Our big, fat desi weddings

Published September 11, 2016
Photo by White Star
Photo by White Star

There they were, lying flat across the edge of the sofa armrest, waiting in anticipation to be picked up and sent to the dry cleaners’ for a steam press. Their delicate, heavily embroidered hems dangled in the air, as the equally decorated sleeves flapped gently along with the air conditioned breeze that alternately fell upon them. There weren’t just two of them — it was a whole stack of approximately eight, heavily embellished, what are known as ‘bhaari kaam waalay’ outfits, which I had to send for ironing.

The wedding week was here.

“Why do we need so many clothes?” I recalled arguing with my mother, eight months prior to the wedding, when she was fumbling through the latest issue of a fashion magazine. “Time will pass quickly and then you will not be able to make a new dress for each function,” she had said looking up from the glossy pages, her spectacles perched on the tip of her nose obviously irritated at the tenth repetition of my question.


Dances, theme colours, selfies and ostentatious what nots have taken our weddings away from tradition


I stood there dumbfounded as I stared at my mother bickering with the tailor on the intricacies of dress designing. There were enough events to last almost a week, which drove me crazy. More than half a dozen functions, more than 20 sets of outfits, a plethora of dance practices and dholkis, thousands of faces, terabytes of selfies, sore throats, aching bodies, buffets of variously themed cuisines costing 10 times the cost of a return trip to Dubai (shopping included) — that is a regular Pakistani wedding today.

I’m a huge fan of attending weddings — so much so that I actually crave to attend one when an invite doesn’t come my way for some time. Perhaps, the main reason for this is that I’ve grown up attending the most amazing matrimonial ceremonies in family and friends’ weddings. I can clearly remember the weddings of my aunts and uncles that were held during 2000-2004. My sweetest childhood memories consist of pure, Pakistani weddings, enriched with their true, cultural essence, bursting with colour and emotion and overflowing with values and ethics. What I have experienced is something I crave for my own children to go through because the reminiscence still hasn’t blurred, even with the passage of time.

Sadly, the probability of the fulfilment of my dream, especially in today’s age, is almost close to zero.

The yellows of mayoon and the greens of mehndi have been replaced by overtly decorated, truck art-themed rasm-i-hina where, instead of carrying the bride under a simple, red chunari, the bride is often seen riding in decorated rickshaws or worse — on quad bikes such as the ones used in the sands of Arabia during their special desert safaris. The quad bikes are embellished with strands of flowers and dusts of petals, but they’re there, bearing the bride, where she holds on tightly to her brother, who is driving the vehicle. Moreover, lights are dimmed to enhance the dramatic effects on the arrival of the couple at the scene, at the expense of the elderly almost tripping on the folded or rolled-up carpets. From rickshaws to camels, event planners have wild ideas.

Once I saw a bride literally running towards the groom, as she entered the venue while the groom stood on the stage. He bent towards the steps to the stage, extending his hand towards his marathon-running bride, which she clasped firmly in a short race of five seconds. There was applause and cheer from all over as the hands were held, whilst my mother glared at me with her eyes popping out.

These days brides blatantly pose for pictures and selfies whereas, in the past, all they did (and were even expected to do) was to keep their gaze lowered, even if it meant displaying their beautiful eye makeup all throughout the event. Hands were only held during the rukhsati and that too at the insistence of the family members so as to support the bride, who was probably on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

Because, in the words of my beloved grandmother, “Pehlay toh larkiyaan roti bhi theen.” Nowadays, why would a bride cry and ruin their notoriously expensive professionally done make up?

Eyebrows, however, were also raised when I mentioned the word ‘tappay’ to my younger cousins, during one of the recent dholkis. Gasps of shock and giggles of mockery were let out when I insisted on singing ‘Meray nehar se aaj mujhay aaya’ and ‘Gaao mubarakbaadi Maayi, jam jam, nith nith’ whilst my 15-year-old cousin asserted upon singing ‘Iski uski kaun kiski, yaaraan da imaan whiskey’ on the beat of the dholak. I was demeaned when I refused to go forth for full fledged dance performances on the mehndi ceremony and instead suggested the idea of a simple, ‘luddi/dandiya’ that the aunties of the family could also join.

So now we need clothes for bridal showers too and, yes, they should be according to a theme — chunri, peacock, the bride’s favourite colour purple or what the event planner says. The mehndis and mayoons I’ve grown up attending used to be filled with laughter, singing competitions on the dholak between the bride’s and groom’s sides of the family, meaningful rasms and gift presentations to each member by the head of the family. The events always concluded with a not-so-lavish dinner, the males shaking their leg to the dhol whilst the females clapped and enjoyed.

Not only do the bride and bridegroom have matching outfits, the napkins, tablecloths, lighting and imported flowers must match too. This brings us to selfie stations. Event planners make sure they make selfie-points — a floral arch, vase or a mirror framed with flowers is strategically placed where people can take pictures of themselves individually or in groups.

Stories on Snapchat, never ending selfie sessions, unlimited Facebook posts, etc. I can safely say that instead of asking the guests if they had eaten properly during events, now we hear people saying “Yaar tasveerain Whatsapp kar dena please,” (Please Whatsapp me the pictures) more than anything else. Professional photographers are just hired for ‘DSLR display pictures’ and overtly remixed wedding videos with thousands being spent on their service are commissioned, with absolutely no regret.

Do weddings only mean ostentatiousness or extravagance? It seems people are just there for the entertainment and food instead of showing up to genuinely bless the newlyweds.

Nonetheless, this is the influence of the unconstrained and unchecked Indian entertainment on our mini and silver screens that we have been swept away by Bollywood images of choreographed dances, costumes, jewellery et al. We have imported other cultures and created our own mix. Choreographers are hired by the hour or by the number of songs at dholkis and wedding photographers produce images styled on Bollywood posters. Mithais have been replaced by designer chocolate for rasms and wedding cakes are a must. Beauty salons are within everyone’s reach and in the wedding season offer affordable make-up packages and deals, so everyone dresses up to the hilt and every wedding seems to be a Bollywood production. Surprisingly the results are pretty polished and chic. Just like my latest selfie at the beautiful selfie corner. While I go and photoshop my pictures, you better go and fix your wedding wardrobe for your next invite.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 11th, 2016

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