November 8, late evening, Darjeeling. Wedding preparations are in full swing in the Agarwal household. Hunched around the bed, all four family members are busy stuffing money in envelopes—to be given to the extended family and in-laws in the soon-to-begin functions. Just then, a flurry of news alerts on their phones inform them that five hundred and thousand rupee notes are junk from now on. The festivities abruptly cease. They are in a huddle again, this time to figure out what to do with all that cash. The next day, the groom, Ritesh Agarwal, his thoughts of a honeymoon in Bali rudely interrupted, is queuing up at his local bank branch.
Best-laid marriage plans have gone kaput, parents of brides and grooms are in a tizzy and the just-begun great Indian wedding season all over the country is on the rocks. “Less than a month away from the wedding, when all the payments have to be made, we are in a fix,” says bride-to-be Dhwani Sheth, a psychologist in Kolkata. She says the Rs 2.5 lakh withdrawal scheme for people who can prove there is a wedding in the family is too little. She has had to cancel the extravagant ‘varmala’ she had planned, and bits of the sangeet that required spending money on a choreographer. Ankita Bhargava, who is getting married next week in Mumbai, has sent out regret e-cards to half the guests. “Many of our clients are even opting for more intimate weddings at home,” says Mehak Sagar, of Wed Me Good, a meeting place for wedding vendors and customers. Rishabh Sood, founder of Candid Tales Company, which specialises in wedding photography, says: “A client has shifted their wedding from early next year to December in the hope that they will then have the wedding of their dreams.” But for weddings that are round the corner, like Neha Singhal’s in Darjeeling, postponing is out of the question. What’s more, in a small town like hers, she can’t even access her own money as the bank coffers are virtually empty.
Service providers too are having it rough. “Business is down by 60 per cent,” says Hemant Bayana, director of Mantra Events, an event management firm. “We have had cancellations for many wedding,” he says. Most service providers work with daily wagers, who need to be paid in cash. “For any catering event, we have to employ labourers and buy ingredients. The cash crunch has rendered it virtually impossible for us to service orders,” says Manoj Kumar of Royal Caterers, Delhi.
Florists have close to no business at all. “Flowers seem like a waste of money to most people right now,” says Divya Chauhan, co-founder of Divya-Vithika Wedding Planners, Bengaluru. Neeraj Gupta of Sri Sai Florist also has no work. “We have no orders, and aren’t expecting any,” he says. The baraat bands and the fireworks industry too have been badly hit. “We have very few bookings, and are receiving payments in cheque, but depositing them and then withdrawing the money is quite an ordeal given the crowd at the banks,” says P.S. Sahni, owner of Raja Band. Maheshwar Srivastav of Majestic Fireworks says a double-whammy has hit his trade. “First the ban because of pollution, and now order cancellations because no one wants the added expense of fireworks. It’s a season of losses,” he says. Even the few lucky wedding service providers who have orders are struggling to break even. “We have advance bookings for which we have received partial payment. We hope to receive the rest in delayed installments,” says Puneet Luthra of Luthra Tents and Catering.
For families or the industry, this year’s wedding season is hardly balle, balle.