The crowd in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall was hushed on Saturday evening as Saqib Hasan ’06 entered, accompanied by a large procession of family members. Posing as a dulha, or groom, he assumed his position on the wedding stage, wearing the traditional sehra, or gold face covering that protects the groom against the “evil eye.”
Over 300 members of the Cornell and Ithaca community attended “My Big Fat Pakistani Wedding,” an event sponsored by the Pakistani Students Association (PSA). PSA president Saleem Malkana ’06 said he hoped that presenting a mock wedding, complete with dinner, dancing and a professional mehndi artist, would be “the best way” to portray Pakistani culture.
Nida Bajwa ’07 played the bride, or dulhan, of Hasan. Entering ten minutes after Hasan had taken his seat, she arrived in a red and gold lengha. Bajwa was surrounded by sisters and cousins, who held her dupatta, or scarf, over her head as she proceeded to the stage, weighed down by her heavy brocade and chiffon skirt.
It was Bajwa who had the idea to put on an event like this at Cornell.
“I had a relative who did the same event at Columbia University, and it was a huge success there, so I got the idea to do it here,” Bawja said. She admitted that she was glad to sit down for the entire event, since the lengha, which she borrowed from her sister-in-law, was so heavy. According to Bajwa, Pakistani brides tend to have their outfits custom-made, which usually costs around a thousand dollars.
According to one member of the PSA, who introduced parts of the event, Pakistani weddings are a “religiously sanctioned social contract.” The person conducting the ceremony must ask the groom is he accepts the terms of the social contract; he must stay “I accept three times.”
The bride must do the same, although if she is shy, clear nonverbal consent is fine.
A sangeet, or singing session performed by families of the husband and wife-to-be, followed Bajwa’s entrance. Afterwards came the nikkah, which is the actual wedding ceremony that legally makes the bride and groom husband and wife. Performances by the Cornell Bhangra team followed, which were the highlight of the night, energizing the enthusiastic the crowd. Both Hasan and Bajwa said it was their favorite part of the event.
“People here have an expectation of Bhangra, they expect it to be that good,” said freshman Shawn Jolly ’08, a member of Cornell Bhangra. “When the crowd yells, it’s exciting — we just feed off the crowd.” Jolly said that the dance they performed had won the Cornell team first place in the Bhangra Blizzard competition in Buffalo last weekend.
“This [representation of Pakistani weddings] is pretty good, and it’s very accurate — especially the way everyone’s pushing in line for food,” said Shaan Qamar ’08, who laughed as he gestured towards the lengthy line for food catered by Diamond’s Cuisine. Although one of the main reasons he came to the event was to see the Bhangra performance, he was also interested to see how Cornell would represent Pakistani culture. Qamar has attended many Pakistani weddings, usually those of relatives.
“They’re kind of long, but once in awhile, I don’t mind going,” Qamar continued. “Dinners are pretty long, and there’s the nikkah, the mehndi and then it eventually comes down to the shaadi [wedding ceremony]. The whole process is exhausting … but tonight this is very accurate in terms of the food, the music and the atmosphere.”
Adnan Malik, who is curator of the South Asian collection in Kroch Library and advisor for the PSA, also agreed that the representation of Pakistani weddings was accurate.
“I really had a good time because I think they put up a good show. It’s a very telescopic version, of course, but they do catch the spirit, which is important,” Malik said.
Maki Ueyama grad has a husband who is from Madras, India, where they had their wedding. She enjoyed comparing her own wedding experiences to the mock wedding in Willard Straight.
“This one is very different,” said Ueyama, gesturing towards the bride and groom sitting on the stage. “The music is different, the instruments are different. Our own wedding had a lot of trumpets. I wore a sari, but this bride is wearing a lengha. And the type of dance we just saw [Bhangra] was aggressive, strong and energetic.” Ueyama noted that dancing at her own wedding was not.
“I love this, though, I’m looking forward to doing mehndi,” she said. Ueyama had mehndi — a henna leaf paste applied to the hands and feet — done for her own wedding. Students lined up later in the night to have their hands decorated with mendhi, including Su Cho ’08, a first-timer. Not only was Cho pleased with the mehndi artist, but also with the Bhangra performance. “I really liked the dances, they were just awesome, you could tell that they were so into it and practiced a lot,” she said.
The atmosphere became much more informal after dinner when rasams, or traditional wedding games, were played. After several more dance performances, the floor was open for everyone to dance. Members of the Bhangra team, still dressed in their white, blue and gold costumes, also joined in. Malkana even brought out his drum to get more people on the dance floor.
“I think just seeing over 300 people here all enjoying this is what made my night,” Malkana said. “It’s a great success. I think everyone’s happy, and I think it worked out very well. We [the PSA] try to show the Cornell community a country that they don’t know much about — we want to show them our culture and how we are as a people. We don’t think that the Cornell community knows enough about Pakistan.”
Malkana added that many stereotypes of Pakistan still exist. “I think the community only hears about Pakistan through the Fox nightly news; we’re only known as an instrument in the war against terrorism. We needed to show them that there’s a people behind the nation, that it’s a very vibrant nation.”
Archived article by MAYA RAO
Sun Staff Writer