It was truly a memorable and refreshing 'day out' for some 1000-odd patients undergoing treatment at a Jumbo Covid Hospital in the tiny Bhalavani village of 7,500 people, here.
For, this week, they were 'invited' to the weddings of two bright young couples who chose to tie the knot at the sprawling 1,100-bed "Sharadchandra Pawar Arogya Mandir", in this village in Parner, with around 20 relatives of the two sets of brides and grooms, permitted as per protocols.
The excited couples were: Rajashri R. Kale, 30, an engineer who got married with Rahul J. Kadam, 33, a doctor working for a government hospital, and Aarati N. Shinde, 20, a final year college student who wed Niket S. Vyavhare, 32, a social worker.
Parner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Nilesh Lanke, who organized the novel marriage ceremony said that the couples wished to do "something different for their upcoming weddings since there are so many strict guidelines" in force.
"Last month, Rajashri R. Kale, had come to celebrate her brother's birthday and was highly impressed with the arrangements here. Then, she and the other couple insisted on getting married at the Covid centre," Lanke told IANS.
Buoyed by their enthusiasm, Lanke set up a crack team of aides and NCP workers like Rahul Zaware, Babaji Tarte, Balasaheb Khilari, Rajendra Chaudhary, Shrikant Chaure, Datta Korde, Pramod Godse, Sandeep Chaudhary, Satyam Nimse and Annasheb Dalvi to make the double-marriage preparations.
They secured all government and medical permissions to perform the double-marriages in the hospital campus, solemnized by two Hindu priests and witnessed by more than a thousand Covid patients, medicos, health care workers and party activists.
The couples performed all the marriage rituals, including exchanging the traditional garlands, seeking blessings of their immediate family members and Lanke, with traditional Maharashtrian wedding music playing gently in the background.
Seeing the festivities on the stage, many of the Covid patients rose to cheer and clap, others beamed and blessed sitting or lying on their cots, but all delighted in the diversion from their usually dull and despondent days at the hospital.
Zaware said that the twin-wedding sought "to drive away the fears surrounding Covid among the ordinary folks" and pointed out how "such highly educated persons opted for the hospital as a launch-pad for their marital life".
"This double-wedding is a first in India where the masses dread the very mention of CoronavirusÂ. We hope it will create awareness that the disease is curable and people should not run from it," Lanke said.
Expressing their gratitude, the two couples threw a sumptuous wedding feast, each sponsoring the lunch and dinner for all, donations of Rs 26,000 from Rajashri-Rahul and Rs 11,000 from Aarati-Niket to the Covid centre.
"We are absolutely thrilledÂ. Our weddings couldn't have been betterÂ. An unforgettable experience as we step into our new lives," gushed the two new brides Rajashri and Aarati soon after their public nuptials.
Before leaving, the 'Just-Married' lovey-dovey couples went around taking blessings of the patients and gifting Covid-special boxes containing gloves, sanitizers, masks, PPE kits, basic medicines, etc to the hospital.
The unique event earned admiration from NCP President Sharad Pawar, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, NCP MP Supriya Sule and other top leaders.
Lanke said that the "Sharadchandra Pawar Arogya Mandir" free jumbo hospital, the country's biggest at the taluka-level, was inaugurated in August 2020, with 100-oxygen beds and all emergency or specialized equipment.
It got donations of over Rs 4 crore comprising funds or medical equipment or medicines, and local villages chipped in with more than 50-tonnes foodgrains for the patients, cared for 24x7 by 200 doctors, nurses and health-workers.
"We get patients from across Maharashtra and even Karnataka, and all are welcome to get the best treatment absolutely free. In the ongoing second wave, we treated 8,500 patients, including 1,000 children, with zero deaths," Lanke said with pride.