Big smiles, beautiful women, and a never-ending array of food, surrounded by flowery decorations, bright lights, and the occasional whiff of halwa and Kashmiri chai. The merriment seems endless, before the lights fade to black, the food is thrown away, and the flowers left to rot. Modern-day Pakistani weddings are a sight to behold.
I was present at one of such events recently. I donned a beige kameez with a white shalwar, and covered my body with one of those colognes I only use occasionally. Driving to the occasion, I noticed many people with similar plans.
Winters in Lahore translate to traffic jams as thousands struggle to make it to one of the dozens of mehndis and shaadis happening all around the city. I made it to the venue fashionably late — by 90 minutes! — and made my way to my cousins. Everyone looked happy and beautiful in their dresses. I winked at my soon-to-be hitched cousin and joked around with my family. The dances started soon after as we put our hard work to show for the many aunties and uncles who were there to be entertained.
It’s always a pleasure to reconnect with family one hasn’t seen for a long time and an even greater pleasure to connect with them if one hasn’t before. Luckily, I managed to do both, as I traversed from one fancily clad cousin to an uncle I hadn’t had a conversation with since the last wedding. We roasted each other about our lives and plans since we had last seen each other and joked about the weight we had gained or lost since then. Plans were made to meet for lunch or dinner soon after and how we could best annoy the bride and groom. When the time to take pictures came, we all made our way to the stage, poking fun at the groom’s choice of clothing and the state of the bride’s cheek muscles. The photographer was bossed around by cousins and friends instructing him to take pictures of us. Poses were decided and candid pictures were staged. By the end of the night, he could be proud to say that he had earned his wages; his worn out fingers were proof.
We went our separate ways, having relit old memories and painted new ones. Promises were made that at the time of the next one to be ‘married off,’ we would go crazier and louder than tonight. Who is the next one, we wonder? It’s going to be you for sure, we laughed.
Then there were the people who sat on the edges of the event, trying to be seen by someone they know. I noticed the permanent frowns, the extravagant makeup and the shiny shoes. These were the people who sat in clusters with what I presumed were their family members, gossiping about their chacha’s cousin’s niece who looked like a good match for their sister-in-law’s single son or the distant relative they didn’t like who seemed unhappy in his marriage. When the opportunity came, they flocked over to the dinner that was presented to them, cawing a pleasant surprise or their unsurprising disappointment over the culinary standards. Come picture time, these were the first people in line, pushing through to be the first to congratulate the lovely couple and wish them the best in the future. Their frowns turned to temporary grins as the cameras flashed and all their preparation was immortalised by the photographer to be put into a scrapbook and admired years later. At the end of the night, they went home and prepared their clothes for the next mehndi.
It is these occasions that I value about big Pakistani weddings; the feeling of togetherness you share with someone who has a similar reason to celebrate. Whether one is related to another person or not, the merriment spreads and lasting relationships are formed. To those who bring their good wishes and positive vibes, I raise my glass and hope to see you at the next one. To those who bring judgments and negativity, I urge you to lighten up and learn how to love. Alas, aren’t we all just actors performing on a stage for an audience that shouldn’t exist?