How A Gay Couple Tied The Knot The Traditional Way In Kolkata
How To Throw A Big Fat Indian (Gay) Wedding

What does it take to throw a traditional, ritualistic, multi-cultural gay wedding in India? We ask Abhishek Ray and Chaitanya Sharma, the newlyweds of Kolkata  

Picture a typical wedding. What do you see? Chaos, clamour, beauty. Roses and rajanigandha swaying against a gentle breeze, women pirouetting in colourful attire; uncles gossiping, aunties judging and Bollywood’s most predictable shaadi songs blaring out of the speakers. This common imagery got an uncommon twist in July last year, when fashion designer and professor, Abhishek Ray, and digital marketer, Chaitanya Sharma decided to throw caution to the wind and tie the knot in a ceremony with all the trimmings of the Big Fat Indian Wedding.  



“Honestly, I didn’t want to do it in a big way. I just wanted a one-day affair, where we exchange rings, get a cake and throw a big party. But Chaitanya was the one who wanted to have a haldi, mehendi, sangeet and every other possible ceremony with all the singing and dancing. Like a big fat Indian wedding. Initially, I was apprehensive but then, I thought, why not? Let’s do it,” muses Ray, who met his partner via common friends on Facebook.  


As the first gay couple to have a social wedding in the anachronistic city of Kolkata, Ray and Sharma did more than win hearts and the Internet. They set the record straight, and hopefully, paved the way for many other LGBTQIA+ couples, who in the absence of a legal system that recognises same-sex marriages could perhaps, find some respite, and even joy, in a symbolic wedding. That though, isn’t enough. “Acceptance and security are the key elements. The only change that I would like to see is to stop trying to make it look like a different kind of marriage. It should be treated as normally as a guy getting married to a girl, right? Secondly, gender-neutral language must be integrated at an early age. For example, a child who is in his teens is asked if he has a girlfriend and never if he has a partner. We need to inculcate this because until, we educate our kids our society will not progress,” opines Ray. 



Ask them what the days leading up to the wedding were like, and his claim makes more sense. Fact is, like any other wedding, this duo’s big day, too, had challenges and altercations that would be common to any other wedding. Think warring families bickering over the menu, décor and traditions, which is all just as familiar to a boy-meets-girl wedding as it is to Ray and Sharma’s big, fat gay wedding. As a nuptial that brought together two men from two vastly different cultures — Ray is Bengali and Sharma belongs to a family that hails from Rajasthan — their D-day wasn’t spared from any of the above-mentioned desi tropes either. “This is the time when we had the greatest number of fights. Chaitanya hails from Rajasthan, so there are very specific things he grew up with, like weddings with lots of bright colours, whereas I wanted something muted with lots of white and dull gold. So, we decided to do the sangeet in as colourful a way as possible and the wedding in shades of nude, beige and white. Then, there was the food. A Bengali wedding will have all kinds of non-vegetarian items, but his side of the family is hardcore vegetarian. You don’t want your guests and in-laws to be offended. So, we did a whole lot of brainstorming on what the menu and seating are going to be like. We made sure to keep an equal number of dishes on both sides,” shares Ray. 



But how do you amass the army, no, the village, that it takes to organise an Indian wedding? And is it potentially harder when you have to explain to a sage pandit that there is no bride? “Finding a pandit was difficult for us. The ones we approached were not sure how to react because they had never done a same-sex wedding before. We must’ve met some 10 of them before I realised, I have to talk to my family pandit. I met him and asked if he would perform rituals for a cousin, who wants to get married to another man. There were these two minutes of silence, but he said yes. Later, I confessed that it was actually me who was getting married. Thankfully, he was still on board,” Ray elaborates, adding that while most would assume their wedding to have been a loftier task to accomplish in the seemingly ‘backward’ Kolkata, it was in fact, a logistical factor that worked in their favour. “Kolkata is looked down upon as a city. It is not as fast, advanced or developed as Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru. But it is incredibly accepting. We realised this when it came to our wedding. I don’t think it would’ve been possible for us to do it in any other city the way we did it here. We had a proper baraat and people were dancing on the road,” he adds.  


With a pandit, décor and food in place, what else could’ve proved to be a predicament in this grand wedding? The first step, of course — aligning the families. After Sharma popped the question to Ray in an utterly romantic proposal, afront the greatest symbol of love in the country, the Taj Mahal, the two returned to Gurgaon, where Sharma lives, and sat his mother down for ‘the talk’. “We told her that we had been seeing each other for a good amount of time; that we like each other and might want to do a commitment ceremony by the end of the year. We wanted to be very transparent about it,” says Sharma. But the talk really transpired between his mother and Ray. “I sat her down and said, ‘I love your son and its natural that I would want to get married to him.’ She was quite shocked, but she was also aware of Chaitanya’s orientation. I think she was just shocked to see a random person, who had travelled from Kolkata, sitting in her house and telling her that he wanted to get married to her son,” Ray remembers.  



“The only question she asked was, ‘What’s the point? You can easily live together as a couple. Why do you have to be open about this?’ I told her I have two older sisters; both are married and we had such a good time celebrating their marriage. I want the same for me. I want to call my close friends and family members. I wanted to experience what it feels like when someone invites me, and the invitation reads ‘Abhishek and Chaitanya’ instead of ‘Chaitanya Sharma,’” says Sharma. And that’s what equality is about — behind the big laws, Pride walks and constitutional amendments is the simple desire to have the same small joys as the next person you, no matter your gender, orientation, religion or faith. It’s the little things, after all. “People ask all sorts of questions. Some are confused. Others just want to know, how we came out to our families. And to them, I say, it’s just the way you tell your mother that you’re hungry or feeling sick or, when you want to go out. There is no roundabout way of talking about it. It’s one of the most important factors of your identity. So, you just have to sit them down and you have to tell them,” Ray says, who told, conquered and as the pictures say, had a gala time doing it all.  


“Stop trying to make it look like a different kind of marriage. It should be treated as normally as a guy getting married to a girl, right?”  


— Abhishek Ray 


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