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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 18:11 GMT
Opulent weddings and grinding poverty
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Jodhpur

Hanumant colony
Everyone in Hanumant colony has a connection with the royal family

For one unnamed resident of Jodhpur in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the wedding of celebrity couple Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar cannot finish soon enough.

It is only then that the woman - who is married to a member of staff at the Umaid Bhawan Palace hotel where the ceremony takes place - will be joined by her husband again.

"He is staff at Umaid Bhawan Palace, and has been putting in long hours ever since this marriage party began here," she told the BBC website. "I barely get to see him anymore."

She said the extra hours are beginning to take a toll on his health and that concerns her.

'No benefits'

"They make him work overtime, he is not making any extra money and when he comes home late at night, his feet give way," she said.

Housewife Chand Devi Makwana
There are so many people here who struggle for one meal and then there are those who want to spend so much on a second marriage
Housewife Chand Devi Makwana

The woman said her husband barely makes 2,500 rupees ($20) per month, and when such mega-weddings take place, he just has to run around more for the same amount.

"It is not like this wedding has any benefits for us. I don't agree that such events will bring more business and increase tourism and in turn help us. For instance, they are getting cooks from outside, do we not have any in India?

"They could have called us women and we could have cooked the best Rajasthani food for them!" she said.

She stays in Hanumant colony, a residential area barely half a kilometre away from the palace, where Ms Hurley and her new husband will get married Indian-style on Friday evening.

The couple arrived in Jodhpur on Wednesday evening and have been staying there since as guests of the Maharajah of Jodhpur in his private residence in the palace.

What is special about Hanumant colony is that every family living there has and had at least one member who has served the royal family.

Years ago, the royal family gave this land to their staff to build homes and they have been living here since.

'Waste of money'

Most barely earn enough to make ends meet, between $25-$30 a month, but they live in decent two-room homes.

Shanties outside the Umaid Bhawan palace
There are big discrepancies between rich and poor in Rajasthan

Housewife Chand Devi Makwana, also a resident of this colony, said she thought the Hurley-Nayar wedding was an utter waste of money that could have been put to better use.

"I heard on the news the lady is an actress and has already married once in her country. So why does she want to have another wedding here that is costing so much money?" she asked.

"If she had given it to poor people, gotten 10 orphan women married instead, then she would have taken back so many blessings. There are so many people here who struggle for one meal and then there are those who want to spend so much on a second marriage."

The General Manager of Umaid Bhawan palace, Sanjay Uma Shankar, says it costs about $30,000 upwards to have a good wedding at the venue.

Indian Railways employee Heeralal Purohit
Marriages are a big deal in India and one spends as much as one can to ensure that this one big event in every couple's life is remembered long after its over
Indian Railways employee Heeralal Purohit

He said the Hurley-Nayar wedding is one of the most opulent to be held at the palace, even though another will take place at the same venue at the week-end which is bigger in terms of guest numbers and expenditure.

Marriages are a very big occasion in India where families and relatives get together and enjoy several functions over a span of three to four days. Some even go on for as long as a week.

Here, people judge the stature of a family by the expense it incurs during the wedding of a son or daughter.

So while palaces continue to be chosen venues for lavish parties and marriages where money flows like water, the surrounding areas do not seem to be doing so well.

It is drought prone area, like many other parts of the desert state of Rajasthan, which suffers from an acute poverty problem that has seen little improvement over the years.

The World Bank is undertaking the Rajasthan District Poverty Initiatives project to reduce poverty in some of the poorest districts of the state.

'Fancies of the rich'

Last month the United Nations Millennium Campaign found very little progress in poverty reduction, and little improvement in access to education and healthcare services for a majority of people living here.

But despite the stark contrast, some residents do not seem to mind the extravagance.

Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar
Most agree that Jodhpur will benefit from the celebrity nuptials

An employee with Indian Railways, Heeralal Purohit said he would spend as much as he could for his own daughter's wedding so he could not begrudge the rich.

"Marriages are a big deal in India and one spends as much as one can to ensure that this one big event in every couple's life is remembered long after its over. We still pore over our wedding photographs and remember the times."

Mr Purohit also says that people in Rajasthan are used to the vast differences between rich and poor, so this wedding is nothing new for them.

"Our royalty have their own functions and do everything with such great pomp and show. We grew up seeing that. When these celebrities arrive we look at their weddings as fancies of the rich. It does not make any difference."

India hosts Hurley celebrations
05 Mar 07 |  South Asia
Hurley party celebrates marriage
04 Mar 07 |  Entertainment

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