As the sun appears in the horizons of a picturesque hamlet of center Kashmirâ€™s Ganderbal district, faint sound of Kashmiri folk songs could be heard from a bourgeois house. A small group of masked women had been singing throughout the night.Â Â
Rumysa Jan, a girl in her early 20s will walk down the aisle with Owais Ahmad Shah later today. She is youngest of the four sisters. Her marriage is the last in the family from her generation. Her mother, Tahira Bano, a class IV employee at a local government school has been saving money for Rumysaâ€™s wedding after marrying off her elder daughters.Â
The two families had postponed the wedding last year because of the Covid-19 restrictions. But as the pandemic showed no signs of abating this year too, they settled for a small ceremony with the attendance of immediate family members and few neighbours.Â
â€œRumysa is my youngest child. I had always dreamed about her wedding. I wanted her wedding to be the best. We had scheduled the wedding last year but due to the Covid-19 pandemic we were forced to postpone it,â€ said Tahira Bano.Â
â€œGiven the unfortunate turn of events this year too; owing to the second wave of Covid-19, we decided to downsize the wedding to a small celebration with a gathering of around 25 people,â€ she added.
Like in case of Tahira, many families have either postponed or settled for a minimal celebration. Wedding ceremonies these days require prior permission from the authorities, and limits on the number of guests and physical distancing rules are mandatory. As per guidelines issued by the J&K administration, only 25 guests are allowed to attend any marriage function.Â
Normally, hundreds of guests are invited to a middle-class Kashmiri wedding that lasts for at least two days. However, due to the prevailing situation, such big and fat weddings have been replaced by simple gatherings.
Unlike her mother, Rumysa has a totally different take on it. She believes that weddings during Covid-19 are a blessing in disguise. â€œEveryone dreams of their wedding being one of a kind but not me. Iâ€™ve witnessed my sistersâ€™ wedding; my parents took loan for them, part of which they are yet to pay off. I never wanted to be a burden to my parents.Â
â€œCovid-19 related regulations on weddings are godsend to people who canâ€™t afford expensive marriage ceremonies.â€ she said.
While weddings these days are witnessing fewer extravaganzas, the pandemic has jeopardized some cultural moorings related to weddings in Kashmir. In order to keep the social distancing norms in check, the traditional â€˜Trami cultureâ€™- where four people share a single large copper plate while having wazwan, has been replaced by an individual normal size plate.
â€œI attended my cousinâ€™s wedding few weeks back. We were served in a normal copper utensil. As I took the first morsel, I could feel the difference. The wazwaan did not taste the same as it does in Trami. I hope the pandemic takes away this new norm with it,â€ said Mudasir Bhatt.
The wazasâ€™ (chefs) traditional white khaki kurta- they wear while serving wazwan has been replaced by PPE kits. The chefs put on the PPE while serving the guests to reduce the risk of contamination. With a PPE Kit costing more than 1000 rupees, some folks see this as an addition to the expenditure.Â
The pandemic has also severely impacted the livelihood of people associated with the wedding Industry. The consistent disruption because of three consecutive lockdowns since the central government revoked Article 370, which gave special constitutional status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, has choked the Industry.Â
In Lalbazar area of Srinagar, the streets wear a deserted look during weekend corona curfew. Azad Ahmad Shah, 55, sits outside his locked shop every day, as he feels customers might come and he should be present to deal with them.Â
Ahmad owns a small shop of wedding equipment supplies and rentals. The shop deals with Saiban (marquee) - which are pitched in lawns to host the guests, decoration matting and wedding related furniture. The shop is the lone source of income for a family of four.Â He now finds it hard to have ends meet since past three years.
â€œBecause of small intimate wedding trend in Kashmir due to back-to-back lockdowns, people like me who are directly dependent on wedding industry are living in difficult times. Earlier people had to book saibans months ahead of the ceremony. We used to be so busy in wedding seasons and now months pass but we donâ€™t see any customers,â€ Ahmad said.
He has now slowly started to convert his shop to electrical one where he now sells cables, sockets, fuse boxes etcâ€¦
Mutton suppliers, make-up artists, jewelers, wedding wear outlets have also seen their business slump due to the no-frills wedding ceremonies after imposition of Covid-19 related regulations on weddings.
Essar Batool, a renowned social worker from Kashmir, while talking about the trend of intimate weddings in Kashmir said, â€œI would prefer the downsizing to be in the pomp and show. More often than not it's not about how many guests people have but about the endless wazwan, extravagance, irrational customs and new trends of the elite that all lead to the middle class following it and the lesser privileged class grappling with resources to provide one-fourth of such a wedding.
â€œThe extravagance has come to be accepted as a norm unfortunately creating unnecessary hurdles for those who can't afford it. Even in our religion it's not about the guests but the simplicity. People can serve a 4 course dish to 400 people but here instead we have a 30 course wazwan for the same number,â€ she added.