Autumn in Kashmir is famous for two things – the pleasant weather and the grand feasts. The heat dies down and a golden aura by blazing chinars fills empty spaces. In the evenings you can find motorcades following adorned cars meant for brides and grooms. The ambience is magical, environs are soothing and the ceremonious mood is further refined by chants and songs that are the stylemarks of weddings in Kashmir. In the late evening someone or the other dressed in a nice suit can be seen making way to home, carrying part of the sumptuous feast wrapped in a tetra pak and covered in a polythene bag. This last part has always been marred by controversies like unnecessary customs, marriage extravaganzas, guest control and blah blah…. I have written before also on the details of that experience in Kashmir’s wedding season, the grand feast. Two things have changed over the years. One is the extravaganza on which even the government had to chip in on several occasions and the other is the environment that seems to be no one’s headache in the Wazwan bash.
Kashmir’s wazwan is believed to have travelled all the way from Central Asia, courtesy the Muslim kings who were particular about culinary taste and culture. There is no doubt on it and it is almost established that wazwan had originally six dishes. The story from six dishes to sixteen is interesting in its own way as it depicts the sociology and economy of the people, of Kashmiris that have changed in the three to four decades. To flaunt the social and economic position, lot of variety has been added in the great wedding feasts. From mushrooms to different kinds of kebabs, chutneys and newfound dishes – the menu has been increasing in both variety and quantity. The grooms reception or baraat wazwan has been breaking records now and then. It is taken for granted that four persons in a baraat cannot eat as much as they are served. Therefore, polythene bags, and separate bags for these polythene bags that eventually make it to the car dashboard are in vogue. Many people in the party don’t even know what an appetizer is or what it does. They are focused on one thing – eat, and it doesn’t need any reason.
Where there is sociology and economics, there is politics. The government, under pressure from certain quarters, have tried to put an end to the pomp and show, but without tasting the victory. Under Guest Control law, the government tried to ban the wazwan and wedding experience that had become uncontrollable like cancer. Some people thought that policemen might drop by when they are chewing the meat and even check their bags. But nothing of that sort happened. Even the head wazas were afraid that there might be an inspection of the large cauldrons. Nothing has changed on that front. People are incorrigible on both counts – sheer display of their status or economic standing and their insatiable appetite to eat the meat, even if it makes them sick and puke after minutes.
Regarding environment, the sheets or dastarkhan tell the whole story. Disposable plastic or polythene plates, glasses sometimes half filled with curds, soft drink bottles left after pushing all that meat and masala down with the fizzy drink, chutney plates and at last the huge polythene bag to fill all the mess in it. No wonder it is a sad day for the environment that will find the plastics and polythene hard to digest. The rest of the story is the same old story.
People would oppose the concept of grand feasts on many occasions, except the times when they themselves are in the quandary. Social obligations tempt people as they fear that by not inviting people for the grand feast they may invite the social censure. The host has to take care of everything – the feast, its serving as well as the convenience with which the invited would grab the delicates and take them home. It may sound ridiculous and illogical, but there it is and people have by large accepted the custom.
There is always this debate about the custom of grand feasts with increasing dishes, salads and soups, beverages and appetizers. A poor man cannot afford, but why a poor man feels compelled. People who expect a grand feast are aware as who can throw a feast and who cannot. They never go traumatizing people that you have to do it. It is usually self-afflicting because the host thinks on a set pattern. Those who can, if they do not then it definitely calls for censure. But those who cannot, I am sure nobody would go demanding from them.
Some parents have this one-time wish to celebrate their children’s wedding in a grand manner. There is nothing wrong with it. What is wrong is when people start competing and comparing, instead of maintaining their position and respect that fact.
Carrying the delicate food or dishes (wazwan) home does also have some justification. The host has prepared it, so it does not matter whether the person finishes it on-spot or takes it home. People can’t just eat more than a few dishes, so instead of the food going waste, it is better to take it home. If the host would not have been competing blindly, it would not have invited a large party, or would make sure to serve limited dishes. So, it lies with the host.
In the modern wazwan, the best part is that there is a pineapple slice on the chutney plate on top of which is the cherry. No one sees that cherry.