Hollywood…this time by copying Bollywood. What say you, Brad?

I think it’s a rather neat idea because you can always use the proceeds for one of your favorite causes.

If you decide it’s something worth pursuing, how about a bet with me that your first gig will be to perform at an Indian wedding?  🙂

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Offerings By McKay Savage from Chennai, India [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Brad Pitt By Maggie from Palm Springs, United States (Brad) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mandap By Taxman (Taxman) (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Top 10 Reasons Why Mumbai is a Standout City

A “Standout City” – frankly, this is a topic that can be observed and written about any place. However, with my new life in India and Mumbai, my head is so often spinning with what I see and experience that are both different and unique.

These then are some of the things about Mumbai that standout for me – the good, bad and ugly or more appropriately, the yin and yang. Some of them make me glad – and is probably why this city is quickly growing on me and becoming my second home, so to speak. Some of them move me in a different way – for the sad state of the city, when things can be so much better, with the right leadership, vision and mission.

1. The People

Flowers for sale; smile is free

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This is the largest metro in India and one of the largest in the world. Yet unlike other large cities in the world, there is a warmth and hospitality you find in the people here that is intrinsic and unbeatable. Who would’ve thought? I’ve been able to write one post just on this topic. After visiting many places around the world and around India,  I can’t say that this quality stands out for me elsewhere like it does here. Yes, this is definitely a standout feature of Mumbai.

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2. The Pulse

An ultra fast-paced city made up of very hard-working communities of people, Mumbai’s pulse is untouched by any other city in India, that’s for sure.  The energy and frenetic pace can be felt by everyone here – especially on the weekdays.  It is a bit muted during the weekends when the city tries to take a well-deserved rest and respite, but usually fails.

3. The Monsoon

Unerringly predictable, Bombay’s monsoon (see these pictures, and these) is welcomed and cherished year after year after year…at the same time annually and spanning a few months. This is the time when the city is cleansed and the much-needed water to support the populous is captured and stored, to be used during the rest of the year. Just as predictably, heavy rain combined with high tides can temporarily paralyze the city, flood the roads and stop the trains. But, at the end of the day, what you remember is the sheer pleasure of cool rains pounding down on scorched earth.

4. The Traffic

What can I say about the insane traffic that has not been said before? It’s chaos, crowded, pandemonium, sheer madness.  It’s all of these things, but then it somehow works. Combining something like 600 new vehicles adding to the mess every day, are the taxis and auto-rickshaws that ply the inadequate highways and streets of the city. And, parking? That’s a joke. Here are some mind-numbing numbers. There are some 2 million vehicles navigating the city streets every day (of which 200,000 new ones were added just in the last year!). According to a recent news report, public parking in the entire city is limited to 30,000 cars.  So, if you find one, grab it!

5. The Slums

Life in a Slum, Mumbai

I think I can say conclusively, that nowhere in India are slums as apparent and widespread as in Mumbai. Outside of what you have seen in Slumdog Millionaire or read about in Shantaram  (if you have not read this book, go right now and buy it!), here are some staggering truths about these slums – some 55% of the population live in slums but they cover less than 8% of the land; parts of this land, however, are also some of the most expensive real estate in the country. These people are enterprising, hard-working and made up of both locals and migrants. But where are their basic services? Water, power, sewage (forget about it!)… I can write an entire series of posts on Mumbai slums and perhaps I will, but I will stop with this now. However, here’s a good post I found, especially if you want to see some real-life incredible pictures of what slums look like, up close and personal.

6. The Expanse

Like New York, this is an island city and is located on the West coast of India. Seven islands which were fishing communities comprise what is today the city of Mumbai. South Bombay (SoBo) or “the city” was inhabited and built up first by the Portugese and then the British. It actually does have the look of London – with grime (look closely!). Wide tree-lined roads and pavements with long stretches of coastline roads, it’s truly a beauty beneath the grunge. The city has since been extended far and wide – North, East and West with many, many suburbs, each with their own intrinsic qualities and subcultures.

7. The Shopping, Drinking, Eating, Party Experience

Feeling bored with nothing to do?  Never in Bombay. There’s always something to do, and some new place to visit, some new restaurant or lounge to try and new people to meet. If you are in Bombay and you are bored, you either have no imagination or you are just feeling sorry for yourself.  But no one else will feel sorry for you or that state of mind. Just get out there. Experience. Enjoy.  There’s always something to do in this city. So much so that sometimes you just have to stay home and rest.

8. The Entertainment Capital

Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan

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Home to Bollywood and an established yet burgeoning theater community, Mumbai is the undisputed entertainment capital of the country. India is obsessed with cinema, television and cricket. And at least two of these three have found a home and base in this city. It has therefore become part of the culture and there are signs of Bollywood everywhere you look in the city.  What’s even more special here is the theater culture. There are English plays, Hindi plays, imports and experimental theater. So, in a way, there’s something for everyone.

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9. The Service Industry

Just another day of moving bricks

Just another day of moving bricks

wrote about this amazing discovery (for me) when I first arrived in Mumbai. Indeed, there is a remarkable service industry that plies the people who live here with all manner of services. People appear to have an inbred ethic to work hard. Very hard. The question to ask is not “what services can you find?”. Rather, the question is whether there are any services that you need that can’t be found here.  Unequivocally, no. And, if by chance there is an exception to this rule, just tell someone about it, and lo and behold, if you don’t have someone offering you that service too!

10. The City Never Sleeps  

Another post that I had written profiled this city alongside NYC. The mad energy of this city lives on…24×7 you find people out and about, traffic on the streets and sheer movement. Another quality that is not replicated elsewhere in India, and is rare, in fact, in many cities around the world.

The City That Never Sleeps

If you are a native or current resident of Bombay, you probably have much to add to this list. I know I have missed other standout features of Mumbai like the beaches, Marine Drive, the ports, the location, the financial district, the diamond district, the crazy infrastructure (pot-holes and all), its resilience,  people’s industriousness, the Dabbawalas, its cosmopolitan and secular nature and more.   Well, I guess that means that this post is just going to have to get a Part Deux someday…

Now, if it’s been awhile since your last visit to the city, or if you have never had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of a stay here, I hope this has intrigued you enough to give it a try. I promise you won’t be bored.

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Photo Attribution:  

Flower Seller: By Meena Kadri 

Monsoon: By PlaneMad 

Carting Bricks: By Greg O’Beirne

Bombay at Night: By Premshree Pillai 

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