In place of roses, I kept brocade masks. In place of mouth fresheners which everyone would usually dig in with their fingers, I was to keep sanitisers. While planning a family wedding during COVID, two things are top of one’s mind. First: one should celebrate, but from a distance. Two: one should make everything beautiful, joyful, colourful—and untouchable.
Being in charge of the décor – flowers, lights, perfumes, diyas and little cards of memories, for a mad second I wondered if I should put a little grill around everything. Like the grills people erect around ledges to keep pigeons out, or the cool-but-stern fibre-glass partitions in museums. Weddings are a celebration and a union, but also a spectacle of taste and touch. You attend a wedding and admire someone’s brocade, run your hands through flowers, sniff some of the aromatherapy and pick up an idle genda phool mala to put in your hair. Kids run like a whirlwind through everything – getting food on their sherwanis, which some kind soul will then wipe off; even if the kid is not theirs. There’s laughter, tears, fights, good-natured elbowing and warm embracing.
But it’s been a year of COVID. People have pushed forward travel plans, meeting plans, and marriage plans. Many people I know are going forward with simpler, more intimate weddings, because they feel waiting another year will be bad luck. And though the pandemic itself has been a long spell of misfortune and financial loss, nothing seems to be worse than surrendering one’s life for all foreseeable time to come for it. We may be able to get back to normal life next year, but for this one, a small celebration seems like a baby step forward.
I had spent the evening trying to convince my grandmother that when she met her brother – who lived in another city – she should not hug him at the wedding venue. We had spent days keeping the invitee list as whittled down as possible, then sending apologies to all those we would not invite. We had made different arrangements for entries and exit points, and placed chairs seven feet apart. It was like a traffic management and disaster management plan for baaratis. This year, ‘return gifts’ would be masks, not selfies or laddoos handed to each other.
When the world is in crisis together – events that happen once in a lifetime, usually—one holds on to celebrations like they are little diyas to tide over the darkness. While drawing up lists of things to get, I surmise that this must be the first time in our generation’s history that we are spending more time in preventing catastrophe than in actual ritual.
While recently at a restaurant, I was served a thin, fragile menu and food in disposable containers. The ragged menu was at odds with the otherwise impeccable place. The way people are planning events now are twofold – either by creating lines of disposable things to use; or by curating things that can sustain a hard, long wash, a spell in the sun and masses of sanitizing spray, so that it no longer carries germs.
I’d go with the latter. If the pandemic continues well into 2021, we all need to plan our lives with things we can easily sun, wash and use, repeatedly – for more than a year at a stretch. This would also mean throwing away plastic containers that are not food grade (and would break down with sun exposure).
Back to the question of the flowers: if there are flowers, how do we stop people from touching them? Do we allow flower-sellers to decorate the house or should we do it ourselves? Do we keep any things that people will be tempted to pick up or run their hands through at all? How do we remind people to smile only inside their masks, and to only see, not touch? To feel, but not really to share?
In the end, a hard decision was made. The flowers would be bought. Then, they would be washed in soap. Then, they would be refrigerated for a day. Then, they would be put up. By me alone.
If the flowers can come out looking like a million bucks after this, that’s one win for all of us.
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