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M

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?

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Syma and Aamer after their nikah.

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.

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Clockwise from top left: The couple exchanges rings. Syma answers the imam. Syma’s parents bring her to Aamer.

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:

The Venue

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.”

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Clockwise from top left: Syma is carried into her mehndi. The couple on a swing. Syma and her relatives.

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.

The Décor

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.

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Clockwise from top left: The tables were decorated with tall centerpieces. The pink-lit hall. Syma and her bridesmaids.

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.

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Clockwise from top left: Syma and Aamer. Syma gets ready for the reception. Syma with her mother.

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.”

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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.

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Clockwise from top left: Aamer is carried by friends. The wedding cake. Wedded bliss.
The Menu

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.n

Nakasha Ahmad got married six years ago and was relieved to leave the wedding planning to her mother.
Published on June 4, 2007.
Photography: Maribeth Romslo/Red Ribbon Studio

Vendor List

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

Comments are closed.
  1. June 8, 2007, 9:26 am SONIA

    HI,

    First of all, your wedding day was beautiful and so were you guys. I’m actually getting married next spring and I’m looking at halls. Did South Gate Manor have outside catering? Just wondering because my wedding is going to be around the same area. Thanks!

  2. June 20, 2007, 6:40 pm Staci

    I am the wedding coordinator at the South Gate Manor and we can accomodate an outside cocktail venue. Please call us to discuss options.

  3. June 21, 2007, 7:38 pm Abeer

    This was an extremely beautiful wedding MashAllah, and I absolutly LOVE the decorations, excellent pick :)

  4. June 21, 2007, 8:14 pm Cezanne

    Your wedding was absolutely beatiful. I remeber seeing it on Whose Wedding is it Anyway and I was blown away by how gorgeous it was.

  5. June 28, 2007, 1:34 am Syma

    Thank you guys so much!! I thank God it was a beautiful wedding,

    It is tough to plan an event this big!! Thanks to Sonal, it was easier, but still, with the problems we ran into and what not, its pretty had to stay sane! LOL!

  6. July 27, 2007, 11:53 am kavita

    I just wanted to correct the article. South Gate Manor is actually located in Freehold, NJ. I was the first Indian wedding there :) Chris and Larry are great!

  7. July 29, 2007, 3:47 am ria

    Wow!!! Beautifully decorted…nice n bright colours …….

    GREAT WORK SONAL!!!!!! N CONGRATS SYMA

  8. October 5, 2007, 2:15 pm Annais

    Your wedding was absolutely amazing. Very beautiful! Sonal did a wonderful job, I’m getting married next year and I hope I can hire her. Congratulations!

  9. October 29, 2007, 10:11 am Lanesse

    i am crazy about your wedding cake. i am getting married to a muslimguy and i browsed on the internet for ideas and when i came across this picture of your cake i fell in love. i think that it is beautiful.

  10. November 8, 2007, 4:59 pm Syma

    Thank you Lanesse! But please do not order from the cake person I got it from. We had difficulties with her. In fact, this is not how we ordered our cake, it looked different than what we asked and it was the wrong flavor.

  11. January 2, 2008, 4:53 pm Jillian

    Wow! After a wedding like this I can only imagine how the anniversaries will be. Where did you guys go for the Honeymoon?

  12. March 7, 2008, 12:46 pm Iffat

    Hi Syma –

    My name is Iffat and I am getting married next year. I am looking to buy or custom make my outfit in the US. Can you please tell me where you bought your outfit from and any recommendations.

    Thanks -

  13. April 6, 2008, 11:36 am MariaOrtiz

    It looks so fabulous, so great. The pictures were great, fantastic. I wish some day to get marry like this… Thanks for sharing. God bless you.

  14. April 6, 2008, 11:36 am MariaOrtiz

    It looks so fabulous, so great. The pictures were great, fantastic. I wish some day to get marry like this… Thanks for sharing. God bless you.

  15. May 21, 2008, 2:30 pm Realmarce

    Wow! just perfect! So romantic and beatifull. Congrat!

  16. May 29, 2008, 4:10 pm NMeyer

    simply gorgeous!!!! I’m so inspired!

  17. July 24, 2008, 7:37 pm Liza

    Where did you get your white wedding dress…it looks great! I am having a hard time finding Indian white/off white wedding dresses…HELP!

  18. August 2, 2008, 1:02 pm Tara

    Liza- Did you ever get your answer regarding the White/off white Indian dress? I am trying to find the same thing. Let me know if you get your answer.