Bande à part
Text: Asha Rani Mathur
Each year the Indian wedding seems to get bigger, fatter, greater. At the upper end it has billowed into an industry whose worth in October 2014 was estimated at Rs 2.5 lakh crore a year, and growing at the rate of approximately 25%per annum. While these statistics inspire open-mouthed awe, the fine print tells you of sumptuous amounts spent on destination weddings, florists, wedding planners, food and décor, gold.
But other than the jingle of money, if there is one sound associated with weddings it is the faintly hoarse and brass-heavy music of the wedding band. Here is a group of musicians without whom a wedding remains incomplete. On particularly auspicious days more than 10,000 weddings take place in the city of Delhi alone.
But who are these musicians, whose job is to be perpetual celebrants on behalf of other people, and to stimulate the members of the baraat into frenzied dance with vibrant percussion and the latest film hits? Their duty stops at the entrance gate: what lies beyond — cold drinks or French champagne, marigolds or orchids from Thailand, budget or billionaire — are luxuries that they can never afford. Are they bitter when they compare the vast amounts of money being flung around with the meager amounts they take home? What happens in between marriage “seasons”? Do they shed identities with their brilliantly coloured uniforms and gilt epaulettes? How do they celebrate their own joys? Is there a hidden music behind their own “unsung lives”?
In this photographic exhibition, “Bajaatey Raho”, the camera’s gaze turns to the men who make up the wedding band; from north to south, west to east, it looks within their lives in search of answers to these questions even as it asks others. The gaze is both deeply empathetic as well insightful. Perhaps all the questions cannot be answered, and perhaps many will be, through the human nuances and shades captured by the camera.