I attended a Punjabi-Chinese wedding in the heartland of Haryana and it was as insane as it sounds!
Indian weddings are crazy. Punjabi weddings are mad. But when Punjab meets China in the mandap, it’s nothing less than INSANE!
It was December and a cold wave had just hit North India dipping the temperature close to freezing point. But in the Arora household in Sector 17 of Karnal the temperatures were lurking close to boiling point when the scion of the family had declared that he was going to marry his Chinese girlfriend.
“Over my dead body!” yelled the mother of the groom from inside her room.
My entire extended family was seated in the living room of my chacha’s sprawling bungalow in Karnal, discussing the details of a betrothal we had never imagined would ever take place in the Arora household. The subject of debate here was an urn full of ashes of the bride’s ancestors. According to Chinese ritual, the ashes had to be sprinkled over the bride and groom to seek the blessings of the departed. Dolly chachi had put her foot down, no dead persons’ ashes were going to touch her boy on his wedding day, unless they wanted to see her ashes piled on the floor next to him.
In my chachi’s defense she was taking it all bravely. Several years ago she had sent the apple of her eye, her son, to ‘vilayat’, the haven of all Punjabis where their cherubs are bound to prosper. Recently they had gathered with equal pomp and splendor to welcome him back, only to receive the shock of their lives. This particular ‘maa da ladla’ had already been spoiled. He had gone ahead and fallen in love with a beautiful Mandarin maiden from Shanghai and had brought her back with him demanding to be wed only to her. If they didn’t agree, he threatened to get a court registry (generating a unanimous gasp from the relatives) and retreat to ‘vilayat’. So they came to an agreement- they would accept his bride only if they agreed to a Punjabi wedding. The lovebirds agreed. What followed was a concoction as weird as Ajinomoto in a Patiala peg!
Yours, Mine and Ours - The first shock was the size of the bridal party- 3 people, the bride’s mother, her uncle, and a friend, compared to the 300 from the groom. English-speaking members of the family (including me) were hastily assigned to the bridal party. My chachi had made sure that I was appointed the two most difficult tasks of the wedding- first, explaining to the bridal party the logic of a Punjabi wedding, which had made me wonder if there was any in the first place. The second, HIDE THAT BLOODY URN!
Cheeni- Meeni Bhai Bhai - It was a one of a kind wedding and all of Karnal seemed to be on steroids to make their Oriental guests feel welcome. Dj Vicky had been invited to play, who we were told was THE Dj in town (Translation- ONLY Dj in town). Disco Bollywood meets Bhangra! The bride asked me to translate what the songs meant. “Saari night besharmi ki height”. I decided to skip that one. “Main lovely ho gayi yaar naam tera padh ke”. Too complicated. “Abhi toh party shuru hui hai”. Safe enough. “The party is just getting started” I told her. Dj Vicky probably wanted to make an impression on the bride, because next on his list was the song “Supergirl from China”. I vaguely remembered watching its video on Youtube and rushed to Dj Vicky. Not only was the song racist, but I think the so-called “Supergirl” was an inflatable doll that turned into a famous porn star. Probably not the message we wanted to give our future “bahu”.
When I tried communicating it to Dj Vicky over his blaring speakers, a well-meaning Uncle reassured me. “Don’t worry beta… Enjoy! I have especially taken permission from the SHO to play music till 11!”
The Rail Gaddi - And then we were hit by the “Rail Gaddi”. For those who have never attended a Punjabi wedding, let me explain. When this particular song comes up, you have got to get off of your butt, come to the dance floor, and make a human train like you did in kindergarten. And no, it ain’t optional. The “Rail Gaddi” is sacrosanct. If we could put it in the invitation card itself, we would have. If you want to piss off a large group of Punjabis at once, it’s simple- just refuse to be part of their “Rail Gaddi”! I pushed and pulled the bridal party to come in and join the train. They were sweet enough to oblige, nobody even noticed that they were too confused to actually know what was going on!
Desi Chinese - Around the time the well meaning Uncle had started his “Naagin” dance and was in danger of fake snake-biting the bride’s mother, dinner was announced. A grumpy granny was sniffing the air with disapproval at the table as Chachi bemoaned. “Forget about caste, he has gone ahead and married outside the country!” Grumpy Granny patted her hand sympathetically, “Kam se kam gori te hai…” (At least she is fair-skinned) Suddenly Chachi caught the silver lining- the prospect of a ‘fair’ gene-pool of her future grandchildren!
The caterer had gone above and beyond to impress the guests with his culinary skills- he stylishly presented his version of their cuisine - Desi Chinese. The guests sniffed their plates of “Paneer Schezwan” suspiciously. “Bad luck for the bride’s mother to eat at groom’s house” the bride’s mother told us sheepishly. I tossed around my own plate of chilly-soaked paneer schezwan and envied her excuse.
Grumpy Granny asked me, “Ask her what her favourite dish is” I translated. “Roasted pig’s entrails” she told me brightly. I gulped. The paneer schewzan was trying to make its way back. “Chilly chicken” I lied to Grumpy Granny. “Me too!” Grumpy Granny landed a good-hearted slap on the bride’s back. If she had choked on her paneer schewzan, she dared not to show it.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - “Tiger and Dragon can never be happy!” The morning of the wedding came a surprise call from China - it was the bride’s family fortune teller (a Chinese jyotishi if you would). She had checked both the bride and groom’s birth charts. Apparently the bride was a Tiger zodiac and the groom was a Dragon, a potential for disaster. The bride’s mother was panicking. “We don’t have the blessings of our people! This was bound to happen” We tried our best to calm her down. There had to be a way around it. “We need blessings of people” she told us. “In my village when a bride and groom choose each other, (the chances of which I was told were once in a decade) they have to seek permission from the whole village before getting married”
But there was one problem- where will we get the villagers? The groom had an idea- “Right here”
So we set out into the neighbourhood, armed with chits of paper and pens, on a mission to make all of Sector 7 to agree to a wedding most were unaware of. We were met with suspicious glances, some thought we were door-to-door sales people, some thought we were collecting chanda. We explained the situation to them and persuaded them to scribble “Yes” on the little chits. By mid-day we had around a 100 chits with the colony’s approval of the wedding.
Mehendi for the Mandarin Bride - The bride was doing really well. She had woken up early, sat through a 4 hour long mehendi session while her arms and legs turned stiff. It was worth it, her mehendi had turned out brilliant. “They say if the mehendi on your palm turns out dark your husband will love you forever, but if the back of the hand turns out as well, your mother-in-law will love you as much!” She stared at me for a while. “You really think so?” I smiled. “Just trust the mehendi”
Apparently she had brought with herself the traditional Chinese bridal dress. But Chachi had dumped a designer lehenga on top of it. She had spent 1.5 lakhs on it, and most importantly had told everyone that she had spent 1.5 lakhs on it. Poor girl, I thought to myself. She must have dreamed of getting married in her traditional bridal dress since she was little. “Don’t worry” I nudged her, “Save it for the wedding night!”
Band Baaja Baarat - The stage was set, the bride bedecked. There was only one problem- NO BAARAT! After a few frantic calls I learned that the brothers and friends of the groom had refused to dance because they weren’t allowed to fire their guns in the baarat. The well meaning uncle had gone ahead and invited the afore-mentioned SHO of Karnal to the wedding. Which meant there could be no unlicensed firearms going up when the band played “Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai” How were the boys expected to take part in such blasphemy?
It was up to the well-meaning uncle now to fix things. He went around cajoling everyone. “Don’t worry beta… Enjoy! I have especially taken permission from the SHO to play music till 11!”
The Car-o-bar- The moment the baraat reached the venue, everyone assumed their roles. The men proceed to the ‘Car-o-bar”. A makeshift bar created inside the trunk of the most enterprising alcoholic in the group. Usually at weddings, this is where the party is, but considering we were in the middle of Haryana, it had turned into the equivalent of the men’s locker room of the wedding. Usually women do not venture into this den of cave men. But it was an emergency. Dressing up for a wedding in North India in December can be more agonizing than Yash Raj heroines shooting in the Swiss Alps wearing chiffon sarees. I was freezing and in desperate need of some spirits to raise my spirits. So I grabbed the bride’s friend and foolishly entered the den. Without protection.
It was like a female in heat entering a wolf pack. She was instantly surrounded. I could hear phrases like “Chinese import” and “You want to go for a drive on MG Road?” There was no MG Road in Karnal. I quickly grabbed her and pulled her out of the circle of drunken mirth. She looked like she was enjoying it though. “Indian men are so nice!” She beamed. “You have no idea” I muttered under my breath.
We safely made our way back to the women’s section. The stage. Where one by one they took turns to upstage each other with a glaring display of their wealth hanging from the earlobes and clasping their fleshy necks. While the video guy/photographer, a dubious descendent of Sanjay Leela Bhansali directed them to stand around the couple in different poses. Waiting for my turn I was updated on the plot lines of all the serials that were being missed. Did you know a daayan had taken over Simar in Sasural Simar Ka?
The Vows - I whispered the translation of the vedic vows into the bride’s ears. She was looking radiant, and the flame from the fire gave her an almost divine form. I could see the glow in her groom’s eyes as he took her hand and completed the pheras around the sacred fire. Even I got a little tearful. The mother of the bride kept clutching her urn of ashes. Damn it, I had forgotten about that! Chachi was going to kill me.
“Here, let me hold it for you” I offered, but she clung on to it protectively. “I can’t put it down, it’s disrespectful. 10 generations of our family is in there. I want them all to bless my daughter and son-in-law. Without it the wedding is not complete” I usually don’t believe in superstitions, but for her sake I hoped she would be able to get her daughter the blessings of her ancestors.
We showered rose petals on them as the ceremony got over and they took the blessings of the elders.
As if on cue, Dj Vicky belted out what he saved specially for this moment- “Baabul ki duaaein leti ja…” The bridal party looked confused. I frowned at Dj Vicky. He really hadn’t thought his playlist through. The well-meaning Uncle gestured to me once more. “Don’t worry beta… Enjoy! I have especially taken permission…” God dammit!
It was a strange bidaai. We weren’t welcoming a new bahu to the household, technically. We were actually saying goodbye to the couple who would soon retreat to their ‘vilayat’. I think the reality of the situation had just struck my Chachi. She clung to her son protectively and cried.
Then she turned to her new daughter-in-law. “Please take care of him” she requested as she hugged the bride.
I smiled at the bride. Sometimes you just have to trust the mehendi. And as the newlyweds bent to touch the feet of the bride’s mother she scooped them up in a tight hug. I don’t think anyone noticed the faint hint of ash-grey that got smeared on the couple’s clothes afterwards. So she had finally succeeded, I laughed to myself.
God bless the Tiger and the Dragon!
By Smriti Dewan
Illustration by Eshna Goenka