First day of the wedding. Better wake up early to help the family make paper flowers and decorate the house. With the sunlight streaming in through the window shutters, I checked my clock thinking it must only have been about 9AM, but bolted out of bed as soon as I realised it was, in fact, 11AM. I went downstairs to see the hard work had already been done, and hung my head in shame. Damn you, jetlag!
I’d slept so much that it wouldn’t be long before I had to start getting ready for the day’s events, and a quick breakfast of chickpeas and buttery paratha later, I was doing my hair and makeup. Which takes forever, by the way. Anaab always laughs at the fact it takes me 20 minutes to do eyeliner, and today was no different – in fact, I took longer to get ready than the bride herself, which was more than a little embarrassing.
Today was the day of the nikkah, which is the Islamic wedding ceremony, taking place at the local mosque. After this had been performed, Anaab would be officially married, but before we went out she had to do the relevant paperwork. Signing it with all the grace and elegance becoming of a bride, with her father by her side, the lovely Anaab gave her consent to the marriage.
Pause for photographs and a few tears.
We bundled into the car to go to the mosque, where there were prayers, then we met up with the groom’s family to complete the marriage. I don’t speak Urdu very well (read: I know about 5 phrases; mostly involving ‘heart’, ‘love’, and ‘beautiful’ – thanks Bollywood), so I haven’t a clue what was being said, but I imagine it was a variation on ‘I do’.
10/10 nailed the hijab.
Since I could do little else, I was given the all-important job of guarding Anaab’s phone. We are both proper millenials, never going anywhere without our phones, so I assured Anaab I would keep it as safe as my own. Sadly I forgot I am actually a middle-aged woman in a young woman’s body, and in the hustle and bustle, I put my bag down and completely forgot about it. Who needs phones anyway?
Only realising the error of my ways when we got back to the house, I was sent back to the mosque as fast as the car could carry me to rectify my mistake. Thankfully one of the groom’s aunties had noticed my stupidity, and kept it safe for me. Crisis averted – thank god for that. Bride reunited with phone for all-important selfies.
Since ladies can’t be seen to wear the same outfit twice (according to bullshit societal rules and people who haven’t heard of washing machines), Anaab and I swapped our nikkah clothes for brighter, sparklier outfits. Right down to our shoes. Because now the formal mosque ceremony had been conducted, it was party time. Anaab’s house had been draped in orange, yellow and green decor, as the family were hosting a dholki – a celebration of the marriage, where a traditional drum is played, and the ladies of each family sing time-honoured tunes. The bride’s brother had put me in charge of photography, despite my protests that Anaab had once literally dubbed me “the worst photographer in the world”. I couldn’t really be that bad, right?
I wasn’t trying to demonstrate my lack of skills in this photo, but it’s come out blurry, which hammers my point home.
For about half an hour I went around the room, taking photographs and video. I don’t know if they were any good. I suspect not, because Anaab’s sister had a look and was unpleasantly surprised at just how bad I was. My tactic is usually to just take as many photos as I can and hope that some of them turn out okay, but I don’t think it worked this time. Sorry, everyone.
Thankfully, someone with actual talent eventually came to relieve me of my duties, so I could sit down to enjoy the festivities. I parked myself in the hot seat, at the side of the bride and groom, and chatted to my friends for a bit. I had a go at singing along, too, though it was more like quietly humming. My knowledge of popular songs in Pakistan only extends to what’s hot in Bollywood right now – and that’s not even the right country. Still, the energy in the room was palpable, and the songs joyful and uplifting.
Faizan the sideman. Oh look, it’s those paper flowers I was supposed to help with.
One of the fantastic things about Pakistan is that tasty food is never far away, so once the singsong was over everyone piled over to the buffet and had a good old natter. I also got my first taste of Kashmiri tea, a brightly coloured Pakistani delicacy. I didn’t really know what it was, but someone offered me chai, so of course I said yes. I did think it was a bit weird when they asked if I wanted salt in it. When the warm cup arrived in my hands, I was a bit bemused because the liquid inside it was pink. Anaab’s dad must have seen the look on my face, so he explained to me what it was. It’s milk, salt, something called ‘gunpowder tea’, and baking soda – the latter ingredient giving the beverage its unique hue, when it reacts with the chlorophyll in the tea. Science stuff.
You’ve heard of black tea, green tea, and white tea, but are you ready for pink tea?
The taste is unique – a hint of fennel, some cardamom, and a hell of a lot of milk. You can serve it with pistachios and ground almonds if you want to be really fancy, but they tend to sink to the bottom, so watch out for those as you take your final glug. Much to my delight, the local Asian supermarket sells an instant version of Kashmiri chai, so I can still get my milky, pinky fix.
It was at this point in the evening that someone approached me and made the aforementioned “you’re brave” comment. It was a well-meaning and off-the-cuff remark, but I honestly don’t think there was anything at all courageous about what I was doing. I was simply attending the wedding of someone I hold very, very dear. Okay, it was certainly a long way from home, but Anaab’s family are so kind and welcoming I basically felt like I was at home. Besides, this wasn’t my first time at the desi wedding rodeo. I’d been to a Gujarati wedding up in Leeds earlier in the year, and I was already accustomed to many South Asian traditions – so much so that Anaab had started introducing me to her relatives as a ‘reverse coconut’. That’s probably the highest honour anyone’s ever bestowed on me. Ever.
But it had been a long day, so once the guests had left, we had to get some rest. After all, tomorrow was the shaadi – the main event.
Heels off. Sleeping faces on.