any South Asian American women feel torn between having the traditional desi wedding—with its spectacular jewelry, days of revelry and trousseau of sequined saris and luxurious lenghas—or the traditional “American” wedding we’ve all seen in the movies, complete with a walk down the aisle, bridesmaids and a cake-cutting ceremony. What to do?
Syma Khan*, a producer for News 12 New Jersey, and husband Aamer Uppal*, an attorney, decided to combine both kinds of rituals into what she calls a “fusion wedding.” Their wedding, held in New Jersey in August 2006, consisted of a religious nikah ceremony, a traditional mehndi ceremony—complete with Aamer riding up to Syma’s house on a horse in the baraat procession—and then a more traditional Western-style reception.
Syma, whose mother is Indian and whose father is Pakistani, and Hayat, whose parents are Indian, are both Muslim. They were first introduced by friends and started chatting online. They met face-to-face two months later. Almost a year later, the two were engaged—and had only four months to plan the wedding.
Wedding planning can be stressful; for Syma, especially so. She ran into an array of problems. The dressmaker she had commissioned to make her reception outfit kept ruining the dress: When the dress first arrived from India, the saleswoman at the shop in New Jersey accidentally ripped up the dress with the box-cutter she was using to open the package. When her dress came back the second time, it was a deep champagne color—instead of the cream Syma had requested. Not only that, but the dress wasn’t even the right size: Instead of a size two, it was actually a size 12.
At this point, Syma had already signed up for the Style network’s show Whose Wedding is it Anyway? About two-and-a-half months before the wedding, she was paired up with Sonal Shah, owner of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants. One of the first things that Sonal did was to help Syma get a full refund from the dressmaker—in spite of the company’s fairly stringent “no-refund” policy. But as Shah points out, “That’s an asinine policy if you’re not able to make something right in the first place.” After getting her money back, Syma was able to buy another dress off the rack.
In the end, Shah and company were able to pull together the event in a little more than two months. Here’s how they did it:
When Shah came on board, Syma had already booked the venue for her reception: SouthGate Manor in Fremont, New Jersey. “I picked the hall because it was new and had a Saturday available in August,” says Syma. “I was looking for a hall first, because without a place you really can’t pick a date, especially if the wedding is in less than a year.” Shah agrees—to find a really great venue, she says, brides need at least a year to a year and a half in advance. But Syma was lucky in another way, too—she had the venue all to herself. Shah notes, “The nice part about it from our point of view is that they only do one event at a time. And that is extremely, extremely important. You don’t want to see three other brides running around when it’s supposed to be your day. With Syma’s wedding, it was great because she was the only person that was there and the entire venue was hers. It was really nice for her guests because they got the entire facility.”
While Syma had chosen a hall for the reception, she decided to keep it simple and have both the nikah and the 300-guest mehndi later that evening (both held the day before the reception) at her own home. “I wanted both to be at home because it reminds me of more traditional weddings back in Pakistan and India,” she explains. So they set up a tent in Syma’s backyard for the mehndi, while the much smaller nikah ceremony took place in the home itself. In one twist on tradition, however, Syma and Aamer opted to have the actual wedding ceremony—the nikah—before her mehndi.
Although Syma knew the colors she wanted for the reception, she didn’t have a developed theme in mind. “I liked pink and off white, so I wanted everything to be simple, yet elegant.” Shah explains, “We had a color scheme that was kind of being played off by her dress.” The bridesmaids wore pink saris, and Syma’s mother and aunt also wore matching pink saris to set off the color scheme.
As for decorating the hall itself, Sonal decided to use pink uplights all around the reception hall. “We wanted to make sure that it looked like it was elaborate without having to go completely overboard. We had the decorator bring in uplights all around the room, so it gave this really beautiful, pinkish glow to the entire room.” Syma’s linens were also cream. And her centerpieces? Originally, Chowdhry wanted baby pink roses for the tables—but when they arrived, they were hot pink. But as Shah points out, sometimes unexpected glitches like that end up making the wedding better—afterward, she and her staff noticed that the hot pink actually looked better with the baby pink. “It just looked phenomenal,” says Shah.
Snapshot: Red Ribbon Studio
Maribeth Romslo knows wedding photography. For three years, she worked as the photo editor for The Knot, the Web’s wedding juggernaut. She now photographs weddings full time.
After studying photojournalism in college, Romslo says she “sort of fell into weddings as a happy accident. Friends started getting married and asking me to shoot their weddings. I was surprised to find it was the perfect fit. I could approach it like news photography, documenting and telling a story, but the subject matter was happy and beautiful.” Her work has been featured in several magazines, including Martha Stewart Weddings.
Though she’s now based in Minneapolis, Romslo frequently travels to photograph weddings, everywhere from Cabo San Lucas to California to the coast in Maine. Her goal is to capture the “moments, details, expressions and memories that make up the story of the day,” she says. “I try to be as unobtrusive as possible, blending in so that people are comfortable or unaware that that they are being photographed.”
Pricing begins at $4,500 and includes high-resolution digital files on DVD. For booking or more information, visit www.redribbonstudio.com.
The Hair and Makeup
Hair and makeup are always a big deal for the wedding—but desi brides also face the dilemma of dealing with multiple styles. Syma ended up going with Bridal Gal, a Manhattan firm owned by Lilly Rivera. Syma and Shah, along with a few of Syma’s cousins, went on several trial hair and makeup runs. Syma opted for a more traditional look for the actual nikah ceremony, wearing her hair down in curls and with the dupatta on her head. But for her reception, she wanted a more modern look—as she puts it, “I love smoky eyes and light lips.” Her advice to other brides going on trial runs? “Wear that makeup all day and see what happens to it when you sweat, get shiny, etc. Because that is what will happen through out the wedding day.”
The Special Traditions
Syma and Aamer both opted for a traditional nikah ceremony, with the men in one room and the women in another. After the imam conducted the legal marriage ceremony, the couple then united and exchanged rings and flower garlands to celebrate the occasion. For her mehndi ceremony later that night, Syma opted for a real baraat—complete with Aamer coming to her house riding on a horse. Meanwhile, Syma made her grand entrance arriving in a doli, a traditional carriage that is usually carried by the bride’s brother or male cousins. At the mehndi, a dhol player provided music, but Syma and Aamer added some other entertainment, as well. A belly dancer performed a dance that, toward the end, was a bit more risqué than the couple had bargained for.
But while the mehndi might have been the epitome of desi traditional, Syma and Aamer’s reception reflected a very American sensibility. Syma, Aamer and attendants walked down the aisle, with the bride throwing the bouquet, cutting the cake and dancing the first dance. And the cake? A white and gold confection, it had a very “desi” design—topped with a gold Muslim dome.
Shah helped Chowdhry decide on the menu—“basic desi food with lamb chops thrown in.” They served the food family style. Instead of a buffet line, as in traditional Indian weddings, or a sit-down dinner, as in American weddings, a family-style meal means that the caterers “pre-plate or pre-bowl everything. So it’s almost like a restaurant, where they would come with bowls and just set them down in the middle of the table. Everybody passes the bowls and helps themselves at the table, and the naan or the paraathas or whatever can be French style, where the server will come and offer it to you and set it on your plate. It’s just a very nice and elegant way of doing it as opposed to the buffet,” explains Shah. A word of caution: Syma reports that more old-fashioned guests preferred a buffet.
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Event Production & Design: Sonal Shah/Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants, 917.742.7449
Cake: CakeDiva, 212.722.0678
Hair and Makeup: BridalGal, 212.759.7226
Reception Venue: South Gate Manor, 732.431.1500
Mehndi: Sweta Jain, 732.390.0296
Photography: Maribeth Romslo/Red Ribbon Studio, 952.237.9496