During my recent visit to villages in Rajasthan, I got to know from the locals about an interesting custom, listening to which I was filled with astonishing amusement.
Yoen and I were almost through with interviewing Meena for a documentary on child marriage. It was then that it suddenly occured to Yoen to ask her if she could show us some photographs of her marriage. She said that they had not called a photographer since the marriage happened in mohsar. Mohsar, the field volunteer Neetu explained, was the period following an old person's demise. She told us that Meena's grandmother had expired a few days ago. This drew a further questioning look from us.
I surmised the obvious reason and put it forward for her confirmation, "So, was it because the marriage had been decided upon earlier; the grandmother suddenly expired and for some reasons, it was not feasible to postpone the marriage?"
Meena seemed to be ill at ease, and murmured something incomprehensible in an undertone. Neetu merely said, "No, it was not so." Sensing Meena's discomfort, I thought better to reserve my aroused curiosity until later. At Neetu's place, Prakash undertook the onus of clearing the mist.
Whenever an old person dies a natural death, his family is supposed to throw a feast to mark his/her entry into heaven. Since they have to anyways incur a huge expense, they plan to marry off their daughter so as to club the death feast with marriage feast and save on expenses. The setting is actually much more elaborate in the sense that about 40-50 families get together to marry their children in the same pandal (tent), and have all their guests from all the 10-15 surrounding villages dine together in the single big feast. Thus all the expenses incurred are equally divided among them. Prakash told us further that there is mourning for the deceased for the first nine days. On the 10th and 11th day, the engagement ceremony takes place alongwith a few other preparations for the D-day.
And Finally arrives the much-awaited 12th day, the day of Mahabhoj when the marriages occur in conjunction with the old person's soul release into heaven. A death feast with marriage feast - sounds to be a morbid custom? Economics rules. Well, this is freaconomics.