Six months ago 25-year-old Salwa Qadir paid her wedding planner a hefty down payment for her wedding, expecting a grand and flawless celebration. To her surprise, it was… just okay.
The sound system was horrible, the venue had mosquitoes (some even spotted a rat), and the waitresses dropped her wedding cake. Qadir felt exploited, and thought that she would probably be returned some of the money. Recently, she received a call from her planner who claimed that Qadir owed her an additional one lakh rupees, and emailed her a list of unpaid bills to prove it. Reluctantly Qadir paid her off and was just glad the whole experience was over with.
“I definitely could have done it without her,” says the disappointed bride. “She made things a little easier but I didn’t need her at all.”
Of late, many Pakistani weddings have become more then just a celebration. Rather, they are ostentatious displays of wealth, with caviar, belly dancers, streams of wine and exclusive song nights with Rahat Fateh Ali. While some can afford to outdo every other sugar mill/media company owning family out there, most of us don’t have that option. So what do we do? Here is a breakdown on where to skimp and where to save at your wedding:
“While it’s important to make everything look good, you don’t have to spend a lot on décor if you know exactly where you can save,” says Reema Siddiqui, a popular Karachi wedding planner and TV host. “The key is to think local.” Themed events, which are increasingly popular nowadays, can range anywhere from a baroque European theme to Bollywood night – and that decision can cost you. “If you come up with a chic international flair like a French Château theme for example, then it’s obviously not going to be cheap getting the material for it,” explains Siddiqui, “but if you go for ‘truck art’ or even an elegant mughlai theme then everything that we need can be bought much easily and at half the price.” For a truck art themed mehndi Siddiqui planned just a week ago, she visited Shireen Jinnah Colony in Karachi where she picked up huge reflective chakors (the bird that is a staple embellishment on every truck), colourful lanterns and reflective stickers in bulk for very little money compared to other wedding decorations. “We made a huge banner saying ‘Dekh magar Pyaar say’, and it put a smile on the faces of everyone attending, both young and old.”
Another good idea would be to recycle the flowers and reuse them for more then one event. “You can choose a sturdy flower such as the gladiola or the local tube rose, as well as motias which retain their texture and heavenly smell for a couple of days,” explains Siddiqui, “just make sure you choose a subtle colour and arrange them in a different way for the next event.” Roses for example might look beautiful but wither very easily. They are also used at every Pakisani wedding, and trying out something different can make your decorations look unusual, adding more character to your event.
Again, getting things constructed or specially ordered makes things a lot more expensive then simply renting them. More fabric, platforms and woodwork for your decorations will cost more in terms of order as well as labour. Try to use accessories such as vases, mirrors etc that you can easily rent and return.
While some people think they struck lucky by asking one of their relatives if they could use their gigantic garden or empty plot as a venue free of cost…it’s not that simple. “Outdoor weddings are always more expensive then indoor ones,” explains Siddiqui, “for outdoor weddings, marquees need to be created, fake walls need to be put up for the décor, the carpet needs to be arranged as well as a generator for the lights. For summer weddings, air conditioners often need to be installed as well.”
You also need to absolutely sure of what kind of space you want to allocate. Larger spaces are more expensive and often not completely utilised. A lounge portion, with sofas and comfortable seating can cost a lot more then round tables and chairs.
Luckily, Pakistani women have begun to realise that every bridal joda doesn’t have to overdose on kaam. Let it breathe ladies, and let yourself breathe in the process. More and more women are investing in something a little more practical then the Umrao Jan inspired one-time wear joda that will have the aunties buzzing for the next few months.
“Now people come to me asking for something that has value for their money,” explains high-end bridal wear designer Rizwan Beyg, who has been noticing a changing trend in what some of his clients ask for. “They tell me ok this is my budget, and tell me what you can make for it that will last me two generations, so my daughters and their daughters can wear it too.”
While some designers cater exclusively to customers with a budget of five lakh and above, most good designers will never turn their backs on you. “We are the cheapest bridal designers in the country,” claims Safinaz Muneer from the popular Sana Safinaz designer duo, which has somewhat of a cult following amongst Pakistani women worldwide. “We will work with whatever your budget may be, and that’s what tests our creativity as designers.”
According to Women’s Own’s fashion editor Sherazade Khan, girls have also increasingly started using their mothers and grandmothers’s shaadi joras for their own weddings. “Wearing your mother’s wedding jora, or even just the gharara or dupatta, paired with a modern top does not only have sentimental but is also an effective way of curbing the already mammoth expenses,” she explains. “Regardless of how well kept joras are, in Pakistan’s eclectic climate and excessive humidity the work, especially that done last century, with real silver and often gold, tends to weather. Exposed bits go black, whereas those better hidden stay shiny but duller than they should be. A good dry cleaning is usually good enough to shake off the antique look, but otherwise there are people that specialise in cleaning the kaam on old garments. “
planning in advance:
Face it. If you need to get something good ASAP, chances are you’ll get ripped off. In order to avoid getting exploited, and find the best possible price for the best material, you have to start planning your wedding at least four to six months in advance. “If somebody comes to me earlier to plan their wedding and tell me they have budgetary restraints, I am more likely to give them a discount,” says Siddiqui, “but if somebody comes to me at the last minute, when both my time and materials are more precious then I will charge them more.” The same goes for tent and lighting vendors. Approaching them earlier and doing your research will help you figure out who is both good and economically viable.
As a culture we do not RSVP. If one has a more concrete idea of how many people out of the hundreds they have actually invited are going to show up, a lot of money can be saved. Try adding a separate RSVP note, that may give you a better idea, or at the very least a number where they can call and confirm their attendance. In case that doesn’t work, always under order. It is very safe to assume that if you invite 500 people, around a hundred will not show up, so order food accordingly. Also, a lot of times, especially during wedding season, people will prefer to wedding hop, stopping at your event only to make an appearance and then jet to another soiree, in which case they will probably not eat.
Recently Pakistan has seen a real outpouring of specialised party favours and invitation designers, who do a good job but charge just as much. You want to save money? Time to call in your girl friends.
A girl who got engaged four months ago in Lahore invited all her friends over for a slumber party and laid out tons of materials to make goody boxes for her guests. They bought ready-made boxes, decorated them with pearls and ribbons they bought from a nearby lace shop, and used tissue to make tiny roses. “The result was spectacular,” she says, “We were all so proud of ourselves.”
According to her, there are immense resources and materials available in large quantities at very cheap prices, especially if you know where to get them. Some areas include Khajoor or Bori bazaar in Karachi. “You can find all sorts of eclectic stuff such as ribbons, laces and beautiful embellishments to accessorised boxes,” she explains, “other than that you can also find a nice fabric that you like and ask your local darzi to make you batwas, which you can custom embroider with the couples’ initials or anything else you desire.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2010.