Token White Friending in Lahore, Day 3: Shaadi Time

I woke up at a more reasonable hour this time, promise. Enjoyed another delicious breakfast with Anaab and her family – honestly, I would do anything for another bite of those yummy parathas. Take me back, please.

Today was the big day – the shaadi. This is the largest wedding event, where red is traditionally worn by the bride, and the groom rocks up in his fanciest sherwani. Hundreds of people congregate to eat tasty food, witness wedding rituals, take pics of the bride and groom, and generally have an excuse to come out and look fancy. Anaab’s would be no different.

Instead of photography, which I’d shown myself to be an epic failure at the previous day, my job for today was something I’m actually good at – keeping Anaab entertained. While the family readied themselves, the house, and sorted out a few last minute bits and bobs, Anaab and I were packed off to another salon with all her beautiful bridal gear. This one was called Arammish, and is apparently quite famous in Pakistan for being good at bridal stuff.

Looked like we had come to the right place – it was huge. 3 or 4 rooms dedicated solely to hair and makeup, plus the bridal suites, and a whole spa complex I didn’t even set foot in. Male and female stylists work hard all day to get brides, guests, and everyone else ready for the hundreds of shaadis happening across the city. We’d come on a Saturday, too, so Arammish was operating at peak capacity. As I waited, brides passed me in full regalia, looking beautiful. I marvelled that Anaab would soon be among them. My friend, with whom I share many fond memories of laying around in PJs and watching garbage TV, was all grown up. I felt like the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding – “why you want to leave me?”

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O Kostas. Relatable.

In a really sweet gesture, Anaab’s family paid for me to get my hair and makeup done too, so I could keep Anaab company. I’d never had it done before, so it felt like a really special treat, and I can’t thank them enough. I hope they know that keeping Anaab company has been my pleasure for the last 5 years, and I’d do it any day of the week, any time, any place. Anaab went off to the bridal prep room, while I wandered around the salon like a lost lamb, waiting to be told what to do.

Now, because I’ve never had my makeup done professionally, I had no idea what to ask for. I’ve worn the same makeup look for about 10 years now, with little variation. But I’m always keen to try out new things, so I told the artist “You’re the expert – do what you think looks nice”. “Soft or heavy?” she responded. This was already a question I wasn’t prepared for. “Errrrmmm… soft?” I said. And I said no more until she was done.

20 minutes later (seriously? I’d only manage to get my eyeliner done in that time), she had finished. I stared at my reflection – it was unusual to see myself with so much makeup on, and applied so perfectly too. At first, I didn’t really feel like me, but I soon got used to it because I looked fuego. Keep on reading to see what I turned out like.

Next up, hair. I am a hairdresser’s nightmare because I’m always experimenting with new looks, and my hair is a pain to work with because it’s quite thin and just overall a bit meh. I’ve also got a short bit above my left ear, from when I thought it would be cool to have an undercut as part of last year’s New Year’s Resolution. New hair, new me and all that. It didn’t work. Nor did the Pakistani hairdresser like it. “Who cut your hair?” she demanded, “this bit is too short!” I decided to go along with it and blame my British hairdresser rather than explain my ‘edgy’ phase. Sorry Jane.

We decided to curl my hair, because that’s a look I’ve always loved, but I was vague on the sort of curls I wanted. The hairdresser and I chatted a bit while she backcombed my hair to oblivion. She asked me what I was doing in Lahore and what I thought of it. I told her I was there for a wedding and that I was loving every minute of it – the energy of the place is electrifying. I was really struck by the friendliness of Lahoris generally, and there’s none of that weird fear of talking to people that we have at home. Even though my Urdu is non-existent and not everyone in Pakistan speaks English well, I felt I could still communicate my thoughts and feelings freely. It was nice.

When she’d finished, my hairdo was certainly done. It was a bit too voluminous for my liking, but I knew over the course of the day it would probably flatten out a bit. I went to go find Anaab, who was having glitter eyeshadow put on. They had applied the most beautiful shade of red lipstick to her already stunning face, perfect for matching with her crimson bridal dupatta (shawl). She fluttered her eyes open, and we beheld each other. I smiled, seeing how gorgeous she looked. Anaab’s eyes widened and she exclaimed “woah!” Encouraging. “Ummmm… your description ‘Asian Hairspray‘ was quite accurate”.

The salon asked to take photos of me and Anaab to put on their social media. Anaab was hesitant, but I’ll do more or less anything to get this blog off the ground, so I agreed. Long story short, I think I’m now #instafamous in Pakistan:

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Imagine my dismay when I found out they’ve styled other white people. I thought I was special!

With her makeup complete and her hair put in a perfect bun, it was time to help my beautiful friend into her wedding lehenga. To be able to be a part of this and to share this special moment with Anaab felt nothing short of magical. Well, I say ‘helped’ – it was more like I keenly watched as Anaab fixed her hijab (much to the annoyance of the hair stylist who had spent time putting her hair up), and the salon ladies draped her in the most elegant shawl I’ve ever seen. Made from red velvet and embellished with diamanté, it paired with her crimson and gold outfit perfectly. Once she was dressed, they adorned her with gold bangles, necklaces, and a stunning pearl bindi. My beloved friend was now a beautiful bride.

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A vision of beauty, and of love. So proud.

We hopped back into the car, put the screens in the rear windows up, and threw a scarf over Anaab so no lucky passerby could gaze upon her before the shaadi. We had just enough time for a quick pit stop at home, before we headed out to the venue. While driving along the motorway, I noticed something unusual… a whole load of Stars of David pointing up into the night sky, brightly illuminated in an array of colours. They looked like Christmas lights, but surely they couldn’t be – I’d come to Pakistan to get away from Christmas! I asked Anaab’s father what they were. Sure enough, they were indeed Christmas lights put up by Lahore’s Christian community, and each star marked the location of a church. I couldn’t get a clear enough picture, but it was just one of many unexpected little surprises I found in Pakistan that showcases the incredible diversity of this country.

Another little surprise was the venue. Weddings are a much bigger deal in South Asia than they are elsewhere, and as there are frequently hundreds of guests to look after, large spaces are needed to accommodate everyone. So, these massive wedding halls have been constructed, each one an elaborately-designed mini palace. There were two huge rooms in Anaab’s hall, so another wedding was happening simultaneously in the same building. I walked out onto the street and noticed that the entire road solely consisted of wedding halls. It crossed my mind that in each hall – there were about 10 in total – sat a newlywed couple, about to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives together. Life truly is a wonderful thing sometimes.

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This whole street – maybe about a kilometre or so long – is 100% wedding venues. Like much of Pakistan, it’s also very heavily guarded – body scanners at the entrance of every venue, and security blokes. With guns.

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A lot of these are real flowers. So. Damn. ELABORATE!

Anaab and I arrived early, so we could get pictures of her before all the guests arrived. There were 3 or 4 photographers following her about, getting her to pose in a selection of graceful stances. Anaab looked as regal as a queen, and as her loyal lady-in-waiting (or so I imagined myself to be), it was my job to hold her golden clutch bag and greet people who arrived. I realised that I took this a bit too far when I said “Assalamu alaikum!” to a surprised Pakistani family who walked through the door. They did a double-take at me, a pasty white girl dressed in Asian clothes, greeting them as if they were my friends. It was then I realised that they weren’t guests of Anaab – they were here for the other wedding. Whoops.

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Yaaaas, Queen!

Once the photographers had exhausted the venue (and Anaab), the bride and I retreated to the ‘bridal room’, a little lounge with a bathroom attached. Here, the bride waits for the groom’s family to arrive, so she can make her entrance later on. We sat together and waited, while family members would come and go to give their best wishes to the bride. A sense of nostalgia hit me like a wall – this could be the last time the two of us were alone together as best friends, and certainly as single women. Anaab’s nerves started to kick in, too. We held hands and quietly watched the time pass.

When the sound of Punjabi drums emanated from the misty outdoors, I was called away from Anaab to go and welcome Faizan’s family. Someone handed me a plate of rose blooms, and Anaab’s cousin explained that we were to shower the groom’s family with them as they walked into the hall, like confetti. We broke apart the flowers into petals, and they released the most intoxicating scent. Pakistani roses are so much more fragrant than English ones, and I couldn’t stop lifting the plate up to my nose to get a whiff of them. I must have looked very odd indeed.

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I also think I lobbed a whole rose at Faizan by accident, which hit him right on his face. Sorry Faizan. Venu also got a nice coating of purple petals.

Soon, it was time for the bride to make her entrance. No matter what sort of wedding you’re having or what culture you’re from, to me, this is always the best part. The second the groom’s eyes fall upon his beautiful wife-to-be results in the most loving and heartfelt gaze, and I’m an old romantic sucker for things like that. I was privileged enough to walk behind Anaab as a member of her family, so I got to see it all from the best place in the house.

The families ceremoniously joined each other on the stage, and we took loads of photos to capture the moment. It was a perfect picture of two people, two families, two lives coming together – but soon we’d destroy the harmonious atmosphere by ambushing Faizan and stealing his footwear. This is the unique desi tradition of ‘joota chupayi’, where the women of the bridal party take the groom’s shoes, and he has to pay them a ransom to get the shoes back, so he can take the bride home with him. Sometimes the ransoms can go ridiculously high, but this was all in good fun. We certainly enjoyed extorting Faizan for all he was worth – or rather, all he had in his pocket at the time.

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Stand and deliver! Your money or your wife!

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About £30 in Pakistani rupees, and it’s all mine, muahaha. #thanksfaizan

After this, food. Venu and I made a beeline for the buffet, because we are both eternally hungry and in search of great eats. Interestingly, the selection was rather small for such an opulent wedding – only one or two main courses, and one dessert, to choose from. This is because the Punjab region of Pakistan has recently introduced rules that aim to cut down majorly on food waste. If you have a wedding of, say, 500 people, and serve anything up to 15 main dishes (plus sides and dessert) for everyone to pick and choose from, it’s natural that there’ll be a lot of food thrown in the bin. Cutting down the selection means far less food is wasted. I’m actually starting to think we ought to do that in the UK, too, if we really care about the environment, poverty, and global hunger.

At the end of the night, the bride is taken by the groom’s family to live with them. This part of the event is called the rukhsati, and is always the saddest bit, as the bride is leaving one phase of her life behind to start a new one. Anaab’s rukhsati was just so – a very emotional time where many of us were in floods of tears.

As we walked out with her, the venue lights shut off. It wasn’t one of Pakistan’s legendary powercuts, but a deliberate action by the venue. There’s a strict curfew at 10PM, because some Punjabi weddings used to go on until stupid o’clock in the morning, and I think local residents and venue owners had had enough. They don’t muck about, either – as well as turning off the lights, they were keen to hurry us into the cars and get us home. This happened in all ten of the wedding halls at once, so as you can imagine, thousands of people trying to get out at the same time caused a bit of a traffic jam. That was before we hit the road and dealt with the rest of the Lahori traffic.

Into the night, Anaab had gone home with Faizan and his family. After more than a year of preparation, the wedding itself came and went in the blink of an eye. But my time in Lahore wasn’t over yet – I still had a bunch of sightseeing to do. Join me and Venu tomorrow as we frantically rush about the city, attempting to jam 500 years of history into 6 hours, and go head-to-head with Lahore’s road safety issues. Should be fun.


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