Friday, 29 May 2015

The (alternative) Wedding Guide

It was the 3rd of October, 2013, and I was stuck on a couch in Quito, recovering from a nasty bug from unfiltered water (so diagnosed by a doctor from Perlita’s extensive local network).

The internet was down so there was no opportunity for mindless online distraction. I couldn’t really walk in a straight line so leaving the house was out of the question. I had already completed my Spanish homework on Los Tres Cerditos and just could not bring myself to read my massacre of the beautiful language yet again.

And just like that, I opened up a newly-bought, blank notebook and started making lists (LOVE LISTS!). Having just been engaged two weekends earlier, it felt like it was time to start planning a wedding! I filled up the pages with timelines, shabads, shopping plans, guest names, outfits, menus, venues, and lists of other lists that would need to be made closer to the date (LOVE LISTS!).

I highly doubt that my actions were in anyway ground-breaking; most people who are planning a big event go into some sort of planning mode. The only variable is probably the obsessiveness of said planning (guilty!).

It goes without being said, I hope, that more important than planning a wedding, is obviously giving your energy into the marriage. Here, I can hear my husband laughing, because at many times during our turn, I lost sight of this and became frantic over the most ridiculous things. Invitation font size comes to mind immediately. Such fools we are sometimes.

And during each of those episodes (embarrassed cough), he always reminded me that regardless of whether the colour was coral or salmon (it’s almost like choosing between black and white, really), regardless of whether the paneer would be better served on Sunday as opposed to Friday (why wouldn’t they just agree with me!), and regardless of a hundred other frivolous things, come noontime on the day of our wedding, we would be married. And so, everything else really didn’t matter.

Damn it, it was so annoying that he was absolutely right.

I am very, very blessed, that after weeks of him drilling this into my ears, I finally got it. I was trying to control everything, but nothing was actually in my control. It was Guru who brought us together, and Guru would see it through. Yes, make a plan and get things done, but stop trying to control the outcome.

And just like that, everything shifted. I ended up loving the weeks close to our wedding. I was relaxed, calm, and I daresay, even pleasant to be around. I talked with my friends overseas, hung out with the ones here. I ate well, drove around town on invitation card missions, and spent time with my family. I joked with my tailor, made time for a fun wedding guide, rewrote the Laava(n) translation using words I liked, said yes to all the changes in the menu, and left the flower arrangements in the hands of someone else. It was quite simply, delightful.

It all boiled down to one thing: Letting Go, and Letting God. In that time, I learnt how to divert my energy from the trivial, to the purposeful.

By Thy Grace
Photo credit to Angad Singh

There are enough articles out there to cover everything else. 5 Things Every Bride Must Have, How to Create the Perfect Wedding, blah, and blah, and blah. Some are useful, some are silly, and some insult the intelligence. Enjoy reading them (I did!) :)

Here I offer another list. Perhaps a little unusual, but it was invaluable to me, and I’ve added to it since our wedding too. I’ve ended each section with a note on where the wisdom originated from, for without them, the only item on this list would have been #10, and really that one you could have figured out without me!

1. Lullaby

The days before the wedding will be manic. You will be needed everywhere, and frankly even if you are not needed, you’ll be poking your nose into it. Guests arriving, last-minute errands, utter chaos! As you walk towards your bed at night, dead tired and already half asleep, sit up for a few minutes and read Sohela. This is your time, this is quiet time, this is time for surrendering control to the Infinite. Tune out for the day, and get ready for another adventure tomorrow. If you are not familiar with it, find a recording. Do it alone, do it as a family, do it in your pyjamas. Guru doesn’t mind, really.

This was a gift from my brother, Ravinderpal. Thank you, dear Rumta, for always connecting me with the Divine.

2. Ten minutes

I’m Punjabi and make no apologies for the drama gene in my blood! But the day before the wedding is pretty symbolic, you have to agree. A lot of reasons to burst forth into fountains of tears. Maybe it's your last day at your parent’s home, before you’re off to make your own. A lot of ‘lasts’ here… I’ll skip them because just thinking about them is making me squishy! So, the day before your wedding, claim 10 minutes of your mother’s time. Sit with her, and say thank you. The words are so, so, SO small (how to say thank you for giving you life, I mean?!), but say them anyway. Tell her you’re grateful, tell her you’ll miss her. Tell her whatever, but spend those moments being a thankful daughter.

My soul sister Manmeet held my arm and made me promise I would do this. I am so grateful.

In many ways, our mothers are more prepared for the vidayi; having gone through it themselves and having watched their sisters and friends do the same. For a father, however, it’s probable that he only really experiences its significance when his daughter’s doli leaves the home. Prior to that moment, every action and emotion is caught up in wedding arrangements. The palla ceremony may prepare him a little, but that takes place right in the middle of everything and there may not be space to pause.

Photo credit to Living Images

So, spend 10 minutes with him too. Hear the love in his steady voice, and feel the strength of the protection he has always placed above you, whether physical, financial, or spiritual. The ground you walk on is solid because of his devotion.

Take the best of the home your parents created, and carry it with you when you make your own.

This later section was added post publication, following the sound words of Amru Phenji. Thank you for the precious reminder!

3. Laava(n)

Know the words and the significance of the verses that will bind you on your journey, for they are filled with wisdom and devotion. Read them, understand them, enjoy them. These are not ritualistic empty words uttered by a Giani Ji; these are sacred vows. How much love Guru Ram Das poured into them!

How beautifully Sikhi is growing; there is no shortage of sources where both the Laava(n) and translations are available. I share here my favourite version by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa:

Thank you to that Bride, many summers ago, who panicked and asked someone to translate the Laava(n) for her just before she walked into the Darbar. I knew then that I didn’t want to wait until it was that late. 

4. Wedding? What wedding?

Pre-wedding, most conversations with your partner will be centered around wedding planning. Standing on this side, I now find it amusing how a beautiful relationship ripe with promise and bliss is placed on hold to make way for the most absurd arguments. Since everything that’s happening is urgent and needs to fit into the schedule, add one other thing to it: time out. Set in advance dates and phone calls where there will be absolutely no wedding talk. Remember what that was like? :)

This I owe to my better half. Genius, the man is.

5. The family that prays together

Photo credit to Living Images

Only you know what values you want your marriage to be based on, what your path will be, and how you will walk it together. To nurture mutual dedication to it, pour your energy into a joint prayer that both of you recite daily on the days leading to the wedding. Sharing your life with someone is a pretty big step; sharing a prayer makes it a whole lot easier. Some ideas: do the Beynti Chaupaee, read the Laava(n)/ translation, take a Hukumana and recite that, choose a favourite shabad, or do a meditation together.

Credit again to my Beloved. Heart and mind to Guru first, and always.

6. Roots

If you are fortunate to have your grandparents still with you, spend some time with them and recognise the grit and toughness they had to endure for you to be able to stand in front of them today. We all share different levels of closeness with our elders, so keep it real! If they are your buddies, pour your heart out. If the relationship is more formal, eat your pakoras quietly and ask them about their latest Gurdwara visit. I remember how much my Manji and Nanaji used to BEAM when I went to visit them. That glow accompanied me on the day I was married, even though I could not touch their faces.

They won’t live forever, you know. Have an agenda-less cup of tea with them while you can.

This is wisdom from the Divine. Thank You for allowing me the time and space to spend countless days with them before calling them home.

7. Diamonds are forever

Photo credit to Living Images

You cannot possibly fathom how much you will lean on your sisters and girlfriends before/ during/ after your wedding. They will show up when you need them (without being invited), they will do what needs to be done (without being asked), and they will reassure you that everything is going perfectly (without the slightest hesitation). You may be an absolute basket during the whole thing, but they will make you, yes even you, appear to be normal. So, make time for them, before, during, after, and always.

Photo credit to Living Images

And... the brothers come in useful now and then too. Especially when the girls don't want to do any heavy-lifting after their manicures! It does pay to be nice to them as well :p

This I have always known, for I am surrounded by diamonds.

8. Pat the dog, change the lightbulb

It is a truth universally acknowledged that attending a Punjabi wedding is on most people’s bucket list. Shopping for psychedelic outfits and dancing to lightbulb-changing steps is usually more exciting that witnessing a friend’s wedding ceremony (it’s ok dear, I’m sure deep down they really do love you).

To view, click here

Chances are that you’ll have family members/ guests from different ethnic communities at the wedding. Our week-long celebrations are befuddling even for the bride and groom (no end to rituals that no one knows the reasons for), so you can only imagine how bewildered they must feel. Think of a way to engage them in the celebrations: prepare a short write-up on the events, organise an introduction to bhangra class (mainly to avoid bodily harm on the day itself), invite them for langgar at the Gurdwara sometime, appoint someone to take care of them during the celebrations. I started out with the intention of producing a simple information flyer, and ended up discovering hidden artistic talent in drawing stick figures :)

Inspiration: the London weddings!

9. Who’s got your back?

I’ve always found our culture strange in that the bride’s Chunni Fiddler is pre-determined based on family position. You know, the one who sits behind the bride in the Gurdwara and fidgets with every stray thread that dares rear its ugly head from the bride’s outfit. The idea that someone I didn’t know well would stick to me on such a momentous day was a staggeringly uneasy thought.

I chose not one, but two Chunni Fiddlers (but no, I’m not high maintenance at all :p). Both at least as crazy as me, both ones that I’d shared fits of giggles with, both had been honoured by the pouring of my tears on their shoulders. But most importantly, both ones that knew how much I did NOT want to be bothered on that day. Let the stray threads come out in throngs. I was going to be too busy getting married to care.

Photo credit to Living Images

So if you want to, choose your own CF(s). You can also outsource the bag-holding and tissue-carrying to them. These, as you’ll come to learn, are often dismissed, but absolutely critical tasks that you can only entrust to a select few.

This lightbulb came from Manmeet, who broke out of the norm and appointed a non-relative (me!) as her CF. I can confirm that no one was injured in the process.

10. Uh-oh, where’d it go?

If your salvaar/ churidar has a nalaa, make sure it is looped. Open-ended nalaas bear the risk of one end disappearing in the folds, not to be recovered again without significant manoeuvring (safety pin! hook! help!) and much accompanied stress.

9-year old me was once stuck in a Samelan bathroom for 20 minutes while waiting for help. Key words: Samelan bathroom. Understandably, it is a lesson vividly etched in my senses.

11. Not (just) your wedding

Really, it isn’t. It is also your mother’s daughter's wedding, your grandfather's granddaughter’s wedding, your brother’s sister’s wedding. You are not the only one who gets to decide on everything. You are not the only one who knows what’s best. You are not the only one who wants it to go perfectly. It is as much their joy as it is yours. 

Photo credit to Living Images

Amrit taught me this. I heard her when she first said it, but I only really listened much, much later. Maybe you will be wiser than me and heed her words earlier.

12. To Zafar, with Love

If you have a beloved family pet that won’t be moving with you, hug them and take an insane amount of selfies with them. They don’t speak our language, but they sense everything. They know that change is coming, that you’re leaving. Their universe is pretty small compared to yours, and losing one person from that space is a huge deal. They’ll probably miss you more than you’ll miss them.

If they are dogs, that is. I have nothing to say on cats, sorry :p.

Casper’s footprint on Simran’s wedding invitation reminded me that our dogs would stand with our families through every joy.

13. Every poignant scene needs a soundtrack

Photo credit to Living Images

We all have our favourite songs, compositions, hymns, Baanis, voices. You might want something familiar to feel settled and to calm your nerves on the morning of your wedding. Never in my life had I spent that much time getting dressed and I would have been bored senseless just staring at my face in the mirror with nothing else to focus on. My cherished shabads and mantras kept me company and reminded me that life was really a lot bigger than the next few hours. So plan ahead, and create a playlist for this once-in-a-lifetime morning.

I shamelessly admit that this was inspired by Bollywood. If Kajol could have a fabulous soundtrack while getting her hair done, why couldn’t I?!

In fact, choose your own wedding band! Ahem... I meant Kirtani Jatha :) I know this is not always possible in some Gurdwaras, where you are bound to the Committee decisions. But if you can, run with it. Our family and friends played such a big part in our Anand Karaj, and hearing their voices around us made us feel like it was a close family affair. Even though (in typical Punjabi fashion), there were hundreds of people at the wedding :p. 

Photo credit to Living Images

Getting married without my brothers' voices in the background? Not happening!

14. Every movie has (at least) one superheroINE

And no, this isn’t you.

I mentioned diamonds earlier. Here are more. Your aunts, grandmothers, and mum’s girlfriends will appear out of the woodwork to take on the most glamourless, thankless, and forgotten roles. You’ll wish there were more photos of them in your album, but they were too busy holding the backdrop in place. You’ll search for their faces in the wedding video, but they had taken off their dancing shoes in order to run around keeping the party going.

Photo credit to Living Images

Let them know that you noticed. Do something nice for them: feed them chocolates, invite them over for tea, give them foot massages, bring them souvenirs from your honeymoon.

Photo credit to Living Images

This I know because everything was perfect. I see them in every photo they are not in. The silent doers that held all the strings together.

15. Throw away the Panic Button

Things have a habit of not going according to plan. Your wedding will be no different. Two choices: panic, or let go.

The former is the default reaction, the auto-pilot one. It results in unnecessary stress, takes you away from the pure joy that is taking place all around you, and returns an unsmiling face in your wedding photos (only get to do those once, unfortunately).

The latter will seem impossible to do. But it is the only real choice. There are only so many minutes in that most memorable day, and you can’t rewrite them. So choose this one. Force a smile, shrug it off, and pre-select your response to every kink in the master plan.

Teri Razaa. Dhan Guru Nanak. Tera Kiya Meetha Lageh. Tva Prasaad. Or just simply: NEXT!

This precious lesson in grace I soaked from Bal, Meerat, Manmeet, and Jagdeep, who are grace itself, and reside in the London-shaped lovemark in my heart. 


And there it is. Possibly the only really useful list I’ve ever compiled! :)

I hope it serves you in some way. Wishing you many blessings on your journey together, Tva Prasaad.

And! Never, never forget #10 :p.



Adore you sissy!! Muah! Such a sweet lost & BTW, I LOOOOOVE LISTS!! ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜˜❤️❤️๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ’—

Avinash said...

Phenji, this is beautiful and eye opening. You compiled all the things we would normally look past or forget into an essential list. Thank you. x

Unknown said...

Great advice! From one list maker to another, I can tell you put time and a lot of wisdom into preparing this list -thank you! This also the most useful advice for keeping one centred and content through the wedding and wedding planning period that I have seen so far.