Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Herbal Feast

Even for those of us not currently getting married, the Wedding Season is upon us. With pressed suit and shining shoes, several evenings are being devoted every week to seeing off sundry relatives and acquaintances into the jaws of matrimony. And, apart from the traffic jams caused by multiple baraats and multitudes of guests flitting from sangeet to reception, it’s a happy time in Delhi.

Irrespective of religion, there are two types of weddings that take place in Delhi – the Veg Shaadi and the Non-Veg Shaadi. The Non-Veg Shaadi is, of course, the simpler affair. Uniformed waiters circulate among the guests bearing pre-poured glasses of dubious Black Label and hot snacks. With a drink in one hand and a toothpick-impaled savoury in the other, you mingle around. There’s a brief pause when the sozzled and sweat-soaked baaraat dances in three hours after the scheduled arrival. Then, more drinks are circulated while the happy couple exchange garlands in the background, and so to dinner. Get your attendance-photo taken with the happy couple, and you’re done.

The Veg Shaadi, on the other hand, is anything but simple. And in Delhi, it reaches its most exalted form. The distinguishing feature of the Veg Shaadi is, of course, the absence of visible alcohol. No Drinks Shall Be Served. Also no meat, but that’s just incidental. It’s the non-serving of alcohol that makes the Veg Shaadi special in so many ways:

The dual venue: A Veg Shaadi takes place in two places. There is the beautifully decorated and flower-bedecked formal venue for the ladies and the children. And there is the parking lot for the men - where all the invisible alcohol is consumed. While arranging a smashing formal venue is merely a question of expense, getting the parking lot right is tricky. The lighting is crucial – it should be dark enough to look surreptitious and light enough to pour a drink without splashing it on your shoes. The spacing between the cars is important too, so that there is enough room for a dozen people to cluster around the boots of the several ‘car-o-bars’.

The dual menu: The snacks menu at a Veg Shaadi is just as extensive as the dinner menu. At the ladies venue, there will be a long series of festively festooned stalls serving specialty snacks. At least three schools of chaat - the North Indian, the Mumbaiyya and the Exotic (paan-ke-patte-ki-chaat or aam-ke-chhilke-ki-tikki or something equally sensational) - a dosa-idli stall, a veg pizza stall and a kachori-samosa place are considered mandatory. And if you can count the number of stalls on the fingers of both hands, the host is considered a cheapskate.

There is a reason for such elaborateness; the menfolk will be away spiritualizing for quite a while, and the operating maxim is that if the ladies run out of things to chew on they will chew up the host’s reputation instead. The thoughtful host also arranges a different snacks menu for the menfolk, a few ‘take-away friendly’ items like paneer pakodas and veg Manchurian which can be easily consumed one-handed in semi darkness on rough terrain.

Paying guests: If you think about it, the Veg Shaadi is probably the only party in the world where guests bring their own consumables (liquor, plastic glasses, plastic soda bottles and packets of chips and peanuts). And that’s perhaps the reason for the increasing popularity of Veg Shaadis. The elaborate vegetarian spread probably costs the host more than simple and wholesome non-veg fare would, but the extra expense is easily offset by not having to provide humongous quantities of dubious Black Label.

The grand bar: Strangely, the grandest bars you will ever clap your eyes on are at Veg Shaadis. Multi-tiered arrays of colourful bottles, small armies of glittering glassware, brightly uniformed bartenders and not a drop of alcohol anywhere in the opulent oasis. The purpose of the bar is to look magnificent and dispense fruit juice, mocktails and colas to the intrepid. In the cold Delhi winter, non-alcoholic pina colada finds very few takers, and the brightly lit bar mostly wears a deserted look.

There are many minor ways, too, in which the Veg Shaadi brings joy to those present. The outreach waiters, for instance, who earn huge tips ferrying snacks to the parking lot; beneath their show of mild exasperation, the ladies are happier too, being able to chat at leisure while their menfolk are ‘re-parking the car’; even the telecom companies are happy, getting additional revenues from all those calls to the parking lot and texts saying ‘Asha mami wants to meet you, what’s taking you so long?’

Perhaps the only unhappy people at a Veg Shaadi used to be the chauffeurs, who suddenly had nowhere to go whenever the sahib-log arrived to delve into the boot bar – but with the invention of the Driver’s Dinner Coupon, that’s been sorted too.


  1. naaaice. reminds me of many I've attended

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  3. Several comments were removed from here due to their complete absence.

  4. Won't complain so much abt veg fare next time. U just made them more fun

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  6. Fantastic! Just attended a Veg Shaadi!