Diksha Basu’s Destination Wedding is a delightful comedy of manners, about relationships among an extended clan of Indian-American wedding-goers. Cast as a sort of Crazy Rich South Asians, the destination is Delhi. The wedding is that of Shefali and Pavan, a thoroughly-modern couple of rich kids with wacky families, whose wedding, unbeknownst to them, is the first ever staged by Bubbles Trivedi, their larger-than-life wedding planner.
The book opens in the British Airways business-class lounge at JFK. Tina Das, a frustrated content producer for a streaming network, a cousin of the bride, and Tina’s best friend from Yale, Marianne Laing, are waiting for their flight to Delhi. Also waiting are Tina’s mother Radha, a therapist who could be “one of those ‘real women’ models for the Gap or Uniqlo, a younger Rekha maybe,” and her boyfriend David Smith, who “belonged in a catalog for eyeglasses or high-end sweaters, maybe Viagra.” Tina’s dad, Neel Das, who is divorced from Radha, is on the same flight.
Mr Das and Tina are both put off by the fact that Radha has brought David. And Tina blames her mother (unfairly) for her parents’ divorce. The group’s awkward reaction to being thrown together multiple times throughout the wedding week becomes something of a running gag.
As advertised, the wedding is a spectacle, with a guest list of over 1,000. Complete with fireworks, endless receiving lines, a gatecrashing “uncle” at the haldi ceremony who fondles the bride’s neck while applying turmeric, and numerous appearances from the self-promotional Bubbles. Between scrambling to find impersonators for Bollywood performer no-shows, and rounding up backpackers from a youth hostel to look the part of uniformed Brits on horseback for a cocktail party, she pops into conversations with lines like
I plan weddings anywhere and everywhere. The world is your oyster darlings, but don’t wait too long. Oysters go bad very quickly.
Things get so out of hand that the bride checks herself into the Taj hotel for a night of solitude. Nevertheless, the real action takes place with the characters off-campus activities: a series of trysts, flirtations and general gadding-about-town.
A little bit Jane Austen, a little bit rock-n-roll, with a twist of Bollywood.
Who we seek out as a mate tells us a lot about ourselves. For Tina and Marianne, who are in their 30s and single, boyfriends past, present, and future are a hot topic. “I cannot believe my mother is here with her boyfriend and I’m here alone,” Tina tells Marianne at the start of the book. Later, they discuss Shefali and Pavan. The bride is a traditionalist who swore not to turn thirty without a ring on her finger. Maybe she has accepted Pavan’s offer of marriage a little too hastily? Tina thinks maybe she, too, should marry an Indian man. And Marianne, whose boyfriend Tom is in many ways her perfect match, asks herself whether settling down with someone as perfect on paper as she and Tom means settling for boring. Doubting whether Tom will ever propose, she goes on a wild flirting spree with Karan, Pavan’s coke snorting playboy brother. She drapes herself in high-end saris and gets her nose pierced after an evening out with him. What will this mean for her relationship with Tom?
Tina also weighs alternatives: Sid and Rocco. Sid, a hunky “drummer from Dharavi, the Bombay slum”, whom she tried unsuccessfully to launch in a reality TV show, makes an arduous train journey to meet her. The moment when Sid had “lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face and revealed a perfect set of abs and dark hair trailing into his boxers” is fresh in Tina’s mind. Then there is Rocco, an Aussie friend of Shefali’s whom Tina spent a tipsy evening flirting with, in London. He slept with an Indian comedian instead, but she has followed him on social media ever since. Will Tina get together with either of them? Both? Or neither?
Even Tina’s parents get into the act, with Mr. Das getting some much needed behind-the-scenes coaching from Pavan’s spunky grandma, as he woos the more relaxed and worldly Mrs. Sethi. Radha and David, meanwhile, just want to have a good time.
Basu sketches her characters out in just enough detail to advance the bouncy storyline. An omniscient narrator fills in the blanks. A little bit Jane Austen, a little bit rock-n-roll, with a twist of Bollywood, the book climaxes when the characters all pair off during the wedding ceremony. To choose well, they must simply know themselves. Unlike in the real world, in Destination Wedding the problems are no deeper than the complications of an infected nose piercing.