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As the concept of the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ hangs by a thread, we asked wedding designer and consultant Devika Narain to give us her take on the future of Indian weddings in 2020.

I’ve fallen into a schedule these days of a life I never believed was possible for me. The day starts later than usual, something that doesn’t bother me all that much. A glass of warm water with honey and a few drops of lemon is followed by a crisp cup of coffee, and I sit and admire my newly acquired plants. The next few hours are spent watering them, cleaning, feeding my sourdough starter and pottering about the house in almost a ritualistic sort of the way. By early afternoon, I am on my desk, and it is here that it finds me today, completing 60 days in this lockdown.

The past two months have been the alternate universe we always spoke about, the worst-case scenario in anyone’s dream plan, a ‘Black Mirror’ episode, the cog of uncertainty, the one our life and business should have been prepared for. And it is here that I sit and think about the future of the things I love — family, celebrations, and my work

Weddings in the pandemic

May has seen people coming together in unique ways – an Indian couple got married over Zoom, dressed in all their finery; a couple drove to the hills near their house and got a friend to officiate them. And Elaine Welteroth got married, in perhaps, the wedding of this year, on the street outside her house in Brooklyn. While most of these weddings may not be our traditional affairs, the one thing they have made clear is that love will not be cancelled! 

Weddings in India have always been a reflection of the times. Books have been written on the extravagance of Indian maharajas. There is a story of a certain maharani who bought out Cartier’s entire collection for her dowry. The 60s gave way to government-monitored weddings that were frugal, a post-war world where the number of guests and dishes were rationed by the state. The 2000s tell stories of opulent destination weddings — entire towns on a standstill for the passing of a baraat and of chefs flown in from Italy to prepare a single meal.

Mindful weddings, conscious questioning

While our collective histories have been marked by grand weddings, never has the world seen the weddings that are to come — the current pandemic is leading into an era of what I call “mindful weddings”. The future of Indian weddings will have a beautiful, eloquent pause to the excesses that had begun to be associated with ‘Big fat Indian wedding’. The most significant cultural shift that weddings have seen in the past few years is that an increasing number of people are becoming more conscious of what they want out of their big day. From a place where no expense or thought was spared, now, I see brides and grooms asking more thoughtful questions about costings, sustainability, and local ideas. Decisions are taken mindfully — quality over quantity in the future, and maybe less theatrics and more consciousness.

Here are the shifts I see happening in Indian weddings in 2020. 

Design will pave the way

In light of the current pandemic, I’m certain that good design will pave the way, with beautiful, efficient, sustainable solutions to retain the sanctity of our celebrations. Now more than ever, the role of the designer will be the most important. From being curators and stylists, they will be the flagbearers in finding answers to the concerns that COVID-19 will throw at us. Our team is already working on ideas to implement basic hygiene and social distancing in large gatherings.

A focus on local, with craft at the centre

I grew up in a city where things are made with love — the karigar (or maker) was the artist who spent hours perfecting that one booti, outlining it in chalk, hand-embroidering it through the night and then bringing it to our home to showcase proudly, his work of art. This time of introspection has brought about a new appreciation and nationalistic pride for what is ours. Art, craft and with it the humble karigar will take centrestage in the Indian weddings of the future, as we look to innovate. At Devika Narain & Company, we always believed the local is far more beautiful. We have designed multiple weddings where everything has been sourced from within a 100 kilometres of the venue — stories told through the language of art and craft.

The time for sustainability is now

Last year, we decided to do something radical that forced us to relook at the processes we use at a wedding. A couple wanted their wedding to be unique with the least amount of waste and wanted to make the most of their hotel property in Jaipur. What began from there was an adventure which led us to question where things come from and where they go at the end of a function.

We worked with small businesses and local craftsmen to create every single detail of the wedding, and each element used in the design was locally sourced. With the help of the family, we grew all the flowers and ingredients for the food. Almost no plastic was used, and paper in all forms had a seed that could be planted. In fact, all the fabric has been recycled to create uniforms for the kids in the village or linen for the hotel. There is a sense that sustainability cannot adapt to scale and we decided to prove this wrong by implementing some basic sustainable ideas for this 3,000-guest wedding.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is one of the many externalities of climate change, and that is bound to make us relook at the way we have been living so far. In the years to come, there will be a strong focus on using ethically-sourced and recyclable products. And honestly, this is far more economically viable than shipping flowers and décor.

Quality over quantity

Back in the day, post the India-Pakistan war, frugal weddings became a government mandate. There was a limit to the number of weddings, spend on a wedding, and even the number of dishes allowed to be served (four, we heard!) at a wedding. This current pandemic will evolve in a newfound marriage between minimalism and maximalism. In the future of Indian weddings, there will be multiple functions at one wedding, with fewer guests at each function, leading to an emphasis on quality. For example, there may be fewer dishes on the menu, but each one will be exquisite — only the absolute best that money can buy will transcend to the guests, décor, and clothing. After all, you wouldn’t settle for anything less for your favourite people, right?

The future of weddings

The wedding evolution that we are entering is almost a sort of a revolution that will require all of us to question the very things that felt ‘normal’ till a hundred days ago. It’s creeping in slowly, like designers matching face masks to lehengas, the slow demise of lip colour, beautiful sanitizer bottles, and intimate guest lists. But it’s the larger picture that thrills me — locally-sourced, India-proud, craft and art-centric weddings that celebrate the spirit of India and bring back that element of fun that has always been associated with weddings.

All images: Devika Narain

Devika Narain

Devika Narain is a wedding designer exploring design in many forms – from interior design and weddings, to the the art of creative and efficient living. A wedding designer + consultant, Devika Narain and Company was born on the dining table of a small rented apartment with the simple goal of creating spaces that were personal and uniquely Indian. Today, her team of young designers work with local artisans and craftsmen to tell personal histories through spaces and celebrate the heritage of the Indian subcontinent with a modern sensibility.