No band, no baaja and certainly no baraat. Dreams of a big fat Indian wedding have faded into the far distance for many a couple who have had to cancel, postpone or downsize their celebrations to the barest minimum. Like for 26-year-old Delhi boy Harshad Khurana who was all set for the wedding he had always dreamed of on April 8 and now doesn't know what to do. The venue was fixed, theme decided, the cards distributed and his suit stitched too.
The threat of COVID-19 started as a little blip before blowing up into a huge cloud of dread and a nationwide lockdown from March 24, ending his hopes for a grand once-in-a-lifetime celebration. After a day's ‘Janta curfew’ on March 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a three-week lockdown.
"Who had expected this? There is very little that we can say or do now... hope everything becomes normal soon. Our last resort will be a truncated function with close family members only," Khurana, a PR professional, told PTI. But that would be minus extended family, no cousins and possibly not even grandparents, and what is a wedding without them.
"You know I also joined a gym to get in shape for the special day, but it was all for nothing," he said dejectedly. Khurana is not alone. The entire D-Day drill – with months spent on zeroing-in on the menu, haggling over the price of the venue, preparing guest lists, whitewashing the whole house, picking the right jewellery and clothes -- has come to naught.
Vipul Verma, 38, was set to get married on April 12. The compulsion of a limited gathering and that too without his brother who can't leave Australia due to travel restrictions has led to Verma cancelling his wedding – at least for now. Particular about 'auspicious dates', Priya Malik has eventually accepted the inevitable and pushed her wedding from April to November-December.
"All of us felt it's better to be safe than sorry, and so decided to postpone the wedding date. We have to call up all our guests and inform them about the postponement date, which is both embarrassing and exhaustive. "We have made advance payments to so many pre-wedding planners and are not sure if the money will get refunded,” said the 26-year-old IT professional.
COVID-19 alarm bells have drowned out the sound of wedding bells and also the clink of the cash registers for businesses dependent on the wedding industry -- wedding planners, banquet owners, bands, florists, photographers and salons. India's wedding market, pegged at $50 billion by a recent KPMG report, has been badly disrupted due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, said industry insiders. In the Indian way of things, families, poor and rich, save up for a lifetime to spend on weddings that can run into several lakhs and even crores of rupees.
"The business has taken a serious hit due to the spread of the coronavirus. I have lost count of the calls we have received for postponing and cancelling bookings. For April, we had 20-25 bookings, almost one a day, and there is a big question mark on whether those will happen or not, " said Anmol Bummi, manager at the Golden Gates banquet in west Delhi in Mayapuri.
Several wedding planners and catering units, like Cosmic Lights Entertainment and Kitchen Kraft Luxury Catering, said the business will take a long time to recover.
“March-April have always been good for the wedding business and there were a lot of bookings this year too. But everything changed after coronavirus burst into the picture. Be it a destination wedding or routine functions here in the capital, all have been either cancelled or postponed," said Raina Kapoor, founder of Cosmic Light Entertainment, a popular wedding planning company.
"In fact, the few functions we organised in March saw such low turnout that we had to advise people to not go ahead with their weddings,” she said. Salons and parlours, which in normal times, would have seen brides and bridesmaids making a beeline for their bridal packages -- even at exorbitant price – are also bearing the brunt.
Until a few weeks ago, Neeti Chopra, owner of the Unwind salon in Saket, was busy booking appointments for April.
“From the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, our salons were following all kinds of precautions, including using gloves and hand sanitisers. We thought things would become normal soon. But then one day the advisory was issued that all parlours had to shut,” she said. The number of novel coronavirus cases in India rose to 1,071 on Monday. This includes 29 deaths.