/ My Big Fat Indian Wedding

My Big Fat Indian Wedding

Jul 29, 2013

In These Penny-Pinching Days, Do Weddings Get The Same Treatment? Our Writer Lets Us Tag Along As She Plans Her Daughter's Wedding

Since the time when she was a little girl, dreaming of princes and sleeping beauties, she wanted a big fancy wedding. In her imagination, she was the centre of attention, dressed in glitter and gold, while her friends and family looked on admiringly.

She is my daughter and every time she talked about her big fat Indian wedding, we would all chortle indulgently. “Cho chweet!” cooed all the adoring grandmothers and aunty-jis.

The little girl grew up and became an intelligent woman. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology, worked, sometimes two jobs, earned her MBA from a prestigious university in Ontario, worked some more, and then met the man of her dreams.

Now she is getting married and her dream will soon become a reality. My not-so-little girl will have her big fat Indian wedding because she has not relinquished her wish. She will wear gold and silk and diamonds, she will be showered with cash (she doesn’t want a gift registry), and once again, business will bloom for the myriad wedding planners, caterers, boutiques, centre piece and mandap organizers, DJs and emcees, mujra queens, belly dancers and banquet halls.

In my opinion, it is every child’s right (if the parents can afford it) to have a big fat Indian wedding. We had been warned for the last 28 years that it would happen, but the reality is just sinking in as we dig deep into our pockets, take a line of credit, and sign cheque after cheque.

There is no doubt that there is a recession, even though Canada’s politicians are somewhat reluctant to admit it, and people are losing their jobs at an alarming rate. Wouldn’t this be the best time to have a simple affair with family and close friends? Maybe a registered wedding with a party to follow for a 100 people maximum?

No, says my daughter. It is her big day and this day will come only once in her lifetime. We hastily agree but she senses our inner hesitation. Subtly, we convey to her that more expenses for the wedding (which we are fully subsidizing, like good desi parents) means less money in her pocket. But she is adamant.

After spending days trying to agonizingly plan a wedding on a budget, we come to a startling conclusion. There are no shortcuts. Either you have a civil ceremony or elope. Anything else costs loads of dollars.

So here we are, in the middle of belt-tightening times, organizing an extravaganza which will, in our estimate, cross the $50,000 mark. For someone who shops at WalMart (moi), this has resulted in sleepless nights.

However, the secret to going back to restful sleep once again is to accept that you are going to spend thousands of your hard-earned money over two or three frenzied days of feasting and drinking. Once you make your peace with this fact, life will go back to normal.

A friend once told me that no matter how much you do to make guests happy at a wedding, it is never enough. Everyone will find fault with something. Not a very encouraging thought as I dream up gift baskets and silver wedding coins!

What about the physical stress? With barely two months to go, the days pass by in a jumble of trips to the banquet halls (food tasting, valet parking, centre pieces, matching colours, dhol players, coloured linen), frenzied forays into sari and bridal shops, blouse refitting and altering, finding that elusive matching kundan set with the purple and blue lehnga, chasing tardy DJs and caterers for contracts and quotes, endless rounds of discussions with videographers and photographers, and despite all decisions to not think about costs, trying to find the most economic solutions.

Sometimes, when I lie exhausted in my bed, I wonder why we put ourselves through this rigmarole? Do we need to please hundreds of people so that two people, already deeply in love, can tie the knot?

I thought one day of intense feasting would do the trick. It was not to be. Social pressure amongst the desi community is enormous. It was pointed out that Gautam’s wedding spanned five days. Shobha’s family took the baraat (the entire wedding party) on a boat cruise and trip to 1000 Islands, culminating in six days of revelry. On the day of the pheras (Hindu ceremony in which the bride and groom take seven steps round a sacred fire to seal their union) the groom arrived on an elephant!

With deepening dismay, I realized that weddings for our community are an affirmation of wealth and status. Not just for the immediate family, but also for the extended family and even the invited guests. The thought came to me that we could build an animal shelter for all the money we were spending (I like to raise money for the Humane Society). I dared not voice this thought aloud, for obvious reasons.

If I had a choice, I would organize a simple mandir ceremony followed by lunch for a 100 treasured friends and family. Then, I would give whatever money I could to the young couple so that they could start their life with a tidy nest.

However, the decision has been made to have 200 people and three days of shaadi. We have a mehndi, a sangeet and a pheras ceremony, followed by a gala reception.

When we start inviting people, we are dumbfounded by something we didn’t anticipate.

Due to the recession, most people from India (majority of our relatives live there) are not able to make it. It’s either the cost of the fare (Over $2,500 for airfare for two people, plus at least $100 per day for hotel stay) or the fact that they are worried they won’t have jobs once they go back. Times are such, they say, that they are already handling more than they can cope with just to stay valuable to their employers.

So, sadly, our close family can only send one “representative” each. Weddings are the best occasions for families to get together and re-connect. Especially these days when people are scattered all over the globe. So our plans for boozy, anecdote-filled pre-wedding family get-togethers have been dashed to the ground. We are even more grateful for the precious presence of those who can make it.

There will be 10-15 people staying at the house and the 15 family members staying at the hotel will also be here for meals and we have to think about either having a cook come in daily (yes, those are available too) or get food catered from outside.

The costs mount every day.

However, so does the excitement. A friend has agreed to sing Punjabi folk songs at the mehndi and another is planning a skit involving all the Mississauga “aunties.” Non-desi cousins are descending on us early, eager to make shopping excursions to Brampton’s lehnga shops. A Delhi-based sister-in-law is bringing dozens of bangles in different sizes to adorn various wrists. She is also bringing silver coins and gold sovereigns. We have discovered an Aladdin’s cave-like shop in Brampton that stores everything from “juttis” to diamond bindis.

The clock is ticking and the days rush by. There is momentary panic as the bride-to-be tearfully confesses that she does not like her Sangeet outfit. We find another shop that customizes saris, that is, they become magically “ready-made” and easy to zip up and no-one can tell. There are fresh frenzied rounds of shoe and bag shopping. We have to find another kundan necklace to match the new sari. An India-based relative reluctantly agrees to bring one.

In the meantime, we are chasing overseas guests who had agreed to come but are now balking. We find that we have forgotten to send wedding cards to some people. Suddenly some people come out of the woodwork and call us to congratulate us. We can’t be certain if they are doing this to get an invitation or from the goodness of their hearts. We give them the benefit of the doubt.

We go for food tasting and menu choosing. We decide to splurge on the premium alcohol package but pass on the $1,000 movie screen. Should we have a belly dancer or a mujra dancer? Should we have a family style buffet or a plated sit down dinner? Everyone has different opinions, but we manage to compromise. Not everything looks so gloomy or daunting anymore.

I have to admit that slowly, bit by bit, things are starting to come together. Friends have been great in coming up with contacts for limousine services and pundits, caterers, wedding linen, cakes and mithai makers, just to name a few. The sari blouses have started to fit and the elusive kundan necklace has finally been located.

To our joy, some dearer relatives are making the sacrifice to travel to Canada for this happy occasion. As time goes by, we are getting used to the idea of spending money. It actually feels good to go shopping these days.

And needless to say, we have joined the ranks of thousands of desi parents in North America who, albeit reluctantly at first, will bestow on their precious child the gift of a big fat Indian wedding.



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