(Author: Sitendu De)
The blocks of rocks that gave my house a shape, cried in pain. The desert heat was unbearable. The air-cooler was panting. The thermostat of the fridge went berserk. Everyone revolted against the heat, except me. I kept my patience. I waited. I patiently waited for the sun to set. The sun ultimately said good-bye for the day. Genteel breeze began. First it was mixed flow of hot and cold. Afterwards a touch of gladness like the meeting of bride and groom on the first night of their conjugal life. I stepped out from my house for my evening walk.
“Aarati” (prayers) in the temples had begun. People stood with folded hands in front of the deities. The smell of the incense sticks was soothing and refreshing. The western horizon was still red. Some workers started their work in the “wedding hall” named — “Raja Rani Marriage Hall”. (King Queen Marriage Hall) It was impossible to work at day time so the workers work after sunset.
I looked at the marriage hall. It was being decked with flowers and decoration. I thought of my marriage. Every one has to go through these rituals. Indian parents always love to see their children getting married and “settle” in life. Most Indian parents save a lot of their earnings to be spent on the marriage ceremony of their children. It’s a “crude” display of one’s wealth and fortune. Getting married is also a symbol that a person is “straight” and not “curved”. The marriage rituals start five days prior to the actual wedding day. Ladies congregate and sing. Pretty ladies dance to the “dolak” (percussion) beats. Houses are cleaned, painted, well lighted for the occasion. New furniture, new clothes for every member of the house are bought. It’s a festive occasion and everyone seems to be happy except for the mother-in-law who sees her daughter-in-law as a potential usurper to her throne of thirty years. A volley of abuses in Bengali startled me and I woke up and linked myself to the present situation. It’s hard to find a Bengali knowing person in these areas so I went inside to find from where it was coming from.
A team of workers were working on a temporary wooden structure or the “stage” where the bride and the groom will sit through out the evening and everyone will come with their “gifts” and bless the newly wed couple. I saw the workers singing the latest Bollywood Hindi songs and working on a structure.
“Who was abusing in Bengali?”— I asked. Taken aback they stared at me.
“Actually babu (sir) Afzal was not putting the required support so I abused him”
“Babu are you from our West Bengal state?”
I wanted to know their background and sat among them to know more of them. I asked Afzal the youngest of them about what made him take up this profession.
These workers had come from a distance of 2,200 Kms away from a place called Lalgola in Murshidabad District of the state of West Bengal. They are professional decorators who create magic structures and give shapes to any ideas. They also work at film sets. They are in great demand especially in the wedding seasons when people ask them to create wonders in the form of Hindi cinema sets in which they want to see their children getting married. They are employed by a contractor who hires them to do a certain job. They are paid on a daily basis.
“We had a piece of land near to Ganges river. Every monsoon it was the repeat of the same story. The embankments gave away to the rushing water of the Ganges. The river changed its course and we lost our land to the river. We became landless, no home, no place to live in. The government representatives come and give assurances. The story repeats every year.
We are a family of ten members. Five brothers, three sisters and parents make up our family. My elder brother is in Dubai working as a jewelery craftsman . The second one is a construction worker in Delhi. Third one is a mason. Fourth one is sitting in front of you. My younger brother is an electrician and is working for a builder in Delhi. All the sisters are married. The elder one is “married” to a Sheik from Saudi Arabia and is very “rich”. She is the thirteenth wife in the Sheik’s harem. She arranged all the money for my elder brother to go and work in Dubai. Lucky guy.
I left studies quite early. I studied in a local madrassa . It was more of knowing how to pray. I know how to write my name in Bengali and Urdu and a little bit of working maths. Poverty drove me to learn this profession. I worked as an apprentice at a local decorator. I got two meals a day as wages. He gave me no money but was particular to give me a new set of clothes in Idd festival and a bonus of five hundred rupees in the Durga Puja festival. I picked up the trade-craft in the hard way. As we could not earn more than hundred rupees a day in our area and that too not throughout the year I moved out from my native place. I came in contact with a “contractor” from Mumbai and he arranges for our jobs. He pays well.
The Indian wedding industry is of Rs. 40,000 cores business. On an average and Indian spends about 15 to 20 lakhs of rupees on a wedding. This includes, decoration, booking of hotels, buying of furniture and gadgets as gifts, gold, diamonds and silver, travel fare of both the parties, fireworks, the localized music bands, car hiring, beauty salons, religious ceremonies where the priests also get a hefty sum and much more . In short every one gets a slice of the cake be it the petty “pan wallah” or the crafty matchmaker or the travel agent who books the ticket for the couple’s honeymoon travel.
The Indian wedding industry is mostly unorganized. One has to take a month’s leave to arrange all the beads in the thread. It becomes hectic and tiring — leading to loss of libido post wedding.
It is a hopeful tale of diaspora where the poor and the meek (considered by society) travel to different cities to earn their living. In the process they add a huge amount to the economy. For example, in Bangladesh the diaspora contributes to the tune of $11 bn, which is incidentally more than what the Government earns through the year $9 bn. We see the same with Philippine economy which continues to grow strongly in the face of a nagging recession the world over.