Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Big Fat Pakistani Wedding

A few weeks ago, I was invited to the wedding of an old college friend. I could not attend the wedding but went to my friend’s house at the earliest possible time to congratulate her mother on my friend’s marriage. As I was served tea, Aunty heaped gilded photo albums on my lap and proceeded to tell me all the nitty-gritty details of the auspicious occasion.

Very graciously, she invited me to a dinner that was to be hosted next weekend in honour of the bridal couple’s return from their honeymoon. As we talked some more, it became known to me that the coming feast was to be ninth function to be hosted by the bride’s parents for the groom’s family in a course of less than two months.

Ninth feast! I got a bit of a shock.  We all know that weddings nowadays take place over a period of 4-5 days but nine functions from one side were a bit too much for me to swallow.

“Well, the first dinner was for the date fixing event,” aunty was delighted to enlighten my ignorant, uncivilized soul.” All the elders of the two families were invited; you know cha-chas, mamoos, khalas etc. The guest list comprised some 60 people just from their side.”

“Couldn’t such things be done over the phone?” I ventured timidly knowing that the two samdhans were first cousins.

“No, no,” exclaimed the shocked aunty.” That is not how things are done nowadays.” She was clearly nettled by my outdated notions.

“Of course, I understand now. And the next function?” I asked in a placating tone.

“Well the next event was the Quran-e-pak khatam that I hosted for Ayesha. All the women from the two sides were invited and we gave such a wonderful lunch right here in these lawns,” she said nodding towards the spacious green garden visible from the drawing room window.

“Of course all the young girls later wanted to have a dholki so we arranged for a little music. It was such fun.  We had to arrange dinner later when their men folk arrived to take them home. It would not have seemed decent if they had returned without eating. Thank God the caterers co-operated. We had over 100 people in the house to feed.” Aunty seemed quite pleased with her impromptu banquet.

“And then one week before the wedding, we had a very grand function for mayoon. Ayesha’s mother-in-law brought such an expensive yellow outfit. It was a very costly affair as we decided to serve fried prawns and finger fish,” she added naming one of Lahore’s most elite wedding caterers as the food providers for that event. 

“And then of course, there was rasm-e- hina and then barat which was at Lahore’s finest 5 star hotel. Larkay walay would not settle for anything less. The groom has friends in high circles and it is important to create a good impression.”

While I was mentally trying to estimate the cost of just feeding the same guests over and over again, I was struck by a certain thought. “And weren’t any functions hosted by the groom’s side?”

“Well, of course, there was the Valima. What other function can they host?”
What indeed? I thought a little cattily. At least the Valima is still in vogue.
But the recital was not yet finished.

“And then there was the Muklawa. You know when Ayesha came over and her husband and his family came to take her back to their house. They demanded that everyone from their family must be invited and not just the immediate family. See how pretty she looked,” she added fondly, flipping open the photo albums.

“Of course, Eid-ul-adha was soon afterwards and we decided to host a grand dinner for the groom’s family. Such dinners strengthens the girl’s position among her in-laws. It was Ayesha’s first Eid after marriage, after all.”

And doesn’t her good character, sound education and excellent upbringing count for anything? Once again I could not help thinking.

“Your uncle had to sell his plot to meet the expenses of this wedding,” Aunty confided to me softly. “I hope they live happily together forever.”

By this time, it was not only the tea that was cold. I felt that my brain was numbed too. It is true that weddings in our culture are a reason to celebrate and enjoy with family and relatives. Indeed it is they who add all the colour and life to such important events in our life but at what cost nowadays?

Why is the entire burden on the bride’s side, I wonder? Are these rules and norms dictated by society or are they pitfalls made by our own hands? Why it is that simplicity is not something that one even wants to hear about as our daughters and sons embark upon the most important journey of their lives?

There was a time when our grandmothers carefully put away silk bundles and white georgette dupattas in steel trunk for their daughters’ dowries.  Our mother relied upon saving certificates and her gold jewellery to see us married. But now it seems that nothing less than 1-2 kanal plots would do to meet the wedding expenses of daughters in a way that would enable parents to hold their heads high in society.

As I took my leave, Aunty once again repeated her invitation. “Now don’t forget to come when Ayesha returns from her honeymoon. We were running out of ideas and venues so we are inviting everybody for high tea at…..” In a daze, I waved goodbye with the name of one of Lahore’s most expensive restaurants ringing in my ears.

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