Tina Das is in-charge of finding content and producing documentaries about India for a New York City-based streaming network. All her trips to India so far have consisted of fancy hotels, chauffeur-driven cars and parties with the city’s who’s who at all the top bars and clubs. It makes her feel like she could be anywhere in the world, which is why she yearns to see the ‘real’ India.
When she gets a chance to visit Delhi for her cousin’s wedding, she is greeted by a colourful cast of characters, “fairy lights, huge balls of marigold flowers, candles” and Bollywood dances by actual celebrities. During the trip filled with the wedding’s elaborate festivities, she decides to connect with an unlikely acquaintance—a Mumbai-based physical trainer, whom she had once auditioned for a reality TV show. Through him, she hopes to get a peek into India’s filth and poverty—her worldview of an India she knows little about.
After being robbed off a diamond earring by a man on a wheelchair looking for drugs as well as an unpleasant food poisoning incident, Tina, however, fails in her noble quest. Moreover, she realises that contemporary India is vastly different from the one her parents had left behind decades ago to chase the American Dream. There is now so much more to the country than what films such as Slumdog Millionaire project—the country’s ugly underbelly—with its “poor children with bright smiles as metaphors”.
So instead, she decides on making a reality TV show on another Indian cliché that the West loves more than any other—what goes behind planning lavish, over-the-top Indian weddings—complete with their “farmhouse parties, seven-star hotels, yachts off the Mumbai coast glittering in the Arabian Sea, private jets to Umaid Bhavan and bachelorette parties in the Maldives. But also about conservative aunts and uncles, love marriages versus arranged, coded words for sex, brides smoking cigarettes in secret with mehendi up to their elbows, and taking swigs of whiskey from the groom’s flask before walking in with their eyes lowered to the floor demurely”. In short, about a country of contrasts—filled with its “madness, contradictions, beauty and chaos”.
Bestselling author Diksha Basu has clearly written this book for an international readership. To someone who has lived in India, the sight of people sleeping on sidewalks is hardly rare. Further, the West too has its own share of poverty and homeless persons. Moreover, some of the ideas of cultural identity that she reiterates in the book are truisms that are all too familiar, such as the eternal conflict of being raised as a brown girl in America in the “pre-Priyanka Chopra years”—“acting American in America and Indian in India, but feeling like neither”.
Like her debut novel The Windfall (2017), in Destination Wedding too Basu revisits another one of her other favourite themes—that of second chances at love, specifically for older people. The book even has some of the characters from the previous novel—the unconventional Mrs Ray (who is now running a matchmaking agency for widows) and her now husband Upen Chopra.