The re-newly weds — action replay

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After all, at a time when divorces are on the rise, a decade or more of a successful marriage is definitely reason to celebrate. Traditionally, Indian couples had pujas to mark milestones like the 50th, 60th or 80th anniversary. Children and grandchildren would fly in from across the world, the family priest would chant slokas and they’d solemnly celebrate all that the couple had shared together. The essential idea is still the same, though the execution is rather different.

Anniversaries are no longer just about popping champagne and wondering how the years flew by. Couples are renewing their vows in lavish ceremonies they couldn’t have the first time around…. 

Bollywood’s favorite siren Malaika Arora Khan surprised her husband Arbaaz on their tenth wedding anniversary two years ago by organizing a mini-wedding ceremony in Goa to renew their vows. Malaika donned a wedding gown designed by her friend Wendell Rodricks, plucked flowers from the garden for her posy and read out her vows in front of a small gathering that included an unusual wedding guest — her son Arhaan.

Malaika’s “I do, Take Two” isn’t an isolated case. Across the country, couples are retying the knot. After all, at a time when divorces are on the rise, a decade or more of a successful marriage is definitely reason to celebrate. Traditionally, Indian couples had pujas to mark milestones like the 50th, 60th or 80th anniversary. Children and grandchildren would fly in from across the world, the family priest would chant slokas and they’d solemnly celebrate all that the couple had shared together. The essential idea is still the same, though the execution is rather different. The second wedding is now a chance to have the dream wedding the couple probably couldn’t have years ago when mama, papa, gran and three aunts four times removed were orchestrating the affair.

Recently, an NRI couple descended on their hometown of Mumbai and called relatives and friends to celebrate their 50th anniversary. With a bill that ran up to Rs. 25 lakh, the second wedding held at Grand Hyatt was spread over four days and included a mehendi party, mata ki chowki, ghazal night and cocktail reception. “They even hired a pandit, who turned out to be the son of the pandit who solemnized their wedding 50 years ago,” says wedding planner Varun Kapoor.

Kapoor, who looked on as the septuagenarians, read out hand-written vows, even prompted the couple to kiss. “It was like a fusion wedding,” he says.

The couple was made to play games like finding a ring in colored water (the one who finds it first is believed to be in control of the marriage) and pillow talk (the couple sits back-to-back and answers questions about each other). There was also an audio-visual that had family members saying one good thing and one bad about the second-time groom and bride. “The couple went for a honeymoon after that,” says Kapoor.

The reasons why couples decide to say “I do” again vary. Some were married in simple civil ceremonies and want to re-tie the knot in more elaborate functions. Sundeep Vira, an investment banker based in Singapore, and his wife Sunita decided to have a lavish ceremony at Samode Palace near Jaipur for their 20th anniversary  as their first had been a small church wedding in the US when they were post-grad students.

Sundeep and Sunita flew in with a huge contingent of friends from Singapore in December. The guest list included close family, childhood friends and their three children, Alisha 14, Maya10, and Rishi 6.”They loved the idea of seeing their parents marry again,” says Sundeep.

The day-long celebrations began with mehendi choori and chaat. In the evening, were the pheras by the poolside. The pundit translated the vows into English for the non-Indian guests, and a translation printed on parchment paper was circulated. The ceremony was followed by a formal multi-course sit-down dinner with choice Rajasthani cuisine.

Sundeep then made a speech and read out a poem he had written for his wife. The night ended with a dance party on the desert sands lit with dazzling lights and the guests rocked to Bollywood and Punjabi bhangra hits. “Living abroad for so long, it was good to do an Indian theme,” says Sundeep. “We had loads of fun. My friends and brother Amitabh thought it was a great idea, but  the older generation was a bit dazed by the scale of the celebrations,” he says, laughing.

A number of offspring too are organizing these second weddings for their parents. When Suresh Jain and his wife Sheila decided to exchange vows again as a tribute to the 25 years they had spent together, their children were more excited than them and took over all the planning, even making the couple arrive at the wedding venue on a festooned palanquin.

Sanjay Godha from Lagan Mandap, who has organized several such ceremonies, says, “The trend is to re-live the entire occasion rather than just host an anniversary party. Rajasthan attracts many couples from across the country, who want to add that royal feel to the wedding the second time around.”

When Rathi Varadharajan’s husband Sunit Arora suggested they say “I do” again for their 10th anniversary, they went the whole nine yards. Quite literally, since she wore the nine-yard sari that’s the convention in south Indian Tamil Brahmin weddings. “The first time we had an Arya Samaj wedding. Since my husband is half-Catholic, our relatives joked that in another 10 years, we’d be walking down the aisle,” says 42-year-old Rathi, who works with special children in Delhi. Her two boys took the ceremony in their stride. “They’re never still for even a minute but they sat quietly and watched their mom and dad get married.”

So was the second time better than the first? “It was much more relaxed and enjoyable. The first is such a blur and the two families coming together brings a host of attendant problems,” says Rathi. She did get some complaints from an aunt who’d been left out of the guest list. “We just wanted immediate family and a smattering of friends. Exactly like our big day 10 years back,” she says.

The ceremony brought back a lot of memories for Rathi and Sunit and some envious remarks from friends. “At the party that followed, a lot of women told Sunit that he had really raised the bar when it came to romantic gestures.”

(By Shalini Umachandran with reports from Arati Jerath, Mansi Choksi, Neelam Raaj and Rachna Singh.)

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