‘It’s a total disaster’: Omicron devastates India’s huge wedding season | India
youUntil December 28, Heena Vashisht was a happy bride-to-be. The 28-year-old was thrilled that her family put all the arrangements in place early for her wedding on February 10, until the last candle. But his plans were shredded by Omicron’s surge of India. The nuptials can go ahead in New Delhi as planned, but only if it reduces its guest list from 650 to 20.
“My own immediate family is 80 years old. How can I reduce the number of guests to 20? The tension in my family is unbearable right now. No one knows what to do and my mother’s blood pressure has skyrocketed with all the strain,” Vashisht says.
With India’s third wave led by Omicron firmly underway, the New Delhi government has, in addition to other restrictions, limited wedding guests to 20, dealing a blow to India’s traditional wedding season, which extends from November to March.
Thousands of families are in the same agony of uncertainty as Vashisht, with most arrangements paid for, in whole or in part.
Vashisht’s father fully paid for the hall at Tivoli Farms on the outskirts of town. “I wanted to be ready for every little thing, so everything was decided and the advances paid. When I ask about rescheduling the date, all the sellers say if I do, they might not be able to do it for the same price,” Vashisht says.
In pre-pandemic times, some weekends in December could see more than 20,000 weddings take place in the capital in a single day, choking the roads with traffic. It is during this period of November-March that the industry earns the bulk of its money because the weather is more temperate.
Before the last wave, when cases were almost absurdly low, pandemic fatigue had resulted in even splashier and more luxurious than normal “revenge weddings”. November was filled with destination weddings: after two years of little to no travel, people wanted to hang out in another city.
“You can’t celebrate with 20 people”
Industry suppliers are also facing crippling losses. Its earnings were previously estimated at around $50 billion and New Delhi is one of the biggest wedding markets. On a single “auspicious” day – November 14 – around 5,000 weddings took place in the city as the industry sought to recover. Flights to honeymoon destinations such as Goa tinkled to the sound of brides wearing their traditional red wedding bracelets on both arms.
Rajeev Jain, chief executive of event management company Rashi Entertainment, believes the industry is an “easy target” for coronavirus restrictions. Employees at most sites and vendors are fully vaccinated, he says. The industry, he said, had taken every precaution because otherwise it would “die its own death” and all the government has to do is insist that all guests be vaccinated.
Abhishek Mishra, co-founder of Seasons Catering, agrees, saying crowds at airports and train stations are much larger than at weddings. “I was at Indore airport the other day and there was barely room to stand. Election rallies are held with tens of thousands in attendance. but no, marriages should be annulled,” says Mishra.
Mishra’s phone rang with distraught families asking for refunds. Some have been waiting for more than 18 months to have a marriage without pandemic restrictions. He intends to give the refunds due to their distress and “for the good of our reputation”. It must also pay the salaries of hundreds of permanent and casual employees.
“It’s a total disaster. There are hundreds of small vendors involved in a wedding. They are not able to absorb the losses,” he said.
Another couple, who did not want to be identified, were due to fly to New Delhi from London for the big day on January 23. More than 500 guests were going to party by the swimming pool of a five-star hotel. Except for the flowers, hefty advances had been paid for most things – the caterers, the DJ, an entire wing of the hotel, the decorations, the outfits.
“Everyone had booked their flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, photographer, band, everything. We postponed it indefinitely because you can’t have a wedding with 20 people,” explains the future bride.
India has been enjoying a boom since June. As recently as November, the capital of 20 million people was recording just 35 to 45 new infections a day. But with Omicron fueling a sudden surge, the government reimposed restrictions. India is recording around 258,000 cases a day nationwide, with New Delhi recording 18,286 cases on Sunday.
Sahiba Puri of XO Catering by Design in Delhi understands the need for the restrictions but has no idea what to do with the cooks who have come from different parts of India for a pre-wedding function over the weekend -end.
“The bride’s family wanted to provide guests with all kinds of regional cuisines, so these cooks came and bought so many ingredients. Where are they going? They pay rent for where they are staying and other expenses,” says Puri.
As the industry watches another disaster, Mishra and others plan to ask the government to relax the 20-guest rule. The All Indian Traders Confederation has also written to the government asking for a relaxation.
However, given the current surge in cases, any easing is unlikely. Arnav Gupta, wedding card printer, says: “Everyone is so haunted by the brutal second wave that no politician will take the slightest risk.
Vashisht decided she could not rescind the invitation of 630 guests. She has no choice but to postpone, but planning a later date also proves impossible. “Who knows when this wave will end? It’s just started. Am I tentatively looking at a date in March? April? Can? I mean, who knows? This limbo is killing me.