On one side there is romantic love. It is unconditional and selfless. It does not have an ounce of materialism but tonnes of spirituality. It is organic, flowing and boundless.
On the other side, there is a 'ritualistic project' that has an objective of showcasing the union of two families to the world, or at least those who they know in the world, on a scale that appropriately projects the image of the two families. Henceforth, I will call this project a marriage for the ease of reference.
Being five months away from my own marriage, I am facing a tough act juggling the two - my firm belief in romantic love and the 'ritualistic project' that is my marriage itself. I am inherently biased towards the former because of its appeal to my subjective spiritual self and biased against the latter because of its lack of sound reason. My family thinks otherwise, which means I have to constantly check the weight I assign to my beliefs in making choices for the ceremony itself.
Some say the wedding day is one of the biggest days of our lives. It is a day when the fate of two families are intrinsically bound with each other for the rest of their lives. We will tell stories from this day for the rest of our lives. However, is an Indian marriage actually focused on us - the bride or the groom? Again these proponents of a traditional marriage would yes. I differ in my views.
The actually ceremony itself is a one to two hour long ritual that does not require anyone except the bride, groom and their parents, along with a priest and some basic ritualistic material. If the believers of traditional Indian weddings were right, then they would stop there. The wedding would still be the 'biggest day of our life', stories of which we could share for years to come.
However, we complicate matters a little - just a little. Since it is the 'biggest day of our life', we need to look good. To look good, we need fancy clothes. With fancy clothes, we need jewellery. Since its a marriage, not any but only authentic gold or diamond jewellery would do. To capture these moments for life, we need a photographer. Now that a photographer is going to be hired, we need to ensure our make up is professionally done, so all our flaws are artificially concealed - not that we look hideous but it is important to look perfect.
It is not only the biggest day of our lives but also our parents (probably because I may be their only son or daughter). In order to share their 'happiness', they need to celebrate with others. We need to call everyone whose wedding they ever attended. Phone and e-mail are impersonal - we need to make invitation cards that will be personally handed over to each and every guest.
We need to book a venue that can seat all our guests. Since they are going to be with us for a few hours, we need to serve them food. To make the atmosphere feel like one of a celebration, we need to decorate the venue - again only real flowers can adorn such an important gathering.
We don't stop at just the marriage - there is a reception, sangeet, mehandi, cocktail party, bachelor's party - among other things. Yes, we need to click a picture with whoever was present at the wedding. Yes, we need to announce our love story to the world by distastefully dancing to the most cliched love songs that are played at every wedding. Yes, we need the world to see how henna is put on our hands. Yes, we need to get drunk and dance with random relatives. It is after all "the biggest day of our lives." Not really - they are now the "biggest days of our life."
Logistically, we require money and time for everything we choose to do. The money we spend could be used for many other useful things - like buying a house, a comprehensive insurance plan, higher education or a rejuvenating holiday. While these things may not bring us lasting happiness, they will at least improve our personal well-being in the long run. If we have enough for our own needs, rather than spending it on a marriage, aren't we better off helping people in need? On the other hand, it is also probable that the money we spend is not even our own but borrowed, but we will borrow because it is the 'biggest day of our lives'. The alternate use of time is something I don't even need to get into - but think about everything we could do in 3 complete months of man hours given back to us.
We are social animals and we need to live within the norms of the society. We need to share our happiness with others. However, is there no other way to do it in a manner that is more meaningful? Is the magnitude of the celebration worth the hype? Is it truly the biggest day of our lives?
No, marriage is not the biggest day of our life. The logical argument to this is as follows. If marriage is the biggest day of our life, what about the day we found love? What about the day we have our first child? What about the day we lose a loved one? Another way of looking at it could be that if things go wrong on the day of our marriage, would we mourn the day we got married as we would celebrate every anniversary? If our marriage fails, will not the biggest day of our life become the biggest mistake of our life?
Marriage is a means to an end, which is a union that is socially and legally compliant. In our endeavour to live up to our own societal image, we unnecessarily scale up and complicate this act of compliance. Instead of celebrating everyday of our lives together after the marriage, we make a big deal of this one day and spend the rest of our lives reliving its memories.
Happiness is nothing but our achievement minus our expectations. If the difference is positive, there is happiness, otherwise there is regret. The very nature of human happiness is such that it can never be attained. We may be happy for a few moments or days after attaining a goal, a milestone or a materialistic possession, but eventually we will start craving for something bigger, better or newer. Think about the last time a new cell phone gave us a lasting high. A marriage is something very different, yet the high it gives us is similar to that of a new cell phone. How can one spend so much time, effort and resources on something whose effects on our personal well being and happiness are ephemeral?
A marriage is full of materialism where as love is spiritual. A marriage is all about pleasing the ego - our own and that of others - where as love is selfless. A marriage is governed by the norms set by the world but love is governed by the voice of the heart. A marriage is a tangible event, love is an unending journey. A marriage, in its current form in India, can never be a celebration of something as pure as love. At the most, it is only a willfully, forcefully or ignorantly accepted contradiction of love.
PS: This is not an account of my own experience. However, parts of it may be true and applicable to my own case. Please read with discretion and focus on the intent rather than actions.