One-dish law: Curbing the extravagance of Pakistani weddings

Published: May 4, 2015
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The Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow only one dish at weddings and ban unnecessary decoration is surely a positive step.

The entrance was grand and exquisite. A sequence of huge antique flower-pots meandered its way past the red carpet route, into the enormous white tent. From the fine arrangement of aureate lights and the melodies of vibrant songs, even uninvited outsiders standing yards away could discern it as a mehendi function in full bloom.

As I stepped further into the red carpet entrance, I saw two traditional stands with men distributing paans and garlands at each of the two ends respectively. Inside the tent, the mehendi stage was submerged in various types of yellow and orange flowers, some of which were imported from abroad – I heard a woman very proudly proclaim that to her guests. While heavily dressed women wearing intricate gold and diamond sets were appreciating each other’s clothes, accessories and make-overs, multiple dhol beats filled the air.

Young boys and girls came dancing into the tent, bringing the bride in her fancy flower-shrouded palanquin. Dhol walas enjoyed being showered in Rs100 and Rs500 notes by excited aunties, who joined the youth for a thumka or two intermittently.

After a prolonged dancing spree of nearly four hours, food was served at neat round tables by waiters clad in white. Halwa puri, tikkas, biryani, fried fish, multiple salads, and kulfa are just some of the many dishes I recall from that lavish wedding I attended in Lahore, about a decade ago. Since then, our wedding functions have only gotten even more royal and insane.

Nowadays, no girl can even think about eliminating the mehendi event from the list of functions in her wedding. Neither does she possess the spirit to envision her wedding without a professional photographer or an extremely expensive designer-jora. Gone are the days when young girls in Pakistan had simple mehendi functions at home, with zero jewellery and a plain yellow dress. And long gone are those days when Pakistanis were used to having just one wedding event, followed by the Valima ceremony.

In recent years, extravagant weddings have become the norm in Pakistan. Exuberant festivity for the rich, burden for the middle-class and an inconceivable dream for the poor, they are an unavoidable necessity for everyone. In a country where half the population lives below the poverty line, the elite class spends hundreds of thousands of rupees on wedding arrangements, while the middle-class goes under enormous debt in order to meet the society’s definition of an “ideal” marriage.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow only one dish at weddings and ban unnecessary decoration is surely a positive step – one that can help curb the extravagance of Pakistani wedding functions, whose grandeur and expenses are only increasing with time. With multiple dishes, food served at an average Pakistani wedding can easily cost the hosts more than Rs1 lakh. The enforcement of the one-dish rule can potentially lessen the dinner expenses by 40 to 50 per cent.

The Supreme Court has also explicitly placed a ban on fireworks and enormous lighting, which will reduce the wedding costs further. However, judging the extent of decoration is complicated. Consider, for example, the use of flowers for decoration. In nearly all weddings, there is an excessive use of flowers on the wedding stage, the bride’s palanquin, the mehendi function’s dance stage, and huge flower-potted pedestals that are placed every few steps inside the hall. But from an enforcement perspective, it leaves one perplexed as to how many flower-pots, for instance, qualify for essential wedding decor.

In addition to the food and decoration expenses, families are also forced to comply with all emerging trends of Pakistani weddings. These include the expensive designer bridal-dress – the price of which supersedes the total food cost – heavy gold jewellery, salon makeovers, professional photo shoots, and elaborate functions lasting for at least five days or even more.

All these festive rituals are taking place in a country submerged in enormous debt, poverty and various other crises. Such is the saddened state of wedding affairs, the mirth of which is spinning a large number of Pakistanis into a whirlpool of blissful ignorance. While trying to meet the society’s expectations, a person belonging to Pakistan’s upper-middle class is forced to take huge loans for his children’s wedding ceremonies, because he simply cannot afford them otherwise. Many couples thus fail to enjoy their children’s weddings on account of the elaborate costs all functions entail. No matter how much they try to minimise the expenses, weddings in Pakistan, with all the essential gifts, functions, and guests, take up a lifetime of savings.

Amidst all this, the Supreme Court’s one-dish law comes as a relief to such parents. Minimising the number of dishes to just one, and banning unnecessary lighting are both necessary prerequisites to the implementation of greater, budget-efficient steps of the sort.

Limiting the number of functions to one is a challenging task to be enforced and monitored by the government, keeping in mind our people’s fond association with the mehendi and dholak dance events.  Nonetheless, it could be incorporated with a bit of persistence and persuasion from the budding youth. This can be only done if the bride and groom themselves unanimously agree upon a single wedding ceremony, after understanding the gravity of the situation.

Recently, there have been a minimal number of such one-day weddings conducted with good wishes of the married couples. However, the wisdom behind such a wedding trend has not yet infiltrated the masses. Unfortunately, the fondness for flamboyant functions and posh embellishments still largely defines a Pakistani wedding.

The rich, who can afford such weddings, should especially make an effort to cut down on the lavishness of their wedding extravaganzas, because they set an example for the rest of the people of the country. The wedding practices introduced by the elite class are leading to an inferiority complex amongst the middle class and forcing them to acquire excessive traditions.

For instance, a few years ago, the bridal shower was an unknown event. Nowadays, a lot of money is spent into arranging this evening for the bride before her wedding ceremony. Most lavish weddings for that matter last over 15 days in order to incorporate all the aforementioned ideas.

As an example of modesty, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman, Imran Khan, should be commended for organising his wedding in such a simple yet festive manner by distributing ample food amongst the needy. His wedding is the ideal example of how even the rich can enjoy a wedding function in a meaningful manner.

An ideal wedding function should entail happiness and satisfaction for all, and not become a burden for those who are going out of the way to arrange it. If nothing else, we should learn from the weddings of the past, where a nikkah ceremony inside a simple red tent entailed an abundance of happiness amongst all. The stage was plain and flower-deprived, often carrying the words “shaadi mubarak” in a shimmery Urdu font. Mayun and mehendi were no more than a gathering of the bride’s girlfriends doing her make-over in her bedroom and cheering her for her big day in the most beautiful of ways.

Most of our parents had their weddings arranged in this manner; and they were very happy with all the arrangements. Many of our elders don’t even remember what food items were served at their wedding.

In Pakistan, the one-dish wedding law has been lifted and enforced upon the people multiple times. It requires unshakable consistency in order for it to achieve its greater motive of crippling lavishness. Every time the ban on one-dish is removed, grand weddings start setting the mark for lavish food items followed by multiple cuisines. The variety of dishes is only appreciated and lauded by our food-loving nation, setting tougher grounds and expectations for other weddings that are conducted during the ban-uplift period.

The Supreme Court’s decision should be heartily welcomed by everyone in Pakistan. The youngsters should step up to curb the senseless traditions of prolonged wedding ceremonies and everyone from the elite should essentially make a self-check before expending on their weddings. Laws are even more successful if people understand the need and the reason behind their enforcement.

Isha Fahad

Isha Fahad

The author is a former Editor-in-Chief of The Ravi and the former news editor of The Tufts Daily. She is the mother of one, and is currently a graduate of Child Development from Tufts University, Massachusetts. She tweets as @IshaFahad1 (twitter.com/IshaFahad1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.