Get Hitched With­out A Hitch

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Mar­riages are made in heaven, but in Sawant­wadi, a few kilo­me­tres from Goa, they’re solem­nised speed­ily. The lit­tle town is par­adise for In­dian cou­ples who want to wed. Here’s what hap­pened when Brunch went un­der­cover... by Rachel Lopez, pho­tos by Kalp

Why get­ting mar­ried in Sawant­wadi, just out­side

Goa, is such a breeze. And how it’s per­fectly le­gal for young cou­ples to marry

the peo­ple they love

W E’RE 600 kilo­me­tres from home and our hearts are beat­ing a lit­tle faster. As re­ac­tions go, it’s per­fect. For a Mumbai cou­ple look­ing to tie the knot quickly, with min­i­mum fuss, here in Sawant­wadi, ner­vous­ness is nat­u­ral. Across the ta­ble from us, the pro­pri­etor of a man­gal karyalay or mar­riage bureau (a man with 35 years in the business) is telling us not to worry. He’ll marry us this evening un­der the Hindu Mar­riage Act, in an Arya Samaj-type cer­e­mony, and give us our cer­tifi­cates the next day. ( For de­tails of the Hindu Mar­riage Act and the Spe­cial Mar­riage Act, turn to the story overleaf).

That’s ex­actly why we’re wor­ried. We’re not a cou­ple, but two jour­nal­ists fak­ing it. Ni­hit Bhave, pos­ing as my hus­band-to-be, only joined the Brunch team last week. The man pos­ing as our wit­ness is

HT pho­tog­ra­pher Kalpak Pathak. We’re in Sawant­wadi to find out what makes this pic­turesque town at the tip of Ma­ha­rash­tra’s coast such a haven for shaadis. We walked in only 20 min­utes ago. Now, it seems, we can walk out as man and wife.

Well, that es­ca­lated quickly.

UNION SQUARE

Mar­riages are pos­si­bly the only thing that hap­pen quickly in Sa- want­wadi; ev­ery­thing else merely am­bles along. Breezes blow gen­tly across the pic­turesque lake in the cen­tre of town, ducks wade qui­etly in its wa­ters, no one fid­gets at the bus stop, no one even scur­ries from a freak af­ter­noon shower. Goa, only an hour by road, feels like a dis­tant dream.

To cou­ples from Goa, how­ever, Sawant­wadi is not quite so dis­tant. It’s the first vil­lage across state bor­ders if you’re look­ing to legally step around Goa’s Civil Code, which ap­plies to all Goans (ir­re­spec­tive of re­li­gion) and cov­ers birth, death, prop­erty and, yes, mar­riage. In­ter­faith unions are com­pli­cated un­der the Code, and (as they in­volve joint own­er­ship of prop­erty, in­her­i­tance and as­sets) quick mar­riages almost im­pos­si­ble if you’re in a hurry to get a visa, an over­seas job or a loan. Over the decades, most cou­ples have hopped over to Sawant­wadi to avoid red tape, con­vert to Hin­duism if need be, and just tie the knot in peace.

It’s given the town a thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­try in the most lit­eral sense – nearly ev­ery one of the town’s 14-odd karyalays op­er­ate from a front­yard, back­yard, ante room or porch. Plas­tic chairs, a makeshift plat­form for bridal seats, dull fes­toons per­ma­nently hang­ing – the karyalays are no one’s idea of a dream wed­ding. But if you’re some­one for whom a wed­ding was thus far an im­pos­si­ble dream, they seem like par­adise. Pro­pri­etors solem­nise the sapta-

Sev­eral Goan cou­ples have hopped over to Sawant­wadi to avoid red tape, con­vert to Hin­duism if need be, and just tie the knot in peace

pati (the pheras) on the premises much like the Arya Samaj would, and get the unions regis­tered from gram se­vaks (who have pow­ers of the regis­trar) in nearby vil­lages. It’s what draws cou­ples from Goa, and now from Kar­nataka, Ma­ha­rash­tra, Ra­jasthan, Ut­tar Pradesh and beyond.

IT TAKES A VIL­LAGE

We landed in Sawant­wadi armed with a plau­si­ble back story (in­ter­faith graphic de­sign col­leagues, look­ing to marry quickly be­cause there is fam­ily op­po­si­tion back home) and not much else. There was no other way, re­ally. The karyalays have no web­sites. They do not ad­ver­tise their ser­vices in di­rec­to­ries. (How would you Google a quickie wed­ding any­way?) We needn’t have wor­ried. No one asks ques­tions in Sawant­wadi, but prac­ti­cally the whole town opens up to lovers in need.

It starts right at the top. When we asked for help at the mu­nic­i­pal of­fice, they pro­vided us a hand­writ­ten note bear­ing the name and num­ber of a karyalay. Even with­out of­fi­cial aid, you’re not ex­actly lost. Most karyalays are scat­tered in lit­tle streets on one side of the lake, their sign­boards clearly vis­i­ble. Sawant­wadi is small enough to find them all on foot and peo­ple read­ily of­fer di­rec­tions.

At one karyalay we went to, the owner didn’t bat an eye­lid at our predica­ment. He said he wasn’t au­tho­rised to in­duct me into Hin­duism (manda­tory for any­one to wed un­der the Hindu Mar­riage Act). But he help­fully pointed out other en­ter­prises that could help and as­sured us that we weren’t alone. “At least one such wed­ding hap­pens ev­ery day in Sawant­wadi”. In­ter­caste and in­ter-re­li­gious unions are common, he said, though mixed-race ones a grow­ing trend; they re­cently did the re­cep­tion for a Goan-Ger­man cou­ple who got mar­ried there.

Across town the story stays the same. “Just the other day,” karyalay own­ers will tell you, “a Mus­lim and Hindu came here and got mar­ried.” Once the con­ver­sion to Hin­duism is done, the cer­e­mony can take place im­me­di­ately. The ex­press ser­vice, though, of­ten comes at a price: ` 7,000. But it’s a one-win­dow route to mat­ri­mony, with pa­per­work ready the next day.

Ni­hit Bhave and Rachel Lopez posed as a cou­ple to learn how quickly they could wed in Sawant­wadi. Then they posed, lit­er­ally, at the town’s Moti pond

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