(A step-by-step primer, based on personal experience)
Interpreting the wedding card: The wedding card will chattily describe the occasion as “a divine union of twin souls, blessed by your kind and benevolently auspicious presence”. This is merely a complicated way of saying “come to Paneer Tikka Haven”. (For reasons my tradition-resistant mind will never fathom, robust Punjabis, who on normal days sleep with large tubs of tandoori chicken next to their pillows, suddenly turn coyly vegetarian on their wedding day.) Treat this as a warning to eat properly before you leave the house. Carry snacks in your pockets if necessary.
Also keep a record (from weddings attended in the past) of the mean deviation between the time specified in wedding cards and the time at which the groom can actually be expected to reach the venue. Apply this to the present situation. Current research suggests that 8.30 PM on a card translates to roughly 10.30 PM in North Indian Wedding Time. So plan to reach the venue by that time. This way, Delhi traffic being what it is, you will reach at 11 PM.
Keeping yourself occupied: Entering the shamiana, you will see the following things in roughly this order:
– Six or seven groups of people, all from the bride’s family, glancing at their watches and looking bored
– Waiters drifting from table to table with paneer tikkas and samosas, glancing at their watches and looking bored
– Three stray cats sitting on the periphery of the lawn, complaining about the absence of tandoori chicken, glancing at their watches and looking bored
You now have to find ways to pass the time until someone you know arrives. One way is to do the disgruntled-loner thing – sip tomato soup, brood and wish you had gone to a nice warm indoor restaurant instead. Another, more entertaining way is to pretend to talk into your cellphone within earshot of the bride’s relatives: speak sentences like “Yes, it looks like the dowry won’t be enough after all" and "Don’t worry, we’ll let the groom out of the warehouse after all the negotiations have taken place."
But if the idea was to make a token appearance – to “show our face for a while and then leave”, as time-strapped yuppies like to say – you can exit after half an hour of waiting. Do remember to wave at one of the video cameras as proof that you were there.
A tip for the scrupulously punctual: if perchance you’re the very first to reach the venue, before even the bride’s family (believe me, this can happen), make sure to profit from it. Wait at the entrance with hands folded and pretend to incoming guests that you’re one of the hosts (at large north Indian weddings no one knows who’s who anyway). Pocket the shagun money and gifts and make a quick getaway.
Aftermath: At around 1 AM, you will receive an SMS from a friend: “Where ARE you? The baraatis have arrived. The horse is very nervous. It just crapped on the shoes of one of the dancing uncles.” Turns out you missed the best part of the union of twin souls.