I have been recovering from the flu and while I lay on the sofa sneezing and moaning and groaning, I was flipping channels and ended up on some wedding channel which highlighted what were deemed “platinum weddings” – and lo and behold, the wedding being featured was that of an Indian guy – Deepak Nath to Sara Hlavka. As befits the designation of “platinum wedding” you can imagine that it was an extravagant event – and it brought to mind a peeve of mine about Indian weddings.

Indians are by and large a very frugal people. As Russell Peters, the Canadian Indian comedian, said in one of his skits, when an Indian is accused of being “cheap”, his reaction is not one of being offended as much as one of pride – well, Peters exaggerates a bit but the gist of what he says is nonetheless valid. Indians pride themselves in getting a bargain – and feel cheated when they find out that something they bought could have been obtained for much less. This is true for Indians in just about all socio-economic groups.

Where this propensity to be frugal ceases to apply is when it comes to Indian weddings – and again this is true of all socio-economic groups. Whether one is middle class or very affluent, there appears to be a compelling need to “put on a show”, In the case of the average Indian family in India, they spend much more than they can afford even if it means going into considerable debt especially when it comes to a daughter being married. In the case of the affluent, money is spent to a point of vulgarity.

Who can forget the spectacle of Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter whose wedding cost between $60 million and $78 million -based on various reports – in an extravaganza that caused it to be named the “wedding of the century” by Forbes magazine. It was a wedding that lasted six days and at least 1200 guests were invited to the occasion where a number of richest people, pop stars, singers, world’s celebrities, business tycoons and industrialists were present. The guests included some Bollywood stars – Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukherjee and pop star Kylie Minogue. The engagement was held at the Palace of Versailles (once used by Louis XIV). Twelve Boeing jets were chartered to bring guests from India to France with all expenses paid. And there was much more which you can read here

Well, the Nath-Hlvaka wedding was obviously nothing on the scale of that of the Mittal one but nonetheless by the standards of Indian weddings in the US it was quite a spectacle. The wedding was held at the Bellagio in Las Vegas with 650 guests at a cost of $1.3 million. Although the bride’s family often bears the brunt of the wedding expenses, in this instance, the entire wedding was paid for by the groom’s parents who are successful entrepreneurs in Minnesota. Incidentally, the success achieved by parents, Mahendra & Asha Nath is a remarkable story in itself and illustrates why the US is called the land of opportunity – two immigrants who arrive with very little and achieve spectacular financial success. Mahendra Nath’s story appears here and makes for interesting reading.

This article about the wedding captures its highlights and includes some barbs about the ostentatious nature of the event. Here are some excerpts:

“Décor will play an important part of the event, so they’ve hired Vegas event designer Jim McCoy to bring their vision to life. Instead of an actual theme, color is the name of the game, and according to Jim, “The easiest way to achieve that in a large ballroom is with lots of fabric.” Lots and lots! They’ve ordered over 300 yards of fabric from all over the world, in various textures and colors

“Two days before the ceremony, Sara’s mom has arrived in Vegas and is being treated to a fashion show. Sara has three dresses – one for the night before, one for the ceremony, and one for the reception. All designer, natch. For her ceremony, Sara is wearing a traditional Indian two-piece garment, made by one of India’s premiere dress designers. The dress is ivory and pink silk, hand-embellished with beads, Swarovski crystals, and jewels. To give it a Western feel, a small train was added. “I feel like an Indian princess,” Sara declares. Appropriate, then, are the necklace and matching earrings that she’ll wear with it – there are large rubies and diamonds … and a $152,000 price tag. And that’s just for the ceremony! For the reception, Sara will change into a $6,000 fitted strapless Monique Lhuillier gown that also has a fishtail train. Another necklace and earring set will complete the look (and set them back a cool $60,000). The last dress will be for the mendhi and sangeet, celebrated the night before the wedding. The event color scheme is shades of blue and green, so Sara’s $10,000 hand-beaded designer Indian dress follows suit. An emerald-and-diamond earring and necklace set adds more bling, for the bargain price of $30,000. How’s this for a little perspective? Jewelry for two nights of parties: $242,000.

“There were 11 bridesmaids and 21 (hey, it’s Vegas after all) groomsmen. Their flowers alone are $5,000!

“The sangeet, the “festival of song and dance,” is like its own separate wedding. Seriously, $25K for the décor – which included an amazing ceiling treatment made from 500 yards of 12 different fabrics. An outside caterer is taking care of the food and cocktails for (the sangeet at a cost of) $190,000. After all, “Indian weddings are all about the food, so it was important to us that we have an abundance to feed everyone.

“The big day has arrived and the countdown has begun. The mandap, the ceremony canopy, like everything else, it’s over-the-top. In this case, literally. It’s being built on a stage on top of a swimming pool.”

As Robin Leach of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” explained in another article: “The altar for the wedding vows was set up in the middle of the swimming pool, which had a glass floor placed over it to hold the 21 groomsmen and 11 bridesmaids and let them all feel they were “walking on water.”

Sara has an affinity for all things sparkly, (shocker!) and the mandap certainly reflects that. Strands of tiny mirrors, Swarovski crystals, and bright fabric wrap the structure. Completing the look are 9-foot topiary trees shaped into balls of red roses. Price for the custom altar? $20,000.

“Meanwhile, the baraat is currently kicking off. This Indian custom is deeply rooted in history. If a bride lived in a different village from the groom, the whole town would walk from one village to another, dancing and singing along the way. Today, the walk may not be as long, but it’s not short in finesse. Deepak had some visions about what he wanted the baraat to look like. “It all started with a dream I had of having an elephant bring me to my wedding ceremony.” Well, no wedding is complete without an elephant to bring you to your ceremony! And it’s an expensive little ride – $5,000. Singers, dancers, and a DJ perform in the parade along the way, with family and friends joining in.”

Incidentally, according to Leach: “Tthe elephant arrived on a 65-foot trailer that was too big to fit through the Turnberry gates, so traffic had to be stopped along Paradise as it was unloaded and then walked through the gates under its own speed! Deepak mounted the elephant for the one-hour procession along the driveways to the pool where the bride was waiting at the altar.”

The wedding reception was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Bellagio which has been transformed:

“Six thousand yards of fabric hangs from the ceiling, and highlights the hand-constructed boxed “chandeliers” made from iridescent crystals and red-rose balls. Pin spot lighting makes the table centerpieces pop, and colored lighting on the columns and walls “creates Indian-fusion drama.” While awaiting the couple’s grand entrance, guests are entertained by Cirque du Soleil performers swinging from fabric and a giant hula hoop thing. Then, KABOOM! More fireworks signify that the newlyweds have arrived. They appear on the stage – Sara in her Monique Lhuillier and Deepak in a tux – to perform their first dance. As he dips her one last time and goes in for the kiss, they’re showered with sparks from yet another pyrotechnics display. The cost for this flashy display of wealth? A mere $5K.”

The evening’s feast which including plying the guests with food and drinks cost $210,000. Yes, and Deepak’s dad flew in Bollywood entertainers and a live band from India, and a DJ from New York City.

Weddings among North Indians are much more ostentatious than those in South India and especially Kerala, though even that is changing. Today in Kerala an engagement party – which used to include just the extended family and a few close friends – now involves inviting at least 500 people. The actual wedding invariably includes at least 1000 people. It has little to do with what people can afford or even whether the invitees are especially close to the family – instead it has become a status symbol where one is expected to invite a lot of people and wine and dine them.

My father said that the late Very Reverend KE Oommen, a wise and greatly respected priest – who also was the father of Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Metropolitan, the former head of the Marthoma Church – used to say that weddings should be limited to about 100 guests – 50 each from the bride’s side and the groom’s side. Rev Oommen’s point was that there were typically not more than that many people who were really genuinely interested in the welfare of the couple getting married. The rest of the attendees typically turned up either out of a sense of obligation, curiosity or just because it was a social function. I believe that he made a legitimate point.

As I reflect on the ostentatious weddings held by the Mittals and to a far lesser degree the Naths, the thought that passes my mind is what is it that causes such a display of what I view as conspicuous consumption verging on outright vulgarity? I compare it to the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of the world who are far wealthier than these individuals and yet feel that they can make best use of their wealth by donating it for charitable purposes. I once read that the Gates’ have established a trust fund for their two children of $10 million each and the rest of their net worth is being given to charity. Warren Buffet is known for his insistence that his children should fend for themselves and not count on their father’s wealth.

On the one hand, one should not begrudge those who possess great wealth from flaunting it in any way they choose but is there something askew with the notion that one needs to indulge in such ostentatious weddings to demonstrate their success and wealth?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 Responses to “Conspicuous consumption or distorted values?”

  1. saira says:

    I really enjoyed this post! Not because I would have ever wanted anything like this but it’s mind boggling the lengths that people go to for a one day affair! I hope Susannah reads this…maybe she’ll incorporates some of these ideas into her wedding 🙂 ha ha!

  2. TJ says:

    Well, let’s hope the marriage lasts – given the stats for divorces in the US!

    But here is the other side of the coin we heard about a few days ago: there is this second generation Indian-American guy who is an investment banker. He is getting married to an Indian-American woman in a few months and the entire wedding is being planned – and presumably financed by the couple. What is remarkable is that he “invited” his parents to the wedding and told them that they could, in turn, invite a maximum of 15 of their friends!! Presumably the bride has issued a similar restriction on her parents and how many of their friends can be invited!

    I don’t think it is a financial constraint because the groom’s parents have the means to finance the wedding if it were necessary. I think it is more a case of the couple wanting for the wedding to be limited in size without a lot of guests – the parents’ social circle – being invited just as a matter of protocol.

  3. shefali says:

    Lets be honest – she married him for his money. His parents will probably not like her bc she is doesnt have the indian values. They will divorce and try to take him and his parents for everything they are worth.

  4. TJ says:

    Realistically, the money may have been a factor. But not knowing her, I’d rather give her the benefit of the doubt.

    As to what the future holds in store for the couple, I wish them well. It will be interesting to see what happens. I would hope that there is some sort of pre-nup in place given that half of all marriages in the US, according to the stats, end up in divorce.

  5. Sara (Hlavka) Nath says:

    Well, I do have to say that was one very interesting blog about my wedding. There are many things that people will assume after watching a 30 minute show on t.v.:

    1- I married him for his money.
    : I like the faith people have in marriage and what it stands for(insert sarcasm here). I was raised with very deep marriage values and understand what it means and entails and do not believe in divorce.
    2- His parents don’t like me because I don’t hold the same religous beliefs.
    : I am a very spiritual person and do like to learn and understand other people’s beliefs. I am soo grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn about the Hindu religion. I do go to the temple quite often and pray to my hindu deity.
    3- His parents could have used the money in a better way.
    : His parents have many foundations which they are proud of starting and contributing to. They are some of the most selfless people I have ever met.

    I would like to say again how much I enjoyed your blog. It just goes to show that sometimes maybe people really need to take time and not judge right away what a person really stands for.

    P.S. The reason we did the show was to show that show that you really could bring two cultures together and have a beautiful wedding.

  6. TJ says:

    Sara, let me first say that I wish you and Deepak the very best. I hope you have a long and happy marriage.

    I caught only half the program on TV and it intrigued me enough to google your names and picked up on the additional information about the wedding that I posted. I did not know about the charitable foundations your in-laws had set up otherwise, out of a sense of fairness, I’d have mentioned it in the post. What they have managed to achieve as immigrants to the US is remarkable.

    But like I said, ostentatious Indian weddings are a bit of pet peeve of mine. A marriage is a celebration of a union between two people. The families of the people involved rightly wish to celebrate the occasion. As the wise old priest I mentioned in the blog used to say, the number of people really concerned about the welfare of the couple are limited in number. The rest are on-lookers whose reasons for attendance range from a sense of social obligation to, perhaps, just curiosity.

    My niece, currently working on her PhD at Oxford University, got married in Ireland and the entire wedding cost less than $2,000. She did not want anything more elaborate – and it was certainly not an issue of money. There were less than 50 people present! But the people who attended, I would venture to say, were genuine well-wishers The actual ceremony was held in the backyard of her in-laws’ house! They all went to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. Different strokes………..

    Thanks for your gracious comments – and, again, I wish you only the best in the future.

  7. Patricia Savino says:

    Greetings To You Both!

    I read your blog as we have been extremely busy here with our many goings on (I will email separately to you T & K).

    As an only child, my parents gave my husband and I a lovely wedding. A band that now plays in Vegas, a beautiful cake and a lovely wedding dress with hand-sewn pearls on it. The reception was a lovely party with all of the 250 guests whom many had come from afar in attendance. (Because we knew so many people and had so many good friends.) It was a wonderful beautiful day.

    Now for the best reason of the beautiful day. I married the best man in the world. One whom God, in his infinite wisdom and maybe in consult with any of the other deity with him in heaven, picked for me, above all others. That was 28 1/2 years ago.

    He’s my best friend, my giggle partner (yes Tom, he does giggle well it’s a chuckle but you know what I mean), and my “go to” person when I need an opinion that I value above all others. My rock, my attitude of stability in a wound-up crazy world.

    Looking back on all the places we’ve lived, thanks to a very good career for my husband and a few very good people we know which have included many people whom we can call our friends, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not how many times we moved and the reasons for doing so, for at the time it helped many people and many families which was a great satisfaction to us both; even now when we speak of it to each other. It also gave us a better perspective on our life now, our marriage now, and the many people from other countries whom we call friends whom have enriched our lives.

    Hopefully the couple of which you wrote about and the new bride who so graciously wrote on your blog, will have many many more happy years.

    With the people we know whom have foundations and the other people we know who are now starting other foundations, the mentality and concern for others is always paramount in their ideals for doing so.

    This type of thought process may just work for this new couple as they start out their journey. If they approach each other with the right attitude and love the other person more than themselves, the will have a happy and long marriage.

    Again, our best to you both…
    P & M

  8. TJ says:

    A pleasant surprise hearing from you, Pat!

    Yes indeed, your partner and best friend is as good and decent a person as one could ever find – and this is not an idle comment. I came to know him well, as you know, when we worked together. His integrity was beyond question and I trusted him implicitly – and this is quite apart from his professional competence.

    Your comments are a great testimony to the institution of marriage and what you both have accomplished in your relationship.

    Warm regards to you both.

  9. Saundra Sangiuliano says:

    Dear Sara Nath, I am so glad you did the wedding show. Thank you for allowing the public to have a glimpse to your very special wedding ceremony, that is not easy to do. It was beautiful. Since I doubt I will ever be invited to anything so fun and wonderful, nor do I expect to be married with such an incredible ceremony – I really enjoyed being a “part” of it through tv. i especially LOVED the wedding dresses (the emerald green one is my favorite!). It was fun to watch and to see you and your husband enjoy a special few days with your friends and loved ones. Many Blessings to you & Deepak! Sincerely, Saundra

  10. wedding music bands says:

    Thank you very much for the comments. I go along with practically every thing you brought up. Thanks again

  11. AT says:

    Nice blog post. I agree. Weddings should be a celebration of the commitment between a couple, but not a circus show!

    I’m an African American woman planning a Hindu wedding with my Indian partner in Las Vegas. I would say the both Indian and Americans are encouraged by a culture of over-consumption and the idea of the fairy tale. The average U.S. wedding is at about 26k, yet most people can’t really afford this. Instead, they start their married life with added debt instead of staying within their means. I understand it is a challenge to keep cost down when most things wedding related are mark-up and over-priced, but it can be done.

    Best wishes to all!

  12. […] lasting several days with multiple ceremonies and festivities. My personal preference as I wrote in another blog entry is for the simpler version and the Nair ceremony was the epitome of simplicity both when it came to […]

  13. TJ says:

    AT, thanks for your comments. I am glad that you agree with the general thrust of my post.

    Good luck to you in your marriage.

  14. site says:

    Thank you, I’ve just been searching for information about this topic for a long time and yours is the greatest I’ve came upon till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you positive about the source?

  15. Moises says:

    iołka. Zakończenie. Oraz w tamttym czasie Korzystna maszyny.

    raptownie ziemia eksplodował. Frodo poczuł Strona o budowaniu (Moises) w ustach gust

    posoki, cokolwiek ciężkiego uderzyło ggo w latarnię.

    Połyskujący płomyk natomiast egipskie ciemności. Znakomitość rozcinał
    taśmę, nie bardzo subtelnie odrywając

    od czasu piłce bezprzykładne pasma, Frodo poczuł na
    wargach czucie plastiku, Zakrztusił

    się palącym płynem.

    Wagner ulżył mu przykucnąć, wcisnął w rąsię płaską manierkę, Wid.

  16. JC says:

    Are they still married?

  17. rob says:

    She definitely married him for the money like who is she kidding lol

  18. rob says:

    Hopefully his parents don’t give him their money or she’s going to take it all but I’m sure his parents aren’t that dumb
    Like come on isn’t it obvious? He’s so ugly you think if he wasn’t rich she would marry him, like he is stand out ugly and she’s is opposite lol

  19. Sam says:

    People should leave these two alone. It was a beautiful wedding. I may not be so into such massive weddings myself as I don’t feel you can even talk to everyone, it’s what they wanted, and they had the means to do it. Guys like Rob are just jealous losers. Both the groom and bride are attractive people, and they seem happy

  20. Kirsten Khan says:

    Yes they are still married and have two beautiful little girls. I had the privilege to work for Deepak’s father years ago and he is a wonderful, caring warm hearted person. These qualities have been passed to his son, daughter and extended family. Don’t always judge what you don’t know.

  21. Lynn says:

    God bless your family… your girls have loving parents, grandparents, and auntie/uncle. Your love is forever. Weddings of any size are not what matters it is the marriage commitment blessings and that is priceless.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>