[This article was published in today's Times of India, Crest Edition. A e-version is available here]
Come December, and it is the annual north Indian wedding season. If you are of any importance you’ve been invited to a few weddings yourself. If not, dude, you need to re-evaluate what you want to do with your life. Now, the Punjabi wedding isn’t something to be trifled with. There are so many complications that it is a good thing we only go through it once in our lifetime. Or at least most of us do. Here’s a short primer on the Punjabi wedding, whether you are getting married or just going to attend one. They didn’t show this stuff in Band Baaja Baaraat.
Yo Yo Honey Singh
There’s something in the Punjabi DNA that makes them start doing funny gyrations the moment their ears detect music. Dance is just wired into our system, with a rare exception being Sunny paaji, whose dance moves can kill a brigade of Pakistani terrorists. A dance floor is more important at a wedding than anything else. Because when they won’t be eating or drinking, Punjabis will be doing the bhangra.
The good thing is that it is extremely easy for DJs at a Punjabi party. You just need to play ‘Yo Yo Honey Singh’ every five minutes. And throw in an occasional Sukhbir. No party can end till a group of sweaty, drunk Punjus have thrown their hands in the air and sang along to Ishq Tera Tadpaave.
In terms of wedding music, some songs are timeless. “Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai’ must be like the national anthem of weddings, followed closely by Mohammad Rafi’s tear-jerker ‘babul ki duayen leti ja’. Being able to play these two songs is probably good enough for a job at the neighborhood brass band.
Paneer Tikka weds Gobhi Manchurian
Diamonds may be forever, but so is Paneer Tikka. And Dal Makhni.
For most people at the wedding, it is all about food, food and food. After all, the only place in the world where you get Indian, Chinese, Italian, Thai, American, and Korean food under one roof is a Punjabi wedding. You could almost call it a mini United Nations of food. The delights of eating Chowmein topped up with Paneer Lababdar and French Fries were unknown to mankind till the discovery at an Arora wedding back in the 90s.
If a wedding has less than five types of cuisines they must be really poor. Probably an honest government officer. Considerate couples will eat from a single plate in such cases. Saves the hosts some money, and helps bring couples together. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. With Punjabis, it is an 8-lane expressway with no speed-limit.
Pro tip – Don’t forget the Hajmola.
How did people find their wives or husbands before we had shaadi.com or shared albums of your friends’ single friends on Facebook? You guessed it – at weddings. You have a nice ambience, people wearing new clothes, the men bathed, shaved and whitened by the mardon-wali cream, the girls covered in a layer of makeup thick enough to serve as bullet-proof protection, and numerous Punjabi aunties keeping score of who is single and ready to mingle. It is a formula for success.
Single men should go to weddings in their best clothes and carry at least ten copies of their biodata and pictures, front and profile view. And be nice to the aunties. Touch her feet the moment you see one, followed by a compliment on how she has lost a LOT of weight. Everything is fair in love and complimenting a lady.
Indian Stretchable Time
Punjabi baraats are the upholders of the great tradition of IST. If the invite you got says the baraat will leave at 6:30 pm and reassemble at 8 pm, just add 2 hours to the specified time. For a wedding baraat to reach the venue before 11 pm is clear indication that the boy is a loser who likes watching Tushar Kapoor’s movies and his sister’s TV serials. Do you want that reputation?
I went to a friend’s reception once. The invite said the event would last from 7 to 10 pm. I reached there at 10:10 pm, only to see the tent being dismantled and the waiters demolishing the leftovers. You can’t mess with tradition like that. As expected, he got divorced a year later.
To Dupatta or Not To Be
Wedding clothes provide the least RoI, given they typically cost as much as a small island in Greece, and most people would wear them just once and then lock them away in a suitcase somewhere. Close to the equivalent of India’s GDP is locked away thus. (Just wait till Kejriwal ji finds this out) There’s a theory that divorce rates are increasing because of people who want to wear their wedding clothes a second time and recover the sunk cost.
Another interesting phenomenon is the guy wearing a sherwani with a dupatta and the bride wearing a lehanga, often without one. Hindu religion probably allows for only one of the two to be dupatta clad.
The traditional way to gift is cash. The going rate depends, and it is important to build consensus beforehand. Fix the rate with others going to the wedding, so you don’t look like an outlier. Going to a wedding in the neighborhood? Call up the aunties and decide whether to gift Rs 501 or Rs 1100. Or more, if you are from South Delhi, where the inflation rate is much higher than the rest of India.
Once in a while, you would get a card that says ‘No gifts please. Your blessings are enough.’ Don’t let that fool you. You will probably still be judged if you go empty-handed. Take a toaster at least. You must have got plenty of those over Diwali. It is for a reason that the wedding season immediately follows Diwali.
The saying goes that most relatives exist only to be visited once a year at Diwali, or to find faults during weddings. ‘The rotis were cold. The paneer was over-cooked. We didn’t get asked by the waiter again after we said no to his Pepsi. There was too much pollution. The venue was too far. The photographer only took our photo 25 times.’
THIS is the job of relatives. Their constant cribbing helps ward evil spirits off. Send them ‘thank you’ cards after the wedding. Nostradamus once predicted that the world will end the day relatives stopped cribbing at weddings.
The Tips Mafia
You might have emptied that secret Swiss bank account you opened just to get your children married, you may rent a Mercedes for the doli, you may have the caterer prepare a feast that could feed all of Somalia for a year, but rest assured you will be harassed at each step of the way by the various people you supposedly already paid, for tips. The handler of the ghodi your son is to ride will first demand a tip just to let your boy get on the horse, with subtle threats of getting him thrown off otherwise. Then the dhol walas will not let the boy get on the horse till they are paid their share. Don’t pay them at the risk of being beaten like a dhol instead. You’d think these guys get hired at the Chambal Ravine campus placements.
And God help you if you get caught by a gang of eunuchs en route. They’ve been known to surround the car with the efficiency of NSG commandos in a hijack situation, and only let go till they get paid, which can be anything starting from Rs 21,000 for lower-middle class families.
It doesn’t help that Punjabi families dance like they are at a strip club, throwing currency notes around as if the dhol player was Melody from Las Vegas. Totally sets the wrong expectations and random people start coming on the stage asking you to rotate a hundred rupee note on the head of the groom and give it to them.
Kodak Moment Overdose
Imagine the jai-mala ceremony is happening. The boy just put the flowery garland (made entirely out of orchids, specially imported from foreign) around the bride’s neck, the two hearts are beating loudly and they begin to look in each other’s eyes when a loud voice rings out. “Sir, once more please. Look in the camera this time.”
Once-in-a-lifetime moment killed for eternity.
Yes, if the wedding ends up resembling a circus, the photographers are the ringmasters. Posing throughout the evening for the thousands of camera shots from different angles, with all permutations of relatives and friends, while also appearing to be interested, can almost count as the first test of the strength of the marriage. To make it worse, getting a photograph with the couple on the stage also doubles up as the informal attendance. Somebody needs to provide cards you could swipe to mark your presence and a little box to drop your shagun envelopes.
There have been cases of the bride running away after the fourth take of the heads-tilted-at-55-degrees-while-leaning-in-towards-each-other-at-15-degree shot. In one case, the father of the bride was asked to move off the stage by the photographers because his blue suit was not going well with the flower arrangement. The poor man blessed the couple from 20 feet away, his view partially blocked by the photographers. At least they got a nice album out of it. Dad can always give his blessings later.
Facebook Or It Didn’t Happen
Don’t forget to update your Facebook status to ‘married’ within 2 hours after the wedding, or the registrar might deny your marriage certificate. Also, if you are not posting at least 100 pictures on Facebook everyday while on your honeymoon, people back home might assume something’s wrong. Why take the risk?
As Gandhiji once said, ‘if it isn’t on Facebook, it didn’t happen.’
The Sky is the Limit
To your imagination, when it comes to weddings. And money helps solve most problems. No music past 10 pm? No firecrackers allowed at the venue? The girl’s side doesn’t like alcohol? The bride ran away with the driver? All it takes is some innovation, a portable bar setup in one of the cars, and not leaving the car keys with the driver.
Smarter people might want to avoid the hassle and use the money they are going to spend instead on a world tour or a little bungalow in a posh part of Gurgaon. People are going to find faults regardless of how much you do. All that fried food will just upset your stomach. The photographers will come in the way. You’d have spent your life’s savings, gone through government-trying-to-save-a-no-confidence-motion levels of stress and not even feel the intensity of the occasion.
But then, it won’t be a Punjabi wedding if a thousand people weren’t a part of it.