Sunday, 18 December 2011

A short guide to weddings in Pakistan (And Why do I hate attending them)


A short guide to weddings in Pakistan (And Why do I hate attending them)

(Disclaimer: I want to make it clear at the outset that this is NOT a tirade against the institution of marriage, just a rant about the state of weddings as they happen in Pakistan.)

I hate weddings, just hate them. I hate everything about them. From the process of bride/groom selection till the 'maklaawa'(tradition according to which groom has to stay for a day or two at brides’ home after Waleema), I hate every single aspect of weddings. Weddings in Pakistan are nothing but  exercises in pretentious-ness and hypocrisy.
For the un-initiated, I would like to give an overview of a typical Pakistani/Punjabi wedding.
 Let’s start with the 'selection' process. The standards of future mothers-in-law about their prospective daughters/sons-in-law have skyrocketed courtesy Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor and Umera Ahmad. The scrutiny process is comparable rather tougher than the vetting done by parties for the candidates of US presidential elections. I have seen an ambitious mother visit no less than TWO HUNDRED houses and still not being able to choose a bride for her Russian-graduate doctor son.
Then there is an engagement ceremony which is quite like a practice session before a Test Match. Almost all the ingredients of weddings are present in engagement ceremonies. There is a formal date-fixing ceremony named as 'Dehaaray'(punjabi word,meaning date-fixing). There is dholki, which consists of family members gathering for 4-5 days before the wedding to play dholak,a musical instrument and sing songs. There is an 'oil' ceremony and mehndi. Mind you, the 'actual' wedding hasn't happened yet. Then is the wedding “proper” i.e. Nikah ceremony in which the two people who are “actually getting married” are wed according to Islamic way. This leads to Rukhsati(means departure) of bride from her home(mostly, from marriage halls) to Groom’s place. At groom’s place, there is a “reception” for the bride. Next day, there is Waleema, which means a party from groom(and his family) to their friends, extended families and brides’ family. Maklaawa is the last brick in the block and is followed by parties by members of both families. 
I feel that a simple, elegant, beautiful event i.e. wedding between two people is made sooooooooooooo complicated that it becomes a bloody mess. I have only mentioned the most popular ceremonies, different parts of country have additional stuff to do on weddings. Many people will accuse me of thinking like a salafist and being against the “cultural invasion”. For those people, I want to make it clear that I do not oppose all this “drama” because of any religious leanings but because I can’t stand hypocrisy and doing things JUST BECAUSE that’s the way it is done. What I have found extremely hypocritical is that most of the ultra-religious people I knew did ALL the things that they used to criticize about others’ weddings. One frequent excuse for extravagance and the ceremonies is that weddings are moments of happiness, moments to be cherished and somehow EVERYTHING is justified when you are happy. I believe that the Urdu word for wedding, “shaadi” means “happiness” and that happiness ought to be celebrated but going beyond your means and hiding your real faces is not the definition of celebrating happiness. My feelings when someone asks me to attend a wedding are summarized eloquently by Nabiha Meher,
“ I feel like I’m being asked to sacrifice MY happiness for yours for no good reason other than the fact that you want to show off your popularity. “Look at me!” these weddings scream. “I am so rich, so popular!”
I’ll now list some particular aspects that I don’t like from the weddings.

1. Photography
It seems to me that the most important person at the weddings these days is not the groom anymore, it’s the photographer. All the festivities are choreographed so that the photographer can get better 'shots'. Starting from sehra-bandi to the dance in front of the groom when he reaches the marriage hall to the photo session, the photographer is present everywhere. People wear good clothes partly because of the occasion and partly because of fascination with getting their pictures taken by a photographer. I do not blame the photographers themselves for this because they are only doing their job. I have never seen a wedding without a photographer. Why do we have to 'play to the gallery' all the time.? After the marriage, the photo albums circulate the whole neighborhood and after few years, the albums are usually lost in trash. So much for “preserving memories”.

2.Food
a disturbing trend that I find is the association between weddings and food. If you ask a person going to attend a weding as to where they are going, the response of 90% of them would be, 'shaadi Khaanay jaa Rahay hain'(translation: going to eat {at} the wedding). Relatives of bride/groom from other cities come to stay at their place 1-2 day before the wedding and have to be “fed” by the hosts. Then the companions of groom, known as “Baarat” has to be served food by the brides’ family. On Walima, the roles change and grooms’ family has to serve food to the brides’ family and their own. From my personal experience, the food at weddings is of abysmal quality. It is full of spices, cheap oil and un-known ingredients. As a medical student, I would recommend to anyone willing to protect their health to refrain from eating such food. Also, food is not a problem it’s the WAY people react to food that is obnoxious. As soon as some-one announces that food has been served(or its punjabi version, “Roti Khul gayi jay”) a pandemonium takes over the marriage hall. People jump over chairs, tables, even human beings just to get to the table where food is placed. If I am given one chance to prove as why I am so disgusted by the thought of attending weddings, I will point out that moment. It is said(as satire) that at that very moment, people forget everything that they are doing and dash towards the nearby table as if their lives depend on it. No wonder gluttony was a part of the seven deadly sins.

3. Over-spending
Weddings have become a competition here and to keep your place in the “society” you have to WIN that competition. It does not matter If you have to take a massive loan to marry your son or sell your house to arrange for wedding of your daughter. You can spend the rest of your life paying loan but you are not supposed to do a simple wedding If you do not have the resources. Otherwise your nose would be cut (literal translation of “naak katt jaye gi”, a phrase meaning a loss in social status).

4. Fascination with Attending weddings
I have seen women on wheel-chairs, on crutches, barely able to walk attending weddings with beaming eyes. I do not want to criticize anyone because of the choices they make but I can’t understand this weird fascination with attending weddings at the cost of misery. On the wedding day this weirdness is manifested as the fascination with WATCHING THE BRIDE.Gimme a break. As soon as a bride enters the arena, EVERY single woman in the hall starts moving closer to have a look depicting a scene from the “Pied-Piper”. In my very honest opinion, a bride is supposed to look as the ‘lady of the evening/afternoon’ but the brutality that is done in the name of make-up makes everyone look similar to a Geisha. If this is how a woman looks at her “best”, I would like to emigrate to Canada/Scandinavia (to look for ‘dudes’ if u didn’t get the joke).

5. Dowry
Marriages are supposed to be made in Heaven; the dowry however has to be made in this very world. This is the reason why a woman starts collecting stuff and saving money the moment a daughter is born to her. Even in this so-called modern era, dowry is an important part of wedding. God Forbid If the brides’ family cannot arrange “enough” dowry, All hell would break loose. The sad fact is, NOTHING is enough.

6. Showing Off
From gifting expensive watches and jewelry to the in-laws to showing “Bari”(clothes prepared by groom’s family for the bride), from arranging an expensive marriage lawn to dowry, EVERYTHING about weddings is a show-off.

Conclusion: This post is not supposed to make you hate weddings, If you have read this, it is my request to Please notice for yourself what I have written(when you attend the next wedding) and If possible, try to change things for the better. 

7 comments:

  1. As usual its different, superbly written and even for those who do not agree its an interesting read.

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  2. pretty much the same state in India. btw , that ambitious mother of the russia-trained doctor might want to finalize the choice of the bride , age nikal jayegi uski laadle ka

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  3. This is so accurate. I'm happy that some of of my countrymen think like me. We need to change the damned mindsets and culture.

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