Each time I visit India I am stunned by the country’s opulence and its unimaginable poverty on display for all to see. Perhaps it may be fair to say that India truly is a land of peacocks and beggars. However, what’s been jarring to me in recent trips is the emergence of a voracious consumer society. People are ostentatious about their wealth, worshipping unapologetically at the altar of consumerism. Yes, once upon a time, as Indians, we criticized America for its crass materialism, but India today is as materialistic a nation as you will ever find.
A poignant example of consumerism is the lavish wedding that entails multiple parties and goes on for days. On a personal level, these strike me as the most obvious examples of excess. I say this because one ends up meeting the same people (more or less) over and over and eating one rich meal after another. I have forgotten the number of times I have heard my friends groan at the thought of having to attend yet another wedding-related reception or party. It’s not that they don’t want to celebrate a happy occasion, but these affairs have become overwhelming.
On the other hand, it is natural for the citizenry to want to participate in the country’s stunning prosperity and acquire the accoutrements of a wealthy lifestyle for themselves. Even so, I have wondered why they can’t do their celebrating with a little more sensitivity to society as a whole.
So here is a modest proposal.
Each time one of us plans a big wedding; can we set aside 5 – 10% of the total cost of the wedding for a charitable cause? One fewer party per wedding could add up to significant improvements in the lives of the millions that live in desperation within a stone’s throw of all the opulence.
One family might, for example, decide to redirect a portion of their wedding budget to the education of children in underserved areas, to providing beds for a hospital in a rural area, or to the repair of a village well. The choice is individual, but the underlying principle of celebrating one’s good fortune while sharing with others remains the same. So, why not spread the joy and help set a higher standard for the nation?
That one party we give up won’t be missed. But those hospital beds, that well providing water for a whole village—they have the power to transform lives. And isn’t that a whole lot more rewarding than eating and dancing through yet another night?
– by Meera Kumar