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Lokvani Talks To Shobha Shastry

Nirmala Garimella

It is the most special day of your life – your wedding, and you want to make it a memorable moment. You have an invaluable countdown checklist, guidance on budget planning, guests; etiquette, ceremonies, mandap, music, DJ, mehendi, and you want an expert to handle it. Enter Shobha Shastry, of Alankar who steps in and offers you all this with a personalized touch. - A job she declares, she enjoys passionately mainly because it fulfills a valuable community need. An active community supporter, Shobha organizes around 40 to 50 weddings in a year besides other small celebration events. The demand is so high that now clients from as far as Chicago and New Jersey call her for a consultation. With unusual requests of elephants and horses from clients to innovative ways of performing the havan without breaking in on tradition, Shobha, works hard to translate a couple’s dream into reality. Lokvani caught up with her for a chat.

Lokvani - Will you start off by telling us about yourself and your involvement with the community?

Shobha Shastry - I have been in this area for the past 22 years and have been involved in various organizations like the ISW, IAGB etc. in the past. For 18 years, I was part of the corporate world and then I decided to convert this experience into something that is of benefit to the community and so Alankar was born in 1999. I started off initially with a friend in 1998 and after she moved to New York, I realized that I was providing a much needed service to the community so I decided to go into it full time.

Lokvani - How did it all begin?

Shobha Shastry - Well, it all started with only 2 mandaps in the beginning and a few accessories. Now we have almost 16 Mandaps to cater to the various needs of my clients. This is my 5th year in the business and we have adapted to modern needs since we offer various elegant combinations of mandaps and accessories. Most of the items are custom designed and that gives the client a lot of scope to choose from.

Lokvani - Do your clients come with a budget?

Shobha Shastry - Yes, I try to tailor it within their budget. The second generation kids in this country mostly handle their weddings. They have few resources and time and money. But I do not like to tax them and that is why I get material from India which is cost effective so that the burden of cost does not fall on my client. I also offer some items free at the time of the wedding to help them out.

Lokvani - How do you handle inter religious weddings? There probably are quite a few of these.

Shobha Shastry - Oh Yes, Almost 60% of these are interreligious. We tell the client that they can have also have a Catholic ceremony in the mandap. Many times, I walk through with them on the ritual and the ceremony. Non Hindus are sometimes very nervous about it. But I strive to give them a sense of comfort and explain the ceremony to them. At the end of it I have made a few friends in the area.

Lokvani - How about weddings of other communities?

Shobha Shastry - We also do a lot of Muslim weddings. I have lived in Hyderabad for a long time and I am aware of most of their customs. This has in fact, given me an edge in the business. There is for instance the Nikaah ceremony which is basically from the girl’s side and then there is Valima that is a ceremony from the boy’s side. We have also planned for two Parsee weddings in the past. A Parsee wedding is somewhere between a Hindu and a Christian wedding.

Lokvani - This means that you must be well acquainted with all the different traditions?

Shobha Shastry - Oh Yes, Within the Indian community also there are so many different rituals. For example in a South Indian wedding you need a black umbrella, and ammi etc. I remember this excellent book on Indian weddings written by a local writer Meenal Pandya. She did a great job with it. It is all a learning process and I enjoy it immensely.

Lokvani - What is unique about Alankar?

Shobha Shastry - Quality as well as ensuring that you receive the service you are paying for. This is our priority. I try to give a Personal touch and have an appreciative customer. It is a lot of hard work but when the kids come to you and thank you then there is no greater joy. That is the ultimate compliment.

Lokvani - How do you feel about the community support?

Shobha Shastry - The community has been very supportive. This is the way I look at it. We have come this far and we have only each other to lean on. I like to give back to the community in the only way I can. Sometimes I do not charge for some community events. For Chinmaya’s opening, for instance, we donated an ice sculpture last year. I also have a list of people related to the wedding planning. I often offer this list to my clients so they can contact them and seek help.

Lokvani - Is your family involved too?

Shobha Shastry - My husband Sharad and my daughter Sheila are very supportive. I am very fortunate that my parents are here with me. They are a tremendous source of strength to me. They have an amazing zeal for community service.

Lokvani - What would be your advice to couples who want to set a wedding date?

Shobha Shastry - Give yourself adequate time and make it a special moment. Your wedding day should be a truly personalized affair and deserves individual attention.If anybody needs advice in this matter, knock on Alankar’s door and we will be happy to serve you.

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