The Ceremony Was Embargoed

Late this summer, friends and family of R N Tharu and Rishi Vijay Gupta received a hefty package in the mail. Inside, wrapped in plastic, was a thick pack of papers marked with a request: “If you are reading this before September 27, 2020, we kindly request you to stop, put everything back into the package, and wait until September 27 to proceed.”

Suppose that the recipients’ curiosity got the better of them, and they opened the packet anyway. Inside, they would have found a bound yellow book titled “A Wedding of the Imagination,” written by Ms. Tharu and Mr. Gupta. If they had flipped a few pages in, they would have seen a table of contents outlining a “wedding play” spanning five acts and more than 150 pages. Its characters? Mr. Gupta, Ms. Tharu and their family and friends. Its themes? Love, family, friendship and commitment.

One might assume, learning this, that Ms. Tharu and Mr. Gupta are professional playwrights. But Ms. Tharu, 30, a product manager at Facebook in Menlo Park, Calif., and Mr. Gupta, 32, a software engineer at Airtable in San Francisco, are not. The idea for a play in place of a conventional wedding ceremony — originally conceived by Ms. Tharu, who, along with Mr. Gupta, is Indian American — came not from a passion for theater, but from a feeling of being between two cultures.

“In an Indian ceremony, you have the bride and groom in a corner, they’re doing stuff on their own and everyone kind of ignores them most of the time,” Ms. Tharu said. “The point is for them to talk to each other. Whereas, in an American ceremony, all eyes are on the bride and groom.”

Each tradition had elements that aligned with Ms. Tharu’s values, and elements that didn’t.

“I was just thinking, well, what if I invented my own ceremony,” she said, “what would that look like, to hit all the purposes that I think a wedding should serve?”

Their play has “a component of people coming together,” Ms. Tharu said. “It has a component of me being able to tell people more about myself and our relationship and our families and how we feel about marriage.”

Ms. Tharu had fantasized about the idea before she and Mr. Gupta started dating. When she presented it early in their relationship, he was immediately on board.

“I’m very OK with the idea of thinking through our principles to figure something out, versus sort of taking things off-the-shelf,” he said. “Even though taking things off-the-shelf sometimes is a lot less work.”

While there were parts of an Indian ceremony that resonated with him, he said, “I’d be learning about the symbolism from Wikipedia — for my own wedding.”

The couple agreed to give the play-wedding a try, and came up with a plan to create a staged production to be performed as their ceremony.

The coronavirus pandemic, of course, forced them to rethink. One idea was to have a virtual, streamed reading, like the kind some theaters have produced during the pandemic. Ms. Tharu and Mr. Gupta did not do that. (“I think everyone is tired of being on Zoom,” Mr. Gupta said.) Instead, the couple decided to send out copies of the script to attendees, with instructions asking guests to perform their own, simultaneous readings.

Ms. Tharu and Mr. Gupta entered into a domestic partnership, signed and notarized on the morning of Sept. 27, rather than signing a marriage license. “From our perspective, both options are an official commitment to each other, with the same ramifications, so we went with this one because it matched our financial situation better,” Mr. Gupta explained.

Meanwhile, friends and family of the couple gathered in their respective homes and cracked open the script. Guests, who were spread across the United States and India, did not see each other reading, and the couple did not see live video of their guests.

The couple included a “sentiment card” for attendees to note their reactions to each section of the play — if they so desired. “It’s like a best seller. It’s OK to read just the first three pages, it’s also OK to read the whole thing,” Mr. Gupta added.

It was an unconventional way for the couple to make their wedding play pandemic-friendly — and perfectly in keeping with their appetite for the unorthodox.

“Once you get off the beaten path,” Mr. Gupta said, “there’s so many other paths.”

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