There are many distasteful aspects of social life in Delhi. There is the habit of brides and grooms turning up late to their own weddings, the associated late start to dinner, the tiresome status signalling, and the very specific subset of status signalling that is the gentlemen’s silk kurta with pyjama. All of these have existed for years, and some of them may even be peaking. But in the past few years, a new and revolting trend has emerged – the invitation issued in the name of underage family members.
This is, for example, the invitation to somebody’s fiftieth wedding anniversary or seventieth birthday party that comes from their grandchildren; who might not even have started school. At a slightly less extreme level is the wedding party invitation for a twenty two year old issued by their seventeen year old sibling. The worst I’ve ever seen has been a wedding sangeet invitation supposedly from the groom’s two year old nephew, which even came written in baby talk. Hindi baby talk, in Roman script. ‘Mere tata ke sangeet pe daroor aana’ or some such emetic nonsense. Horrible.
Who do these people think they are fooling? Who is seriously going to believe that little Aarav, with his vocabulary of five hundred words, and pocket money of two hundred rupees, has single handedly managed the catering, venue, bartender, and guest list? It may seem like a cute, even good idea, at the time of writing out the invitations, to have them go out from a five year old. This will be limited to the actual hosts, and last a few moments. The eyerolling, and the judgement of the many guests who receive the invitation, will last much longer, and be felt by many more people.
If I were feeling cynical, I would dismiss this as merely another form of humblebragging; one in which parents, or even grandparents, depending on who is actually paying and organising the shindig, try to play down their responsibility. That sort of thing is tiresome. In my even more cynical moods, I would suspect the hosts of trying to turn the focus away from their hospitality (which is both virtue and skill) and instead trying to point out that they have offspring (which may or may not be virtuous, and requires such little skill that practically everybody does it). And at my most cynical, I would suspect that this sort of thing is a desperate gambit to turn both the focus and the presents away from the people being celebrated to the child-hosts. “Oh, our parents’ friends didn’t even know that we have children? Well, let’s send them the anniversary party invitation from Aradya, and maybe she’ll get some presents too. With the cost of nursery schools today, she’ll need it.”
I am no longer as cynical as I used to be, though. Some combination of age, experience, and the love of a good woman has led to me becoming more compassionate and charitable. And so I can as well see this sort of cutesy symbolism being motivated by entirely pure intentions. “My parents are in their seventies, and my kids aren’t even five yet,” thinks the hapless host. “By the time my kids are able to have a half decent conversation, their grandparents might be ravaged by dementia. The two generations will barely know each other. Having them symbolically host the party is the least I can do to forge some sort of connection, or at least signal to society at large that there is one.”
All very well-intentioned, yes, but even this sort of motivation only undermines the dignity of the actual adult hosts. And if we look at things dispassionately, even the initial regret that sparks this motivation may be misplaced. Yes, perhaps the new generation of children will never see or remember their grandparents having a relationship with them that goes beyond baby talk. But that is the price we pay for the age of marriage and childbearing increasing over time. And considering that this increase in the age of marriage has led to more education, more liberty, and more happiness for everybody who’s spent their young adult years exploring their lives, careers, and choice of partners instead of being frogmarched into a mandap; it seems like a bargain price to me.