“Can I call you back? I know I promised to talk — it’s just that I’m in a dress fitting right now,” says panic-stricken Amna*, who’s getting married in a month. Despite the fact that I had confirmed this interview twice over email and text, I say I’ll call her in an hour.
4:00 pm: “Listen, the kaam, the length, the colour — it’s all wrong. I have a month to the wedding. I’m having a mental breakdown,” the bride-to-be stifles a sob. “Can you give me a little bit? I’m talking to the designer right now.”
I can overhear her mother screaming and I fear for what the designer may go through in the next few minutes.
“Yaar, the designer just refused to make the changes; I’d rather walk naked on stage, than wear what he’s designed. I can’t believe I spent a fortune on this.” This time she hangs up on me without a goodbye.
Weddings are serious business and preparing for one seems akin to navigating a minefield, with a disaster waiting to happen at every step. The run up to a wedding is often a series of minor calamities, from jora disasters to makeup mayhem. And I heard it all — almost enough to convince me at one point that simply eloping would be the best way to a happily ever after. And just then, the erratic brides would turn around and say something that would make me a believer in big weddings after all.
“Can you meet me at the salon in 20 minutes?” says the now calmer Amna.
I assume that the jora catastrophe has been averted and immediately agree to the meet-up because I may not get an open slot before the wedding at all. She’s booked solid for the week. I get to the salon at lightning speed. It is full of girls getting dolled up for either their own weddings or for those of their close relatives. I make my way towards the bride-to be who is getting a blow dry for a pre-wedding dholki. She tells me that there are dholkis planned every day for the next month. I do the math in my head — one blow dry = Rs800, 30 blow dries = Rs24,000 — and immediately decide I’m not getting married at all!
The bride herself is busy BBMing with one hand and sipping coffee with another. On her lap lies a big diary.
“This has everything — from all the brainstorming I’ve done to the finalised dates, venues, appointments, menus and guest list. I call it my bridal bible,” she says.
Glancing through it, I realise it has sections, sub sections and footnotes. It might as well be a bridal thesis. There is a detailed section for events, big and small, dinners and lunches; another section for clothes; and others for jewellery, darzis, food, guest lists, dances, caterers and photographers. “If I lost this, I’d be a nutcase,” she continues. I’m half a nutcase just looking at it.
Hafsa*, who is getting married in three weeks and only allows me to speak to her over the phone, seems like a pretty techie bride. She has an Excel sheet on her iPad and a backup of the “Shaadi Planning Document”, as she calls it, at home on her laptop.
Sophie* who is getting married in two weeks says she handles things as they come. When I ask her how she remembers all the dates and details, she says “Mum knows best. I keep joking that she should wake me up a few hours in advance on the day of the wedding.”
But one thing’s clear: whether it’s a diary, folder, excel sheet or mama’s good old memory, a tracking system is a must considering there are huge budgets — this is one of the single biggest expenditures a family makes in a lifetime — and multiple timelines involved in this Herculean project.
While for some brides, like Amna, every little detail — from the colours of the flowers on-stage to the exact dimensions of the invite — makes a difference, others like Sophie refuse to succumb to the pressure and are perfectly content leaving the planning to family members. “It’s just a wedding,” she shrugs. “I’d actually love it if there were no annoying relatives, just me and him. But, of course, my mother won’t let me have it that way.”
With Amna and Sophie having completely different bridal mantras, I turn to Hafsa for a more balanced point of view. She says that while she hates the extravagance of a typical wedding, she still thinks being involved in the process is important. “I don’t want to be a bridezilla and stress about the details but at the same time, I want it to be memorable, which means I have to be part of the preparations. Also, I don’t want my parents to stress, so I take most of the responsibility on myself.”
But whether you go Amna’s perfectionist way, Hafsa’s balanced road or Sophie’s nonchalant route, at least one pre-wedding disaster is guaranteed. From the caterer cancelling the food at the last minute because of a strike to the wedding ring being stolen by the hired help, something is bound to go wrong. And how a bride deals with it depends completely on her.
“The planning is chaotic and can bring out the worst in you,” says Hafsa who doesn’t mind a few hiccups along the way. “But you finally get to be the centre of attention. It’s the fulfilment of a day you’ve been dreaming of pretty much your entire life.”
Amna, who is involved in every part of planning, completely disagrees. “There are just too many decisions to take and you’re constantly fretting about one thing or another. And there is never enough time.”
But can time really change the outcome of a wedding and reduce the number of obstacles along the way? For this question, I get a unanimous, “No matter how much time you have, it’s never enough” from all three brides. But all of them have had at least six months to prepare. In terms of planning, they tell me that if you get anything less than six months, it’s practically impossible to get your first-choice venues, caterers, makeup artists and wedding designers as they are all booked three months in advance at the least.
But even for those who have more than six months to plan and prepare, the stress and anxiety is worse if they work. “I used to work during the day and then rush to run all my wedding-related errands from 6-9:30. I’d return only when the shops closed down. And out of the two days I was off from work, I’d use my full Saturday to do all the things that required more time. I did this for six months straight. By the end of it, all the Ashiana dukandaars knew me by name and face,” says Amna.
As the day loomed closer for all three brides, I got back in touch with them to find out what, in restrospect, had been the hardest part of their wedding planning. According to Amna, “Running after the darzis. I had three darzis because clothes had to be stitched not just for me, but for my sisters, cousins, khaalas and my mother and all three of the darzis have given me a lot of grief.”
Sophie says that the stream of relatives that invaded her house were the hardest to deal with. “You never asked for all this hoo-haa, but they’re all in your face, and they have an opinion on everything. You can’t have a private moment with your family, something you really want as you won’t be able to see them as often anymore. At one point, there were 40 people staying at my house. There was a 2 hour wait to use the bathroom in the morning. And there were no exceptions for the bride.”
But Hafsa says that regardless of the stresses, and the annoying relatives, there’s still excitement in the air. “When the day comes closer and all your friends, cousins and family are together, the anticipation is incredible. They’re all there to celebrate your big day,” she says.
“When my brother surprised me and flew down a month in advance to attend, I literally cried tears of joy. It was a perfect moment,” says Amna.
I manage to get the nonchalant Sophie to also open up and reveal her favourite moment. “When I signed the papers, I sighed with relief. All the disasters were behind me and they had led me to this moment, and there was nothing to keep me away from him anymore.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, July 15th, 2012.