Hundreds of people in two small villages trooped out to celebrate the wedding of a tribal couple - girl Payal Atram and boy Akash Kulsange - amid tears of joy and sorrow, courtesy an NGO, on Wednesday morning.
For, exactly a week ago on May 27, the girl's distraught father had committed suicide - 24 hours before his daughter's planned marriage on May 28.
A week later, people from the girl's village Sakhara-Dhoki marched in a 'baraat' (wedding procession) to the boy's hamlet Gondwakadi, all in their traditional finery to bless the young couple and joyfully partook of the feast that followed - with full social distancing.
Barely a week ago, the scene was different with a pall of gloom over both villages -- 23-year old Payal's Sakhara-Dhoki with a population of 900 and 27-year-old Akash's Gondwakadi with 425 people -- and a question mark over the wedding scheduled two days later.
As both families felt it would be prudent to postpone the marriage, an NGO Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) heard about it and inquired into the matter.
"It was a farm distress incident. The father, Maroti Atram, was unable to raise even the bare minimum money for Payal's marriage due to the lockdowns and resorted to the extreme step," said VJAS President Kishore Tiwari.
Though the shocked and embarrassed family kept mum, locals revealed privately that the family could barely manage a meal a day, and the situation was compounded after the successive lockdowns, jeopardizing the nuptials after the betrothal on March 29.
The VJAS and Tiwari, along with his wife Smita, decided to help with the marriage and passed the word to other like minded philanthropists in the region.
"In barely three days, we were overwhelmed with offerings in cash and kind and performed the marriage ceremony with full tribal rituals today, with over 750 people enjoying the simple, traditional wedding feast," Tiwari told IANS from the venue.
At the insistence of the girl's family, Kishore and Smita Tiwari consented to perform the 'kanyadaan' ceremony amidst a huge round of applause and 'akshata' or showering of auspicious coloured rice grains on the couple.
Later the invitees grabbed an eyeful of the goodies presented to the couple by VJAS and other unknown wellwishers -- a bed with mattresses, a sofa set, two steel cupboards, a fridge, a kitchen cabinet, a TV set, an air cooler, full kitchen utensils, a gas stove, a sewing machine -- and for the boy a brand new, glittering D'Signer wristwatch!
"That D'Signer is from a donor, preferring anonymity, who was grieved to learn of the tragedy in the girl's family. Many others from all over the world gifted other presents," said Nagpur-based social activist Khushroo Poacha, whose work in feeding lakhs of people during the lockdowns was personally lauded by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. IANS had reported this on April 6-7.
Local police officials Ramkrishna Mahale and Arif Shaikh, along with government officials Suresh Kavale, Sandeep Makode, Sanjay Madavi, Gopal Sherkhane, Padmakar Madavi, Shubham Fale, turned up to bless the couple.
"Barely a week ago, the two villages were in mourning, but today everyone is celebrating the joyous occasion, inspiring and making it a memorable day for us all," Shaikh told IANS.