MRS Ahmed was quite happy, and was receiving the guests with a smile and a tinge of pride on her face. Why wouldn’t she be happy: everything was as she wanted it to be — about 500 guests chatting and talking, music playing in the background, food aplenty, the bride resplendent in all her finery sitting next to her smart groom on the stage. Everything was perfect. After the rukhsati she went back home happy and contented, though tired.

It was the third function she had hosted in connection with her only daughter’s wedding that week. The next day was the valima and then she could actually relax. She had been too busy and tense with the preparations.

The following week brought another set of tension though. As she sat down with her husband to balance her accounts book and see what further payments needed to be made, they realised that they had far exceeded their budget. She knew she was going over her budget, as Mr Ahmed had during the course of preparations told her that he will have to take loan if they did not watch their spending. But she had thrown caution to the wind and now she was in debt to the tune of more than a couple of million rupees.

She was now thinking she could have saved at least some amount by not being too extravagant but at that time her only thought was to see her daughter happy and to give the best of everything to her. They were not so rich, just comfortably well off, and with Ahmed about to retire they had to think of the future. Paying off the debts would eat up all the retirement benefits he expected to receive.

Whether it is parental love, peer pressure, or fear of being called penny-pinchers, people do follow the trend blindly when it comes to weddings. Why?

There are so many ‘Ahmed’ families in our society who, when it comes to spending on weddings, would spare no expense whether they could afford it or not. And there is no limit for those who are rolling in money and can do whatever they want. Perhaps the likes of Ahmeds try to compete with social moneybags and later find themselves in heavy debts.

“In fact, it is this urge to outdo one another that has brought things to this stage,” says Salma S, a housewife. “A few years ago, weddings were not such an elaborate an affair. There would be three to five functions from both sides but they were not as elaborate. Those who could afford would hold functions at five-star hotels but those who couldn’t would peg a tent on the road side and seat and serve the guests there.”

Farhana, who has recently come from abroad and had attended a couple of weddings among close relatives, was shocked to see the change that has taken place. “Even the guests were more extravagantly dressed,” she remarks. “Everybody seemed to have a designer outfit and coming from a beauty parlour.” What surprised her the most was the mehndi functions — what with choreographed dances and dance floors at the venue.

“This is something new,” she says. “A few years back, the mehndi would be held at home, with the would-be bride wearing the mayun ka peela jora and the only jewellery would be flowers and that too were those which the grooms family brought for her. The bride’s friends and cousins would sing songs on dhol or put on a CD of filmi songs to dance on. But it is not so any more. Now it is as elaborate a function as the wedding itself, with the bride in designer outfit and heavy jewellery.”

Mrs Tehreem’s daughter got married a couple of years ago. Those who attended the functions had all the good things to say about the event. But someone very close to her heard her musing: “Why am I spending so much on food and venue? I could have given this money to my daughter which she could have made use of while setting-up her own house.”

When asked why then she did not curtail the expenses by having the functions at a lower scale, she said, “I couldn’t do so. In the first place my daughter wouldn’t have agreed as all her friends and cousins had such arrangements and if I had wanted not to follow the trend, she would have been upset. How could I do something to upset her on the big day? Secondly, people would have called us misers or penny-pinchers if we had resorted to simplicity. They know we could afford all the expenses.”

So what is it — parental love, peer pressure, fear of being called penny-pincher or just following the trend blindly?

It is not just the money being spent on lavish dinners. Each and everything is becoming so elaborate and lavish. People would argue the logic behind a bridal dress for Rs500,000 but when it comes to buying for themselves or their children, they would not look in any other direction but go to one of the high-end designers. Any casual objection would be met with “It’s not every day that a bridal dress is bought! After all it’s my daughter’s wedding.” At this point they would completely forget that the dress would only be worn for a few hours and then be stashed away safely in the cupboard. And it is not just one dress. A bridal trousseau comprises numerous outfits, and they all cost in the thousands, if not more.

No doubt, the bride wants to look gorgeous on her big day and stand out, but spending like that can’t be called sensible.

The number of functions has increased. People are expected to attend five to six functions hosted by the same family in connection with the same event. It seems as if the guests have nothing else to do but attend wedding-related functions. It is not just one family that is inviting them. In the wedding season some people have to attend three different functions in an evening. How tiring it can get for the guests — coming back late at night and then going to office, sending the children to school in the morning and then again getting ready to go to a function in the evening. If one fails to attend a function, they run the risk of the host minding it, even taking it as an affront to their pride.

And look at the importance being given to dholkis. Some years back, friends and cousins of the bride and groom would gather at their place at their own convenience and sing and dance at the beat of the dhol or some other music being played. But now, these events are properly planned and for dance practice often a choreographer is hired.

“At my friend’s wedding, the dholkis continued for 15 days,” says Sana. “We would gather every evening at her place for practice sessions for song and dance, and had a lovely fun time. The bride’s family would arrange refreshments and later dinner as some of us would go their direct from our workplaces.”

Just imagine a group of 15-20 youngsters gathering at the bride’s or groom’s place and the family having to host them — even if casually and not lavishly. Someone’s attention, time and energy were consumed in arranging food for these merrymakers, which could have been productively utilised.

The worst is when someone decides to hold a musical function prior to the wedding or convert one of the dholkis into a musical night — the whole neighbourhood is bound to be disturbed with the noise as the amplifiers are playing on loud. There is no consideration that there would be elderly and sick people who need proper rest, and children have to have a night’s sleep to be able to attend school the next day.

As if that was not enough, a new trend that is picking up fast is bridal shower, or the gift-giving party by the bride’s friends. Initially arranged and hosted by the bridesmaid with other friends, now often the bride’s mother too plays the host. The custom is said to have grown out of earlier dowry practices where a poor family might not have the money to provide a dowry for the bride. It is also said that it has its origins in situations where a father refused to give dowry because he did not approve of the marriage, and the bride’s friends gathered together and bought gifts that would compensate for the dowry. Whatever the origin, it is now becoming a practice and an occasion for merrymaking in well-to-do families.

Those who can afford can do whatever they want — though extravagance is still not justified — but the problems arise when the not-so-well-off and the poor try to follow in their footsteps. Some years back, to ease the problems of the poor people who felt compelled to serve four to five dishes at the wedding, the government had enforced a ban on serving food at wedding functions — in some areas, such as Punjab, one dish was allowed. But somehow people found lacunas in the law and continued to served lavish dinners on various pretexts, such as wedding anniversary or aqiqa in which cases dinner was allowed. Those who could not find any excuse to serve dinner would send it over to the groom’s place after the rukhsati so people could be fed there. The same happened at the valima.

One was reminded of the law prohibiting dowry over a certain amount could also not be enforced when it was brought about a couple of decades back. People would silently send the dowry to the groom’s place a day or two prior to the wedding.

The question that remains unanswered is: Why do people have to do all this? Why can’t we have our weddings like common people do in the civilised world?



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