Those Big Fat Pakistani Weddingsby kenneth ( )
KARACHI — The questions ‘Who are you wearing?’ and ‘Who is doing your wedding?’ may be construed by the uninitiated as bending the syntax of modern English a bit too much. For those in the know, however, these are the two most important and pertinent questions to be asked of the bride and the groom, just before the seasonal wedding blitz hits Karachi every December.
“When you hang out in a certain crowd, there are expectations,” 23-year-old Ume Hani explained.
“Each wedding has to be different, a theme that has never been used before,” said this new bride, whose fading, tell-tale and intricately designed henna pattern on her hands and feet bear witness to her recent change of status.
She could not afford to go to the topnotch designers but defended her label ‘Naina’ as “an upcoming designer from (the northern city of) Lahore” for which she had searched and done research for six months in advance.
In a similar fashion, she conducted a frenzied search for her make-up artist, finding out to her shock that the big names charged from 50,000 rupees (625 U.S. dollars) to 30,000 (375 dollars) for a night.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford the pricey salons, so I looked for someone, not so famous but who would do a swell job nevertheless.” She finally got one to do her up for 20,000 rupees (250 dollars).
“Weddings are all about labels now,” she confessed, adding that it was “quite stressful” to keep up with the Joneses.
From the very elaborate and expensive wedding cards (some encased in leather, others coming in wooden boxes, or cards that come with boxes of chocolates, to the gifts exchanged between the groom and brides’ families, the couple’s wedding dresses, the trousseau and the dowry, the menu and venue chosen, as well as the honeymoon) all are seen as indicators of a family’s status and standing in the community.
To some extent, these are still colourful where there is still a lot to eat (a lot more are wasted too), but the family factor seems missing as is spontaneity as nothing is left to chance.
Sabila Zakir Saleem, who had planned her own wedding to its last detail some 13 years ago, laments: “Weddings have become more of an event, and less of family get-together. Personally, if you ask me, I liked the weddings of yore better.”
MODERN VS TRADITIONAL
Weddings these days are big-budget gala events based on themes. There is clever fusion of tradition with modern in just about everything – food, themes, colour schemes, rituals, among others.
The groom may come to take his bride on a horse, a horse-drawn carriage, or the bride may come on a palanquin. They may cut a seven-tier cake and there could be a proper sit-down dinner served course-wise or a general buffet. There could be a live army band or a disc jockey. The idea is to be “different” while not completely discarding traditions either.
The colour scheme is carefully thought of down to the last detail as the bride’s gown is coordinated with the groom’s garb. The stage and the props are deftly created to coordinate with the bride’s dress, and the elaborate flower arrangements with the miniature versions on tables for guests to the extent that everything spells e-x-t-r-a-v-a-g-a-n-c-e.
If it’s in the open, the marquee, under which these functions take place. are also chosen carefully and with each passing day have become more and more resplendent. The simple block-printed tents have been effectively sidelined with beautiful velvet or net, again coordinating with the theme of the evening. And whatever the temperature outside, the event managers make sure that the tent remains comfortable inside.
While at most weddings you will still have the traditional ‘biryani’ (rice dish) and ‘korm’a (chicken or meat curry), many have instead opted for Japanese or Thai cuisine “just to be different”. Instead of ‘halwas’ (hot sweets), people may just get to dip strawberries in chocolate fountains, or hot fudge brownies topped with vanilla ice cream. The list is practically endless — if you have the money.
Most Pakistani weddings used to be considered incomplete without music and dance. Friends and family needed to let their hair down and do their jig to the beat of the ‘dhol’ (drum), in whatever way they fancied. But not anymore.
Wedding dances these days are carefully choreographed to Bollywood hits. It takes months of practice to reach that certain perfection. Instead of clearing a bit of space to dance right there and then, now dance floors are set up by event managers where the performers dance and the rest enjoy ogling!
The latest fad to hit weddings is to call celebrities (TV actors, models, etc) to come as paid guests to greet the newly-weds and provide photo ops.
In India, where many top Bollywood actors have taken to performing at some weddings (for a price), in Pakistan the trend is just catching up. At the wedding of an industrialist in 2007, Lahore elite witnessed Bollywood’s sex siren’s Malika Sherwat and Bipasha Basu dancing to Indian tunes. The idea here is to make it the most-talked about wedding event. With the peace process in the subcontinent tottering, this year there will perhaps be no such cross-over.
There is just no end to the lengths people will go to be the “first” to introduce a new theme and always be “remembered”.
In fact, the global economic crises, the insecurity and the general lawlessness — including a spike in car, wallet and jewelry snatchings, snap kidnappings for quick ransom money — have not clouded the wedding festivities. It is still the time to show off and splash out.