"Birth and death are the only certainties in life…" but in our culture, weddings are almost certain, too. And to celebrate the wedding, we need to hire wedding halls or Kalyana Mantapas. However, the hiring of these seems to be beset with various difficulties, and the wedding hall sector seems to be an unorganised one.
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According to Eshwar Bhosle, who publishes a directory of marriage halls of Bangalore, titled "Kalyana",(see box) about 10 new halls come up in the city every year, and an average of 60 to 80 weddings are performed in each hall every year. There are about 900-odd Kalyana Mantapas in Bangalore today. However, a look at these wedding halls throws up the presence of a lot of problems.
Illustration: Sujay Ramiah
The charges for wedding halls vary widely; it might start at around Rs. 20,000 and go up to over Rs. One lakh per day. The parameters seem to be the location of the hall, the "look" or the interior decoration done in it, and amazingly, some of the larger halls seem to be cheaper than one expects.
Not very consumer-friendly
Most of the Kalyana Mantapas that I have contacted wanted the full amount to be paid in advance. This was the first customer-unfriendly practice that I found. When I asked why I could not pay a token advance and the rest after the function, I was greeted by silence, or in one case, an open declaration of, "Madam, then you are welcome to go elsewhere." This attitude really does put one off right from the word go. More discussion slowly melts the ice and then the managers come down to 50 to 80 per cent of the amount as an advance….and this is said as if a favour is being conferred.
Directory of marriage halls
#14, 1st Floor, 2nd Cross
(Behind Soudamini Kalyana Mantapa)
Konnanakunte, New Bank Colony
Bangalore – 560 062
Cell: 98440 83665
What many people also do not realise, as they are often short of time and desperate to get a good "choultry" (as wedding halls are also called), is that they are paying quite a sizable sum towards tax, and not just for hiring the hall. There is a luxury tax of 15 per cent that is levied, as well as a service tax and an education cess, totalling to 12.2 per cent. The total tax works out, therefore, to an alarming 27.2 per cent!
Another major obstacle is caused by the lack of sufficient parking. Many halls just trust to the visitors finding parking nearby, as there is just not enough space to accomodate all the vehicles. This, of course, leads to congestion in the roads near the hall, and more so if the hall has come up in a residential area. Which of the hard-pressed parents of brides-to-be, with the wedding ceremonies hanging over their heads and a thousand other details to see too, would worry about how their visitors would park?
Most halls do not even talk about parking for visitors’ vehicles when the hall is being booked. When I asked at one of the very well-known halls in Basavanagudi, which has no reserved parking at all, I was told that the wedding guests "would adjust". That English word with the truly Kannada significance, "adjust", happily thrusts the onus of parking on to the guest, not the host, or the Kalyana Mantapa that should be providing this facility.
Coming back to the "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude referred to earlier, which results from an imbalance in the demand-supply equation, many halls also do not specify clearly what the charges would be if the wedding were to be postponed or cancelled. Neither do the customers think of asking, sometimes. They find out the hard way, when they are already facing the emotional trauma of a wedding in the family having been postponed or cancelled. The prospect of losing a lot of money stares them in the face.
One couple who had to cancel the engagement were shocked to learn that unless they found a replacement to take on the hall, they would not be refunded any money. This was certainly not explained to them at the time of booking. Of course, they were told that they should have asked. How can the wedding halls place the onus of finding the replacement on the customer? But that is the way that the halls operate.
Some halls take refuge in the most illogical of reasons not to discuss their cancellation policy. One hall manager in Jayanagar who spoke on condition of anonymity told me that talking about cancellations was an ill-omen with a wedding coming up (I had said I was booking for a wedding.) "We will talk about it if it happens, God forbid!" he said piously. I could not help feeling that if it did happen, the hapless customer would wind up paying a lot…as then the tune would be, "These are our practices, you did not ask about it beforehand."
Many people do expect to pay extra for charges on electricity, cleaners and the like, but are upset when these charges are much higher than expected. But having used the services, they are in no position to protest, and pay up, often finding that the already expensive Kalyana Mantapa is proving even more so. And in spite of these extra charges, sometimes the cleanliness, especially of the dining area and the public toilets, leaves a lot to be desired. In this case, those who have to pay for less than satisfactory service are really annoyed about it.
Another problem is the fact that the mantaps are charged for "2 days" when, in actuality, the time is much shorter. A hall just off South End Circle unlocks its doors, and allows the caterer to start cooking, only at 6 am on Day 1, and everyone has to vacate by 11 am on Day 2. That’s just more than 24 hours, and if there is an early morning function, the hosts are put to great difficulty in terms of food for their guests, and fulfilling the various requirements of the priests, too.
When the mantap specifies that about 15 cleaners will have to be paid, what is not said is that all those people will be eating all their meals at the hirer’s cost. The caterer, of course, charges by the number of meals eaten. And so the hosts wind up paying for about 60 plates extra over the course of the four meals that are typically served during the course of the wedding…because no matter what those cleaners do or not do, they certainly make their presence felt at mealtimes. At two halls, at least, I found some of these cleaners asking for extra sweets and stuffing them into bags instead of eating them. No host dares to make a fuss about these small details when the wedding is on; indeed, often such things go unnoticed in the general hectic pace of events.
Who regulates the Kalyana Mantapas?
Many wedding halls are not licenced at all. Hall operators/owners are supposed to obtain a no-objection notice from the police, fire department, emergency services, and also the pollution control board. But this system is not strictly enforced. This, in conjunction with the difficulty in obtaining certificates from so many different bodies, ensures that many halls do not take the licences, preferring to give "enabling fees" (as the administrator of one hall informed me with a smile) to whoever comes to do the inspection.
When the licencing is bypassed in this way, several problems rear their heads. One, of course, is that the basement of many halls are used, quite illegally, for cooking. Without ventilation or emergency exit, the leakage of a gas cylinder could be a potential fiasco.
Sometimes, the wedding hall owners also avoid paying the correct amount of property tax due on the halls; indeed, some of them get away with paying no tax at all. The irony is that the very lack of documents makes it easy for wedding halls to avoid paying tax. When contacted, a BBMP official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that two defaulting owners had not provided valid "khata" documents, and hence the tax could not be computed. This is a strange situation where one irregularity seems to aid the owners in perpetuating another one!
The former Bangalore Municipal Commissioner, Jothiramalingam, had allegedly even purchased locks in order to seal all unauthorised halls in the city. However, the drive came to nothing and was not sustained. The irregularities cannot however, happen without the connivance of city officials themselves.
It would certainly be better for citizens if the BBMP brought Kalyana Mantapas under regulation (like hotel establishments) ensure that they are properly licenced, adhere to hygiene and safety guidelines, and do not fleece their customers. But as of now, with the Kalyana Mantapas of Bangalore, this is far from the reality.