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Mission marriage in 2 hours
- How a blaze-hit wedding was salvaged

Two Calcutta families determined not to let anything thwart their celebration salvaged three months of wedding preparations in two hours from the charred remains of the Ballygunge banquet hall that caught fire just before the ceremony on Saturday evening.

Manjula Gupta married Manish Beriwal at a Girish Park address a couple of hours after being forced to scurry to safety along with some guests from the fourth-floor ceremony hall of the building owned by Haldiram opposite CC&FC.

“My first concern was whether everyone had exited the banquet hall safely. I was tense for some time but started making alternative plans after making sure there was nobody inside. The marriage had to be solemnised in some way,” 75-year-old Ghisaram Goyal, the bride’s maternal grandfather, told Metro on Sunday.

In scenes that could have been straight out of a Bollywood film, the Guptas and Beriwals put their heads and hearts together to ensure that nothing that had been planned over three months was omitted from the wedding.

The first challenge was to find an alternative venue, which Goyal quickly did. The first name that came to the septuagenarian’s mind was the six-storey Haryana Bhavan on Vivekananda Road, where some guests of the Gupta family had been staying for the past couple of days.

“I dialled the landline of Haryana Bhavan, knowing that a meeting of the trust was scheduled for Saturday. I asked the manager to call someone from the trust because it was an emergency. The trustee who took my call instantly agreed to my request,” recounted Goyal, who is the treasurer of the organisation that runs the facility.

Fortunately for the two families, no other wedding was being held at the venue on Saturday.

In just about double the time it takes to travel to Girish Park from Ballygunge, Manjula and Manish — both 28 — were saying their wedding vows in front of a havan on the ground floor of Haryana Bhavan.

The open space on the ground floor where the rituals took place was so elaborately decorated that nobody could have thought it was done at short notice. The menu for the wedding guests included almost all the items that had been decided months in advance.

The guests were served food in an air-conditioned room on the first floor, complete with decorated tables and chairs.

As the families and their guests partook of the vegetarian fare — puri, paratha, fried rice, paneer, a special aloo dish, dahi vada, kanji vada and three choices of dessert, among other delicacies — nobody could have guessed their trial by fire hours earlier.

The bride said on Sunday that she still couldn’t believe her wedding went off well after what happened. “It was my wedding, my biggest day. But what was happening? There were no tears in my eyes. I was just shell-shocked. I wasn’t able to think…I was being moved like a statue,” Manjula, a former teacher of English at Hariyana Vidya Mandir, said.

The first time Manjula cried was while speaking to her father, who was on his way to the venue along with her mother and brother when the fire broke out. “I heard the voices of my father and mother and that was it. I started crying,” she said.

Groom Manish, a manager with Concast Steel and a resident of Belur, called Manjula’s sister from his car parked some distance away from the Haldiram building. “He requested my sister to give the phone to me. He asked me not to worry and I told him, ‘I am fine’,” Manjula recalled.

By then, her grandfather Goyal had already started making calls to fix for an alternative venue. “Manish’s father was also constantly in touch. We knew it was very difficult but we were determined to complete the wedding somewhere,” said Sujit Agarwal, Manish’s brother-in-law.

At Haryana Bhavan, the focus was on arranging for food. A friend of Goyal, Ganesh Danania, took up that responsibility. “I don’t know how he managed to arrange for such delicious food in the time he got. He just told me not to worry,” said Kailash Gupta, Manjula’s father.

As is the custom, Manjula visited her parents’ home on Sunday afternoon, followed by her husband a little later. The newlyweds returned to Manish’s Belur residence in the evening, relieved and grateful that they had passed their first test as a couple.